man and woman dancing

20 things that make a man a gentleman

Ever asked yourself how to be the perfect gentleman? Here's our list of how to get there: from holding doors open, to a firm handshake.

The ‘perfect gentleman’ is a much-lauded phrase, and a hallowed aspirational status. Trends come and go — as do some friends and some lovers — but one thing remains constant: the notion that men should aspire to be gentlemen.

But we live in an increasingly troubled, confusing and modern world, which makes the concept of being a gentleman somewhat bewildering. It begs the question: what does being a gentleman actually mean?

How do you define a ‘gentleman’?

Simply put: you can’t. Not definitively, anyway. Instead, there are certain characteristics and traits that you should aim to embody in order to become the decent, debonair gentleman. Here at Gentleman’s Journal, we’ve got a very good idea of what those characteristics are — so we thought it was high time to set the record straight.

Brace yourself, gents: hard truths await. Below, you’ll find the 20 most important things that make a man a gentleman…

1. A gentleman never tells

No gossiping. No spreading of scandalous rumours, or of speaking ill of others. A real gentleman always protects the integrity of both himself and those around him — so that means embodying the utmost discretion, and keeping any affairs or confrontations a tight-lipped secret. Nobody likes a bad-mouth.

2.  A gentleman knows that anything worth having is worth working hard for

Shortcuts, free rides, those tiny samples of aftershave that come stuck to pages of magazines – these have no place in a gentleman’s world. Work for your luxuries, and your achievements will taste even sweeter. A gentleman knows that you only get what you give: and rightly so.

3. A gentleman knows how to dance

man and woman dancing

Not too much — no-one likes to see a grown man moonwalking at a family wedding. Instead, you need just enough footwork to ensure you can confidently hold the floor. Romantic dances, too, are worth a gentleman’s attention. Master even the simplest steps, and you’ll be one up from the man on the street.

4. A gentleman helps anyone with their baggage

When a gentleman spots another person — man, woman, young, elderly — struggling with something heavy, they help them with it. It could be in an airport, a train station, or the stairwell in your building; wherever. Just drop whatever you’re doing (and whatever you’re holding) and ask them if they want some assistance. It’s the gentlemanly thing to do.

5. A gentleman always RSVPs

You should never, ever leave your nearest and dearest hanging. Reply promptly, whether it’s a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. A ‘I’ll have to check what I’m doing that day’ just doesn’t cut it. If someone has been good enough to invite you, a gentleman would always be courteous enough to reply. Oh, and if you can make it, be sure to bring the party when you arrive…

6. A gentleman knows the difference between confidence and arrogance

Arrogance: President Trump barrelling into last year’s election without even considering he may lose. Confidence: James Bond strolling through the front door of a villain’s lair so boldly that no-one even dares to question him. If you want to be a gentleman: be like Bond.

7. A gentleman is open-minded

Sharp wit can win any argument; but an intelligent gentleman knows the benefits of listening to the views of others. He is never stubborn and is always prepared to learn, in order to develop and broaden his world view. And this applies across the board — from olives (always delicious) to unchecked market deregulation (sketchy at best).

8. A gentleman constantly proves that chivalry is not dead

Because it isn’t — especially if a gentleman looks in the right places. It may be different to antiquated ideas of chivalry, but the concept is still very much alive and kicking. Essentially, chivalry can be chalked up to good manners, empathy and the capacity to forgive.

9. A gentleman should go out of his way to ensure he never makes anyone cry

Unless it’s tears of happiness from that vintage Jaguar you surprised your partner with for your anniversary. (See also: chopping onions.)

10. A gentleman never lies

Liars are bad eggs — full stop. The only time they are acceptable are when a) they involve Father Christmas, or b) a woman has had a questionable visit to a hair salon. She knows it’s bad. You know it’s bad. She knows you know it’s bad. Say it looks wonderful, and move on.

11. A gentleman doesn't always make the first move

As we said, chivalry isn’t dead; it’s evolved. So whether it’s the first move, last move, or any number of in-between moves, a gentleman knows that it doesn’t really matter who made it. As long as you’re both fully consenting adults and you’re in the moment, just be happy you found each other.

12. A gentleman means what he says and says what he means

Don’t garble your words, gents. No doublespeak, no jargon, no having to read between the lines — a real gentleman gets to the point. And — while this is never an excuse for rudeness or insensitivity — you should appreciate that tactful honesty is always the best policy.

13. For a lady, a gentleman always offers his seat and opens the door

For us, this time-honoured gentlemanly gesture equates to straight-up good manners and a spot of politeness worthy of being preserved. Some may not feel that way (and it’s important to respect that) — but we’d rather inadvertently offend with kindness than annoy with discourtesy.

14. A gentleman never judges

Fast judgements say far more about the person making them than they do about the people actually being judged. As the old adage goes, never judge a book by its cover: this is an adage a true gentleman would be highly familiar with. Instead, hold your opinions for when you’re a couple of illuminating chapters in…

15. A gentleman is always well-presented

No matter the company, occasion or top secret mission: dress like it’s your last day on earth. If there’s something hanging in your wardrobe that you wouldn’t be happy wearing forever — get rid of it.

16. A gentleman has a firm handshake and always makes eye contact

Weak grips and averted gazes are huge no-nos. A handshake (when we’re allowed to swap our elbow-bumps back for them) is like a gentleman’s signature; it tells people the content of your character immediately.

17. A gentleman always offers his coat to a lady

It’s another door-holding conundrum. But, if you’re close enough to a lady (with whom you’re well-acquainted) that you can see her shivering, it’s good manners to offer her your coat. And, after all, sacrificing one’s comfort is an act of undeniable attentiveness and selflessness.

18. A gentleman knows how to cook

Being able to prepare one good, full meal should be the bare minimum. Start simply, and work your way up to more adventurous cuisine worthy of that gentlemanly status. It’s a charming skill to have — and being a Michelin-starred man will endear you to friends, lovers and in-laws alike.

19. A gentleman always walks a woman home

It’s not old-fashioned, it’s good manners. Take her to the door, and wait till she’s safely inside. (Standing out in the rain two hours later waiting for her bedroom light to go off: not so gentlemanly. We’d strongly caution against that.)

20. A gentleman doesn't insist on paying the bill

“I’ll get this one” is always a kind offer. But if your date, friend or colleague has indicated that, in fact, they’d like to get this one: accept that. Don’t insist on paying at all costs. A gentleman doesn’t flash his cash, or ignore the wishes of others. You can get the next one (and, indeed, letting the other person pay, if they wish to, makes it infinitely more likely that there will be a ‘next one’).

Still worried you’re not a gentleman? Here’s a our guide on how to compliment a woman

Become a Gentleman’s Journal member. Find out more here.

Further Reading