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The 50 skills you need to become a better gentleman

Sick of advice about faddy diets and punishing exercise routines? Look no further

Daniel Bruhl shot by Gary Houlder for Gentleman's Journal
Photo by Gary Houlder for Gentleman's Journal

Sick of advice about faddy diets and punishing exercise routines? If you make one change in 2017, make it to become a better gentleman with Gentleman’s Journal’s tailor-made guide to self-improvement.

Daniel Bruhl photographed by Gary Houlder for GJ
Photo by Gary Houlder for Gentleman's Journal

1. Act

Acting need not be as daunting a prospect as many gentlemen see it. Embrace it with open arms and don’t take it too seriously. Start with an improvisation class, discover the areas that you’re comfortable in and explore those.

2. Dance a Waltz

The Waltz: a dance that stems from Germany in the 1500s and something that few gentlemen can claim to have mastered. Make this your year: start with a basic lesson, focusing on the box step, count in threes and add turns and steps.

3. Play the piano

Playing a musical instrument has the potential to be one of the most significant elements in your gentlemanly aura. The king of all instruments must be the piano, and we urge you to start learning to play this year. Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles – the list of gentlemanly pianists is endless, so why not become one?

4. Tell a joke at a dinner party

James Dean Ursula Andress laughing at dinner
James Dean and Ursula Andress by Darlene Hammond, 1955

There are few more painful silences than the one that follows a flopped dinner party joke. But conversely, the raucous mirth after a successful gag can set the tone of your evening. Dinner parties are not an occasion to get on your soapbox, but people remember the guests who produce the evening’s entertainment. Choose your timing, don’t talk over others, tailor your joke to the audience and don’t fluff your punch line.

5. Pick the right wine

Every gentleman should know how to pair wine with his food, particularly when hosting. You aren’t expected to know everything, but a good handle on the basics is a must. ‘The best advice is to ask someone who knows more than you do,’ says Geordie Willis, creative director of Berry Bros & Rudd Wine Merchants. ‘In a restaurant, don’t be afraid of the sommelier – they are paid to be your best friend and trusted guide. And visit an independent wine shop; the staff will be  brimming with enthusiasm and desperate to be generous with their knowledge.’

Daniel Bruhl shot by Gary Houlder for GJ
Photo by Gary Houlder for Gentleman's Journal

6. Buy clothes that fit

Perfecting the art of buying the right clothes is one thing, but making sure they fit properly is another thing altogether. Spend time familiarising yourself with brands that suit your body type, and always try clothes on before purchasing – a 32”x34” pair of jeans will vary in fit from one brand to another. Try services like The Chapar for personal clothing tailored to your style, body type and size.

7. Read the night sky

We’ve all been there. Gazing into the inky darkness, away from the orange pollution of the city streets, admiring the stars and the immense enormity beyond our claustrophobic biota. Yet few of us know much about the constellations and planets. Put that right this year, if only so you begin to grasp your position in the universe – a sense of perspective is very becoming in a gentleman.

8. Be on time

The mark of a gentleman is being on time; there is nothing ruder than showing up late, and truly, no one cares about your excuse.

James Dean smoking and reading a book with glasses
Photo by Magnum

9. Comment on existentialist literature

We are all aware that to be a true gentleman one must be knowledgeable. Now, this doesn’t mean boasting, or belittling the opinions of others, rather being able to understand the basic principles of a matter so you can contribute accordingly. One such area is existentialist literature. Here is a brief insight into the works of two existential geniuses. Friedrich Nietzsche’s grounding in existentialism is based on accepting our part in a materialist world, no matter what else may exist. Jean-Paul Satre, on the other hand, believed the universe was meaningless, that existence was absurd and that freedom of choice is our only saviour.

10. Walk on the outside of the pavement

Whether you’re with your wife, your children or your dog, it goes without saying that a gentleman should always walk on the outside of the pavement – also known as walking curb-side.

11. Say please and thank you in 10 languages

When travelling, it’s a sign of  respect for the country you’re visiting if you can speak the language. No one can learn every language, but there’s no excuse for not mastering a few common courtesies.

