A Constant State of Improvement – and Black Ties

This story originally appeared on the Gents Cafe Newsletter. You can subscribe here.

Meet Mr. David Reardon (@davidjreardon) from Chicago, Senior Brand Manager at Maker’s Mark and Gents Cafe contributor.

David, what does it mean for you to be a Modern Gentleman?

I’ve thought a lot about this.  It’s something I’ve been trying to understand my entire life, something that I believe is a journey that will continue every day I live.  Being a gentleman is just like being a human; it’s about a constant state of improvement. You’re never going to “make it”, you can always strive to be and get better.

In that striving, though, there are two guiding principles for me that define the Modern Gentlemen: how you treat others and how you carry yourself.

How you treat others is the most important. Without this, all the other flashy things – nice watches, fast cars, stiff drinks, tailored suits – (although wonderful) are meaningless.  At its core, being a gentleman is about being a good person, treating everyone with respect that their inherent human dignity deserves (whether that person is serving you food or has the capacity to make your career), and putting others’ needs ahead of your own.  It’s about the simple things – food arrives at the table? You wait for others to start; you get to the same door as someone else? You hold it open for them – but it’s also about deeper things – being there when a friend is in pain; standing up when you see something happening that’s not right; saying you’re sorry (and meaning it).

With that foundation set, being a modern gentleman is also about carrying yourself in a way that you’re both proud of and that adds richness to the world. It’s about style, of course, but also about substance. In part, it’s about carrying on traditions of gentlemen-past (like making classic cocktails, wearing a suit with confidence, delivering a good toast), but also about forging new traditions for the modern generation (like having good texting etiquette, curating a Spotify playlist, setting the bar for “casual Fridays” at work).

And, always, it’s about knowing when an occasion calls for black tie.

When it comes to style, where do you mostly get your inspiration from?

There’s a wonderful Miles Davis quote that’s closest to capturing my approach: “to me, music and life are all about style”. Which is a way to say, style inspiration can come from anywhere and from anything. But there are a few key sources of inspiration for me: my godfather who taught me at a young age about Armani, espresso and Ferraris (and apparently anything Italian); my wife who has her own beautiful, vibrant and very different sense of style from me that opens my eyes to new and fresh approaches; movies like The Talented Mr. RipleyThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and (of course) the Daniel Craig Bond films that, for me, set the bar for peak style; and Ralph Lauren, a brand that – more than any other in the world – captures my ethos for life in which I savor wearing black tie in the city as much as wearing plaid in a cozy cabin.

What’s your personal style signifier?

What a great question and a difficult one to answer. What’s that line “let me count the ways”? If I had to choose one, it would be my heirloom 1972 No Date Rolex Submariner gifted to me by my father-in-law about a decade ago (which was a gift to him in 1972 upon his West Point graduation). Of every style element I own, nothing more seamlessly compliments any outfit I wear, from crisp white tees and chunky shawl collar cardigans to suits, tuxedos and everything in between. And, most importantly, the Submariner perfectly exudes the juxtaposed balance between rugged ease and black tie elegance that my style aspirations are made of.

What are your favorite wardrobe essentials?

In addition to the Submariner, a few of my other style essentials are (in no particular order): a chalk pinstripe double breasted navy blazer; ties in neutrals (especially navy) and simple patterns (rep, pin dot, etc.); pocket squares in as many colors as you can find; cognac wingtips; a crisp white Henley; chunky shawl collar cardigans (I have six and counting); slim-fit, worn-in selvedge jeans; clean white Chuck Taylors (washed frequently and replaced annually); tortoise shell sunglasses; and, of course, a really nice black tie.

What are your main passions and how do you cultivate them?

Style is clearly a major passion of mine. I find it funny that I can’t really identify where this passion comes from (my parents lovingly joke I was mixed up in the hospital), but for all of my adult life, it’s been something that brings me joy and that I’ve worked hard at cultivating. To me, style is a way of curating the “movie of my life”: if I was a stylish character in a movie, what would I be wearing?  This applies to everything I’m doing, whether it’s a night on the town with my wife (blazer, turtleneck and jeans), Guinness at the pub with friends (Irish fisherman’s sweater), a gala downtown (black tie, of course), a lakeside firepit in the summer (navy Henley with white shorts and Chuck Taylors) or alone next to a fireplace with a good book on a snowy December (a Fair Isle crewneck over an oxford). Each of these special moments in life has a “vibe” that I relish leaning into and amplifying with my own personal style.

Food and drink is also a major passion and one that I find at the center of most of my favorite memories. The world is full of perfect pairings – martinis followed by steaks in any major American city; freshly made pasta and Tuscan wine in Cinque Terre; curry and a dry Riesling on a cold winter evening; light beers and hot dogs at the baseball game in August; coffee and bagels in New York City – as endless as is my appetite (thank God for the Peloton). And to me, dining out is only rivaled by cooking and bartending for yourself and others at home, complete with a proper cocktail hour, a meal perfectly paired with a thoughtful wine and finished with black coffee (and a nightcap, of course).

And what gentleman doesn’t love to travel? Amidst countless cherished travel memories, these three come to mind: cruising through the valleys of Napa in a Ford Mustang convertible with my wife during golden hour in October; swimming in the frigid English Channel off the coast of the Isle of White; and strolling along the Seine at midnight during an April in Paris. On my bucket list: the gourmand haven, San Sebastian, Spain; a James Bond-esque trip to the sultry Mexico City; and an overnight ticket on the deliciously old fashioned and decadent Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (I’m already earmarking this lavish trip for my 40th birthday celebration, four years from now).

Tell us what can never miss in your liquor cabinet.

As someone who’s been in the spirits industry for over a decade, this is a hard one to answer! But here are 5 bottles you’ll always find on my bar:

  • London Dry Gin for a Duke’s-inspired bone-cold gin martini with a twist
  • A wheated Kentucky Bourbon (my go to is Maker’s Mark 46) for manhattans and old fashioneds
  • Carpano Antica, the best vermouth out there, which is the key to many outstanding cocktails
  • A peaty Islay single malt from Laphroaig or Bowmore (served neat in a rocks glass)
  • A decadent VSOP cognac (served neat in a brandy snifter)

Oh, and always, a chilled bottle of champagne for whatever celebrations life may bring you.

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