This story originally appeared on the Gents Cafe Newsletter. You can subscribe here.
Many of the qualities I associate with gentlemanliness are truly timeless. What’s more, I believe that they are simple: A gentleman is an artist, purely. And like any genuine artist, he occupies a world where curiosity, kindness, tenderness, ecstasy are the norm. These qualities alone can’t help but lead to the development of a character befitting a gentleman.
At its best, style is inspiration—inspiring to the wearer but also to his fellow creatures. It involves a reconciliation of the fact of being an individual in a world populated by other individuals, and is therefore not only a form of self-expression, but a courtesy to others, a celebration of life. One should strive to cultivate both a sartorial and individual style that suit his character; one is nothing without the other. There is nothing enduring or eternal about an elegantly dressed bore or ass.
To me, there are three points of view from which an individual of refined style can be considered: as a dandy, as a paragon, and as an enchanter (to borrow a Nabokovism). The most stylish individuals combine these three—but it is the third that predominates and proclaims him a true artist of style.
To the dandy we turn for his supreme interest in novel colours and textures, his indulgence in accessory, and for the pleasure of imagining we had the confidence to dress quite like him. But in this last point we glimpse the limit of the dandy as inspiration: as with much of what is called modern art, the joy and comfort one experiences in its contemplation is partly the thrill of recognition that oneself could produce such a work, given the right circumstances. But true art is never simple; one should stand in awe at its alter, almost uncomprehending of how it was achieved.
A slightly different eye inclines towards the paragon—the apotheosis of elegant, classic style. Always the crisp white shirt; always the tasteful tie; always the pocket square sitting just so, he is the image of the classic gentleman, striding resplendent down St James’s in his bowler hat with his tightly rolled brolly—in many ways a man after our own heart! Though an exemplar of the highest reaches of style that we as a civilisation have yet conceived, he flirts a little too closely with anachronism, and he can seem a little too buttoned-up, sometimes putting him at odds with the context in which he finds himself.
Finally and foremost, a man of style is an enchanter. What do I mean by this? Not only does he dress elegantly and classically; not only does he take joy in pleasing combinations and the individual flourish; not only is he in his manner in all ways gentlemanly; he combines these things with true charm, wit, and originality—he radiates a force of character, a refined personality, rent from his unique life experience. It is he who, on meeting him at a party, sticks in the memory; it is he who great writers immortalise in their memoirs; it is he who truly inspires others to strive to be better. We cannot help but to look upon him in wonderment and contemplate—both in terms of style and character—the individual magic of his genius.
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