The story goes that when King Louis XIV’s gardener at Versailles discovered noblemen were trampling his flowers to death by walking through the garden, he put up signs, or ‘etiquets’, to warn them to keep off the grass. Over time, the meaning of the word evolved to include various other codes of conduct, until we eventually arrived what we define as etiquette today – the rules of engagement for everything in life. Etiquette is as much a part of your appearance as the cut of your suit. It affects how everyone perceives you, from the waiter you tip to the person watching you tip them. A man is only as good as his actions, and gentlemen represent the men who belong in the top tier in this category. A man who dresses like a gentleman but behaves like a boor isn’t going to be mistaken for a gentleman for very long.
Here are a few etiquets to live by when dealing with the fairer sex:
1. He stands when she walks in the room: In the old days, men stood out of respect when a lady, dignitary, or elderly person walked in the room. It was a sign of respect and humbleness. Today, men stand out of courtesy when a guest visits a meeting. A gentleman will stand from his table when he’s introduced to a guest.
2. He walks by her on the outside, closest to the street: Why is the topcoat symbolic of the gentleman? Before our drainage systems, a man stood on the outside of the sidewalk in a long coat to protect her from the dust and sewage that could splash up as horse carriages passed by. Sewage was common in the streets. The picture of the man laying his coat over a puddle for her to walk over meant he was protecting her feet from fecal material more than rainwater. Today, a gentleman might stand in the way of puddles splashing up from buses, or in the event a car veers onto the sidewalk. Symbolically it might mean he’ll always be by her side, through thick and thin, and will protect her from anything.
3. He opens the door for her: The modern gentleman helps her in and out of the car to stand in the way of creepy gawkers. Opening a door for her is not a sign she is weak, but a gesture of affection.
4. He pulls out her chair: It was common for the gentleman to pull out her chair and allow her to face the open room. Today, the gentleman pulls out her seat, and sits facing away from the crowd and the TV because he doesn’t want to be distracted from his priority when he forgets to take his Ritalin.
5. He sits after she sits: “…and at the table wait until she is seated, indeed wait until every lady is seated, before taking your own place” The Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness (1860). Talk show hosts continue this tradition today by waiting to sit until after their guest has taken their seat. If Oprah did it, so can you. She’s your guest. Allow her to sit first.
6. He helps her put on/take off her coat: Up through the Edwardian period, women wore multiple layers, and beneath them a restricting corset. A gentleman would help his lady put on and take off her coat because of her restricted movement. Corsets are not common today, but many women still enjoy the help of a gentleman.
7. He doesn’t walk ahead of her: Because ladies wore long dresses and could trip on them, the gentleman walked behind her when climbing a staircase. Tumbling down a flight of stairs isn’t a good way to end a date. Today, the gentleman follows this etiquette rule because she might be wearing long heels or a long dress. This is another sign of him protecting her.
8. He gives up his seat to her or an elderly person if there is only standing room: A gentleman offers his seat to a lady or an elderly if there are no other seats on the bus/train.
9. He picks up the check: A gentleman never split the bill with his date. The English used the term “go Dutch” in “derisive application,” as they stereotyped the Dutch as being cheap, or “stingy.” Today, the gentleman generally picks up the tab, especially on the first date, and with no expectations.
10. He gives her his jacket: A gentleman pays attention, and if he notices her shivering, he gives her his jacket to wear.
11. He walks her home or to safety: A true gentleman will walk her to her car or home because he’s concerned for her safety.
12. He’s on time: A gentleman is his word. Traffic is not an excuse for being late to a date. A good man plans in advance. Don’t keep her waiting.
13. He compliments her: She spent a lot of time getting ready, so a gentleman always compliments.
14. He would never dream of hitting ANY woman: “…the greatest man would justly be reckoned a brute if he were not civil to the meanest woman” Martine’s Handbook (1866). The same rules apply today. A gentleman finds no excuse to hit a woman…no matter what.
15. He asks her father for her hand in marriage: In Victorian days, a gentleman would have to show his coat of arms, or his credentials to her father to show he was a worthy man for marriage. The 21st century gentleman asks her father for his blessing because it’s respectful and courteous.
Story by Gabriella Foreman.