French: s’il vous plaît / merci

Spanish: por favor / gracias

Italian: per favore / grazie

Portuguese: por favor / obrigado

Mandarin: qing / xièxiè

Dutch: alsjeblieft / dank je

Arabic: min fadlik / shukraan

Russian: pozhalsta / spasibo

Hindi: krpaya / dhanyavaad

German: bitte / danke

12. Lose well

Being gracious in defeat is far easier said than done. Especially considering healthy competition is to be encouraged. A gentleman must bow out with dignity, without excuse or reason, and congratulate his opponent on his victory.

Sam Claflin by Adam Fussell for Gentleman's Journal
Photo by Adam Fussell for Gentleman's Journal

13. Take a compliment

A gentleman will accept a compliment with surprise, thanks and modesty; an arrogant man expects praise. Make sure you don’t fall into the latter category.

14. Shuffle a pack of cards

1. Split pack roughly in half.

2. Hold half in each of your hands, with each thumb at the top of the cards, supported by your other fingers at the bottom, forming a bend in the middle of the stack.

3. With the bend in tact and the stacks facing each other, slowly release thumb pressure and let cards shuffle together.

4. Push cards together. They are now shuffled.

15. Become a friend of a museum, concert hall or theatre

Extending your cultural knowledge will bring you an enormous amount of pleasure and make you better company over dinner. For modern art, we recommend MoMa in New York; for a touch of musical and dance heritage we would struggle to look beyond Covent Garden’s Royal Opera House; and for historical works of art, head to Le Louvre, in Paris. moma.org, roh.org.uk, louvre.fr.

Bradley Cooper cooking

16. Cook killer scrambled eggs

Ignite the culinary genius within you this year and learn how to cook – properly. If you’re lacking confidence, start in the kitchen with something simple, like scrambled eggs. The art of getting this simple delicacy right is straightforward enough, as long as you observe a few important rules. First, keep the heat low. Second, scrap the frying pan and use a saucepan. Then, to your eggs, all you’ll need to add is a stick of butter and a couple of teaspoons of single cream. Be gentle; a few stirs with a wooden spoon will do the trick. If you’re too rigorous, you’ll spoil it and have to start again. The top tip, though, comes from Mark Hix who says, ‘The secret to successfully scrambling eggs is slow cooking. If you need to hold scrambled eggs a short time before serving, place a pan of hot water between the pan of eggs and the heat source.’

17. Play polo

Once the reserve of the well-heeled elite, polo is becoming more accessible than ever. Find a field near you and jump into the stirrups this summer – there are few bigger adrenaline surges than galloping full speed with one hand on the rein and the other furiously swinging a mallet.

18. Clean a carburettor

A gentleman must also be able to turn his hand to the more masculine tasks – building, repairing and maintaining a whole host of objects. Learning to clean a carburettor is one that you should certainly tackle this year. If you suspect the carburettors of being dirty, the first port of call is to check the float bowls, where dirt can collect and jam the floats. Turn the fuel off, remove the float bowls and clean thoroughly with carburettor spray.

19. Write a thank you letter

If your mother didn’t instill the importance of this in you from a young age, we’re here to do so now. Writing a thank you letter, no matter the stature of the gift or event, is of the utmost importance. Do it the day after, preferably on elegant headed correspondence cards.

20. Build a fire in the desert

It’s unlikely that many of you are going to find yourself lost in the desert this year, but gentlemen have an itch for wanderlust and it’s always wise to be prepared. Temperatures in the desert plummet at night, and energy levels are sapped under the sweltering heat of day, and therefore a  fire for warmth and cooking is of paramount importance.

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

21. Play the stock market

While we won’t go as far as to say the financial markets are easy to navigate, it’s certainly never been easier to start negotiating stocks and shares and betting liquid assets on securing a brighter financial future. ‘When investing in the stock market a gentleman should never get greedy – always leave more for the next man,’ the City saying goes. A gentleman also learns from his mistakes, so shouldn’t be too upset if an investment turns sour. Selling a share that has lost you money can be a difficult emotional decision, but it is important to remove all emotion from your investing decisions. So don’t be afraid to cut your losses – it’s not an admission of failure, it’s a learning experience. One final piece of advice – if you want to learn about investing never stop reading.

