What is a Gentleman?

According to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of the word ‘gentle‘ is applied to something that is “free from harshness, sternness, or violence.” Our modern culture often praises strength and audacity while ‘gentleness‘ rarely makes the cut when listing important qualities, yet this term is at the very prefix of the word ‘gentleman‘. Why is this? Well it has very little to do with the definition of the word ‘gentle’; the word ‘gentleman’ originates from the French word gentilhomme , which translates to English as ‘noble man‘. Gentleman was originally one of the lowest ranks of nobility during the Renaissance, ranked below that of an ‘esquire‘. The term is now used more broadly, applied to any man who strives to behave in a noble way with traditional virtues and values associated with the nobility of European society. This means any man — including you — can become a gentleman.

With that in mind let’s talk about some of the top characteristics of a gentleman and how you can adopt them into your own lifestyle; becoming a gentleman in your daily life. 

What is Social Etiquette to a Gentleman?

When socializing with others, try to listen more than you speak. Always avoid bragging. Three topics to avoid: Work, family, and anecdotal obscurities such as dreams or irrelevant memories. A gentleman should understand his listener and this requires an awareness of what they might find interesting. Listening and paying attention to social cues is extraordinarily important, as a gentleman loses almost all social grace when he insists upon discussing personal endeavors or indulges in an outpouring of gripes and cheap remarks. Know your audience; tailor your conversation toward topics of interest you know they will find interesting. People tend to like to talk about themselves and are flattered when others wish to hear their thoughts on matters. It’s okay to discuss matters about your own work and personal life when others inquire, as that is how many conversations flow but a gentleman should never dwell too heavily on these topics unless there is a specific purpose in doing so that involves whom you are speaking with. Otherwise you are prone to coming off too much as a braggard and at worse, be deemed boring by others uninterested in what you are saying.

If enjoying a few beers among friends at a local dive bar, then rules might change. But if invited to weekend brunch at an upscale diner with your significant other and some of her friends, then you should focus on her company. Ask them thoughtful questions with interest and allow them to guide the conversation. Make gentle contributions to the discourse and pay attention to subtle cues such as non-verbal glances or implied remarks. Always engage the opposite sex with a confident and subtle warmth. Keep an awareness of the room or the venue for situations such as a woman entering the door while pushing a stroller. Excuse yourself, and run over to assist her by holding open the door. While anyone could do this simple task as a gentleman, you should have the mindset of aiding others, as this is what marks you as a gentleman in others’ watchful eyes.

Be Prepared For the Expected

One of the hallmarks of a true gentleman – a sense of preparedness and a detailed understanding of the gritty physical world – is a must. Think of the difference between women’s clothing and men’s clothing. Male shirts and pants often have more pockets, buttons, and zippers. Men’s clothes are designed to be thicker and to handle more wear and tear. Why do you think this is? The male gender is – by definition, more functional and technical. This is why men tend to love tinkering with cars and watching documentaries about military technology. Therefore, embrace this tendency and try to find ways to live out your affinity for tools and accessories. Invest in a quality Leather Man or an engraved Zippo Lighter. These items are part of the everyday carry of men and will impress any female company because you can become the hero in a social setting where someone needs help lighting a campfire or opening a gift that came in plastic. Having the correct tool at the right moment is one of the classiest habits of a true gentleman. Regardless of the occasion, or your budget, there are countless ways to up your game in this department.

For instance, if someone invites you to a formal event, bring an extra pocket square in your coat pocket, or if you think cigars might be offered, then bring an extra lighter and a cigar cutter with you. These little additional steps will indicate to others that you have thought about the occasion and took the extra minute to prepare for the evening. This might go without saying, but dress well, or in other words, dress intentionally. Not everyone needs to spend a fortune on expensive formal attire or trendy sportswear, but every gentleman ought to own at least one suit. Take pride in your haberdashery, and more importantly, invest in high-quality pieces that serve an essential function in your life.

 For outdoor activities, purchase quality boots, mature outerwear, and try to have a basic understanding of how to match or coordinate different articles. Taking the extra step to match the leather of a watch strap to that of your belt and shoes will create an effortless sense of continuity every time you go out. Speaking of appearance, stay up to date on maintenance! Take care of your higher value items such as shoes by getting them professionally shined once a year or shining them yourself. Learn to sew or take your clothing in for tailoring if you do not sew. Not only will these habits make you look exponentially more dapper, but they also extend the life of your belongings. Most importantly, these thrifty habits all play into the mindset of a proper gentleman.

Have Purpose In Your Life

The third and most understated quality of a true gentleman is an underlying bedrock of purpose. Although we are all in different places in life, we can all take steps towards becoming more established professionally or otherwise. If completing a degree is in your sights, enroll in a few courses somewhere. If you have thought of starting your own business, begin working on it at night. If you are unemployed or in transition, work to discern what direction you want to take your career in. If you are somewhat lost in life or managing family hardships like illness or financial woes, then take steps to bring stability into your life so that you can be self-sufficient and available to others.

In defining gentry in a way that is useful today, it might also help to acknowledge how men differ from women. Without overgeneralizing, men have a certain degree of physical strength that distinguishes them from women. There are, of course, exceptions, but men are generally strong – and not just physically! The masculine personality is assertive in many social situations; men negotiate more aggressively, and seldom do they succumb to the threat of intimidation easily. With this increased strength comes the responsibility to behave as a steward of more vulnerable classes. Ensuring that you are first grounded independently, leverage your power as a man to assist others and strive daily to be a man of virtue with a clearly defined purpose to his life.

You Can Be a Gentleman

Ultimately, the goal of becoming a finished gentleman entails increasing your professional prowess in a way that is self-evident. Without overtly telling others how strong, disciplined, or wealthy you are, you can obtain and showcase these virtues via your actions and treatment of others. Once you have a sense of order and sufficiency in your own life, you can extend that out into others’ lives. It is then that you might be regarded as a gentleman, but also that you can hold yourself in high esteem as a principled man.


Carey Martell is Editor in Chief for The Millennial Gentleman. A thirty something modern man who is politically independent, non-religious but a firm believer in ideals of chivalry and traditional family values. Carey lives his life as a vagabond digital nomad traveling and living life to the fullest while managing his businesses remotely with a laptop and internet hotspot connection.