The gentleman remains a recognisable figure through cultural change and shifting social mores, a constant across centuries and continents. This is precisely because fads and fashions, while they inspire and entertain, are not the essence of what it means to be a gentleman.
It is possible to identify where a gentleman stands in history by the mode of his dress, the style of his hair, shape of his beard or moustache and the tattoos he chooses to display or conceal. There are clues about the era in which he belongs in the scent of his fragrance, cut of his suit, angle of his hat or the colour of his hosiery and by whether he wears a watch, jewellery or wig, but such historical markers are subject to continual change. These details are only the outward show of a complex inner life, because joining the club of a true gentleman is not defined by an old school tie or accident of birth, but by the expression of personality through habits and behaviour. It is a membership that first takes place in the soul.
Unconventional figures are blazing new trails though society. Men such as Eddie Izzard, marathon runner, comedian, actor, writer and campaigner, and Grayson Perry CBE, artist and presenter, exemplify the fluidity available to the modern gentleman or ‘transgentlemen’. Modern gentlemen’s role models need not be men at all.
As old-school masculinity is re-evaluated and the lines between gender are increasingly blurred, style is changing to reflect the plurality of trans and non-binary gender experiences. The fashion world, despite its famed fickleness, is all-accepting in attitude, a conduit by which marginalised ideas might enter the mainstream, where taboos are broken and
society reshaped. In 2015 the London department store Selfridges sold clothing lines
without stipulating whether they were intended for males or females, demonstrating the
appeal of unisex aesthetics.
Much as the honoured behavioural traits of gentlemen have been with us for centuries, ambiguity, androgyny and cross-dressing are nothing new. From world folklore to the Elizabethan theatre via women disguising themselves as men for careers as soldiers or pirates and the experimentation of Bloomsbury’s literary set, the rules are always being challenged.
Life is moving at a frenetic pace. The modern gentleman is confident that his strength lies
not in keeping up with relentless change but in accepting himself and being steadfast to his
ideals. An egalitarian blend of the very best of his ancestors, he is treading his own path, gallant and thoughtful, respectful of tradition with an individual style always enlivened by a twist of dashing irreverence.
Extract taken from The Quintessential Grooming Guide for the Modern Gentleman by Capt. Peabody Fawcett Rn. (Ret’d). Published by Jacqui Small, an imprint of The Quarto Group. Available to buy now.