22. Know the difference between a quartz and a mechanical watch

The 50 skills you need to become a better gentleman

A quartz watch is powered by a battery. A mechanical watch is powered by a micro-engineered series of wheels and pinions. What’s the big deal? ‘It’s the difference between soul and circuitry,’ says QP magazine’s Tim Barber. ‘There’s three centuries-worth of skill, knowledge and craft to keep that little mechanical engine running; with a bit of cheap electronics, you settle for less.’

23. Spot another man’s tell

Poker is a game of hidden body language and trying to read opponents. The key to the ‘poker face’ is to give nothing away – whether you have a pair of aces or 2s. Spotting another man’s tell could be the difference between going home in debt or with deep pockets. ‘Watch opponent’s physical behaviour,’ says professional poker player Nicolas Faure. ‘It could be something small like their Adam’s apple being agitated, or blinking a little too fast. But beware, it can also be a false tell of weakness.’

24. Trace your ancestry

‘Gentlemen should know their pedigrees, and those who don’t will enjoy tracing them,’ says Anthony Adolph, author of Tracing Your Aristocratic Ancestors. Gaining a greater understanding of the life and times of the generations before you is something we wholeheartedly recommend doing this year.

25. Wire a plug

The 50 skills you need to become a better gentleman

1. Remove the cover and loosen the screws on the terminals and cord clamp, detaching any existing wires.

2. Strip the outer cable sleeve to length. Separate the three wires inside and strip roughly 5mm to 1cm off the end of the inner wires. The copper innards should become visible – twist them together on each wire with your finger tips.

3. Feed the wires into the respective terminals. Blue, the neutral wire, goes bottom left. Brown, the live wire, goes middle right. 

4. Finally, yellow and green, the earthing wire, goes top middle.

5. Insert the correct fuse and ensure the wires are tightly fastened in the correct terminals. Use a 3-amp fuse for appliances up to 700W, a 5-amp up to 1200W, and 13-amp for 3000W.

6. Replace the cover and screws, and plug in.

26. Scuba dive

Scuba diving is something that every gentleman needs to do at least once in their lifetime. There’s nothing like the pure, dark silence of being underneath the sea, with nothing except the raw beauty of nature in front of you.

27. Catch a fish with a stick

1. Chop a length of branch 5 to 8-feet long (bamboo if you want to be old-school).

2. Tie a thin leader one and a half times the length of rod to the end.

3. Position a float two feet from the end (adjust to preferred fishing depth).

4. Add a hook, using a clinch knot.

5. Head to a patch of wet soil and dig a handful of worms for bait.

6. Sit quietly on the bank, away from the water, and fish.

28. Give a back massage

When a lady you care about asks you for a back massage, be prepared to offer more than a limp pinch. This year, become the gentleman who knows how to give a good, relaxing massage. ‘Dig deep and apply the same pressure used to knead bread, and continue for at least 10 minutes,’ advises massage expert Carla Williams. Some women prefer a firmer massage – be careful to listen for the right sounds.’

29. Navigate Paris

Paris, the beautiful City of Lights – and for most Europeans, just a short train journey or flight away. With its many arrondissements, Paris can seem intimidating at first, but it’s a much easier city to navigate than you might think. Don’t bother with taxis – you’ll only waste your time and money. Far better to see the sights on a bicycle, or on foot. Follow the mighty Seine through the centre, starting in the west by the Eiffel Tower, and then walk east, past the Louvre and up to Notre Dame, stopping for une piscine (champagne on ice) along the way.

men wearing shoes
Photo by Tommy Ton

30. Look after your shoes

Every gentleman must learn the proper way to look after his shoes. This means regular cleaning, polishing and the investment in shoetrees to maintain structure. ‘Shoes will be worn perhaps more often than any other single item in one’s wardrobe, and will certainly take the most punishment,’ says Tom Beecroft of The Jaunty Flaneur. ‘Looking after them with a regular shoe care routine will pay dividends on the investment both in how long they last and how good they look during their lifetime.’

31. Hang a mirror

The first rule of hanging a mirror (as with a picture, shelves and so on) is measure twice, drill once. Take as many measurements as you can – find a middle point by measuring from the edges of the space you’re working in – and mark your spot. Now measure it all again. Then drill your hole, slot in a rawl plug and a screw, and you’re done.

32. Use the Presidential race to leave how to comment on Politics...

Or just don’t…

33. Tie a bow tie

1. Start by crossing the bow tie around your neck. Left end(A) should be slightly longer than right  end (B)

2. Take end A and tuck between bow tie and neck

3. Fold end B horizontally at the widest part

4. Let end A fold over end B. Fold end A in half

5. Pass end A under and behind end B and insert through the gap behind end B

6. Hold and lightly pull both ends to shape and tighten

34. Pilot a plane

Nothing quite beats the freedom of taking to the skies on your own terms. ‘Fly for a sense of freedom and being able to travel anywhere,’ says Blake Thomas, a Flight Instructor at Freedom Aviation. ‘And if you’re the type, try aerobatics for a proper adrenalin rush.’

35. Join a private members club

Membership of a private members’ club is a symbol of your tastes, a calling card and, above all, a short-cut to a network of people with similar interests. London and New York boast a spectacular variety. Do your research, get a recommendation, and if necessary, be patient – waiting lists can be long.

36. Pick out a diamond ring

Buying a diamond is a big moment in a gentleman’s life. Learn about the brands available, the style she likes, and the four Cs – colour, cut, clarity and carat. And if it’s for an engagement, it should cost at least one month’s salary. Here’s some further advice from Ritz Fine Jewellery: ‘When choosing a diamond ring, bear in mind that size doesn’t matter as much as colour and clarity. And know the proportions of the lucky lady’s hand and ideally her finger size for the perfect fit.’

If it’s for an engagement, it should cost at least one month’s salary

37. Take a seat in Stranger’s Gallery

The Stranger’s Gallery is the public gallery in the House of Commons. You can get a seat either by requesting a ticket from your local MP, or queueing on the day outside St Stephen’s Tower.

38. Cook pastry

You can buy pre-prepared pastry, but a gentleman should know his way around a kitchen well enough to be able to make his own. There are plenty of easy-to-follow recipes out there, but we’ll leave it to Bill Granger, chef and owner of Granger & Co., to pass on the secrets to the perfect pastry: ‘Keep all your ingredients and your work surface cold. And unlike bread dough, always under work pastry.

39. Book a table at Noma

The so-called ‘best restaurant in the world’ is moving from Copenhagen to Sydney, Australia for the winter months (it’ll be back in May). Tables at the multi-award winning Noma – a two-star Michelin restaurant headed up by Danish chef René Redzepi – have never been easy to come by, with the waiting list often as long as six months. But get your name on the list and your time will come. Take some good company, and savour every moment.

Perfumes photographed by Josh Caudwell for Gentleman's Journal
Photo by Josh Caudwell for Gentleman's Journal

40. Pick a signature scent

The most stylish and well groomed gentlemen out there are ones that have their own style; small touches that he adds to his day that keep him unique. Make this the year that you choose a scent that people will forever associate with you.

41. Be more generous with your time

While we appreciate that time will be in short supply in a successful gentleman’s life, make this the year when you set aside some of yours for a charitable cause that’s close to your heart. A gentleman should be passionate about injustice and equality, and prepared to share what good fortune he has with others. Volunteer, donate, run, walk, climb – it doesn’t matter how you do it, so long as you’re investing your time for other’s gain.

42. Light a cigar

Done properly, lighting a cigar will have a significant impact on your enjoyment of it. ‘I always believe that you need multiple products to light a cigar,’ says George Bamford, owner of Bamford Watch Department and a keen cigar smoker. ‘The first product I use is some very sharp clippers, which last about a year and half before you need new ones. With the clippers I cut about half a centimetre off the end of the cigar, then lightly compress it with my finger and thumb, bringing it to my mouth to make sure it draws right. Using my Bamford Matches, I then warm the end of the cigar while holding it away from my mouth. Once burnished, I put the cigar to my mouth and hold the match while I draw in the smoke until it’s smooth.’

43. Sew a button

The 50 skills you need to become a better gentleman

1. Thread a needle and knot the end. Position the button where you want it to be, holding with your thumb and forefinger. 

2. Insert the needle between the fabric and the button, catching a few strands of the fabric and then thread the needle up through one of the holes in the button. 

3. Assuming it’s four-hole, insert the needle in the diagonally opposite hole straight through the fabric and pull the thread tight. If it is a two hole button, do the same but with the opposite hole. 

4. Continue like this, making sure you pull the thread tight each time, and make sure you go in and out of the same hole. Repeat six to eight times and finish with the needle through on the wrong side.

man wears a watch and holds a pen

44. Manage your diary better

We’ve already explained how important being on time is. A big part of punctuality is managing your diary properly. Keep your diary up-to-date so that you never double-book. Always leave enough time between appointments to allow for delays, especially if you have to travel between them. And above all, make sure you have your diary on you at all times.

45. Feel alive every day

The comfort zone is like a muscle: the more you stretch it, the more it will grow. Push yourself to the limit, decide which skills you want to hone, stop talking and start doing. Effort is key: you’ve actually got to go and learn to act, fly a plane or ride that motorbike you’ve always wanted…

46. Fold a pocket square

The 50 skills you need to become a better gentleman

For a smart-casual look, try the ‘one point’ fold (A.). Lay your pocket square flat. Fold it diagonally, then fold the corners into the middle and tuck it into your pocket.

A smarter, more traditional alternative is the winged puff pocket square fold (B.). Lay your pocket square flat and then fold it corner to corner diagonally. Now fold the top left and right corners down and in. Fold the left, right and bottom corners in and then tuck into your pocket.

Or for a formal look, go for the ‘flat’ fold (C.). Fold your pocket square across the horizontal half-way point. Then fold the bottom up about two-thirds of the way and insert it into your pocket, leaving about one centimetre visible.

47. Open a bottle of champagne

The 50 skills you need to become a better gentleman

1. Remove the foil wrap over the cork.

2. Grip the body of the bottle in your dominant hand

3. Grip the cork with the other and twist

4. Slow down towards the end, allowing the cork to gently slide out, rather than pop aggressively.

48. Invest in art

A gentleman is always looking for new ways to expand his horizons and broaden his interests. Investment offers a fantastic opportunity to learn about new areas of the market, as well as being a potentially shrewd financial move. ‘The art market has become far more selective and less speculative during the past 12 months,’ says Ralph Taylor, head of Post-War and Contemporary Art at Bonhams. ‘The appetite for genuine quality has never been greater. The movements from the Post-War period – such as Gutai from Japan, Zero from Northern Europe and the London School from the UK – all demand closer examination.’

ewan mcgregor sitting at his desk drinking coffee

49. Declutter your home

A gentleman’s home is as clear a reflection of himself as the clothes he wears, the car he drives, his poison of choice and the company he keeps. When inviting friends, companions or even your parents over becomes a point of embarrassment, it’s time to have a rethink about your home’s interior. ‘A well-styled, sophisticated home provides a soothing environment in which to live,’ says Natalia Miyar, Design Director at one of Britain’s leading interior design practices, Helen Green Design. ‘With everything in its place and a place for everything comes greater efficiency and clean living. A clearer environment makes for clearer thinking. However, for it to be a home, your house must feel personal to you. Items invested with meaning should be elegantly displayed but always in moderation.’

A clearer environment makes for clearer thinking

50. Treat service staff with respect

At the risk of stating the obvious, service staff are people. Treat them with the respect they deserve. Little is more becoming of a gentleman than the care and consideration he shows towards others.

All illustrations by Tom Roche // 

Further Reading