As times change, so have the etiquette rules we follow. That said, not all of the old-fashioned etiquette rules need to be left in the past. Some of them still hold true to this day, such as making an effort to remember people's names. Etiquette remains one of the most important lessons a man could learn–one that can help him thrive in his social and professional life. Here are 10 etiquette rules from the past that the modern gentleman should emulate.
1. Take Off Your Hat
Origin: This decorum probably began with knights in the Middle Ages. These brave and skilled soldiers would lift their visors to reveal their faces. This was seen as an indication that the knight meant no harm. The knights also removed their helmets in church, when greeting royalty or in the presence of a lady. However, ladies were entirely exempt from "hat rules" and could wear them whenever and where ever they wished.
Why Do It Today: Even in today's casual culture, this etiquette rule remains standing strong. Though we no longer take off our hats to show that we're not a threat, we do so as a sign of respect.
It's considered good manners for a gentleman to remove his hat when:
- In someone's home
- At mealtimes, at the table
- While being introduced
- In a house of worship, unless a hat or head covering is required
- Indoors at work (unless needed for the job)
- In public buildings such as a library, courthouse, or town hall.
- In restaurants and coffee shops
- When the national anthem is played
2. Pull a Chair Out For Your Date
Origin: Back in the Victorian era, high society women wore hoop skirts, bustles and various other accessories that made even walking difficult, let alone sitting down. For instance, the bustles—a padded undergarment used to add fullness, or support the drapery, at the back of women's dresses —required women to sit sideways on chairs. As a result, it became customary for the man to pull out a chair for a woman so she wouldn't have to struggle to sit down.
Why Do It Today: Most clothing today is not as restrictive as it was in days past. Nonetheless, a modern gentleman should still continue with the tradition of helping a lady with her chair. While no longer a necessity, it remains to be an act of propriety, politeness and respect.
3. Dress Appropriately for the Occasion
Origin: Over the centuries, dress codes have evolved along with the social and political ideals of the people. When King Charles II returned from exile, he declared that his court would no longer wear 'French fashions.' Instead, it would adopt a long waistcoat worn with a knee-length coat and similar-length shirt. The emphasis would be on the quality of cloth and cut, not ruffles and accessories.
A century later, George Bryan "Beau" Brummell, who is considered the godfather of classic menswear, improved on Charles' principles. He was a fervent advocate for good tailoring, a limited color palette and a less decorative flamboyant dressings style. But by the turn of the 20th century, formal wear as we know it was pretty much defined.
Why Do It Today: What's wrong with these two scenarios: wearing a suit to a backyard barbecue or wearing jeans and cowboy boots to a formal wedding? In both instances, the person wouldn't be dressed appropriately for the occasion. What you wear and when you wear is still influenced by dress codes, even in the 21st century. There are countless style guides out on the internet, so it's easy to get overwhelmed.
So here are three ideas to help you get started.
- Invest in a quality, well-fitting suit. Black or navy are usually safe color choices.
- Invest in the best pair of dress shoes you can afford.
- Have one or two go-to smart casual outfits that make you look sharp without overdressing for an occasion or event.
4. Stand When Being Introduced
Origin: In the old days, men stood out of respect when a lady, dignitary, or elderly person walked in the room. It became customary to remain standing until the guest had taken a seat. An excerpt from 1860's "The Gentleman's Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness" indicates, "And at the table wait until she is seated, indeed wait until every lady is seated, before taking your own place."
Why Do It Today: It's easy to stay seated when you meet a new co-worker at the office or when a friend joins you at the dinner table. But it's just a little more polite and classier to stand up and greet them with a warm smile and a handshake.
So when being introduced, you need to stand up as a form of respect and acknowledgment for the other person. Also, standing when you meet somebody for the first time shows that you have a friendly personality and are eager to engage in conversation.
5. RSVP Early.
Origin: RSVP is an acronym derived from the French phrase Répondez s'il vous plaît, which means Please reply." An RSVP was usually a simple and polite note from an organizer asking you to confirm or decline their invitation. It was considered rude and impolite to leave a host hanging without a reply. In the age of the internet, mobile phones and other technology, digital RSVPs are becoming common, particularly for wedding invitations.
Why Do It Today: The gentlemanly thing to do is be polite and send back the RSVP, even if you decline to attend. It's best to RSVP as soon as you can. Doing so close to the deadline is not okay, but neglecting to RSVP at all is downright rude.
And if you have to wait until the last minute, let the host know that you received the invite and will let them know if you can attend when your schedule allows it.
6. Make Eye Contact ( or not)
Origin: In some cultures, too much eye contact is seen as an unspoken threat or a sign of disrespect to someone of a higher station or rank. For example, in Japan, children are taught to focus on the neck of the other person when in conversation. However, in western culture, eye contact is common and expected. Over the centuries, eye contact has been seen as a way to establish and maintain trust and also as a sign of confidence.
Why Do It Today: No eye contact can suggest a shiftiness and can create a lack of trust. Some people may even think you are lying if you avoid eye contact. That being said, prolonged, uninterrupted eye contact can feel intrusive or be misconstrued. Strike the right balance by making eye contact with the other person initially, dropping the gaze occasionally, and then meeting the other person's eyes from time to time throughout the interaction.
7. Wait for the Host Before Starting a Meal.
Origin: Dining etiquette stretches back centuries. One of the longest-running traditions is the host or hostess placing the napkin first; then, everyone else follows the lead. This dining etiquette comes from the time of King Louis the XIV. The noble with the higher political rank was the one to start the meal and unfold the napkin.
Why Do This Today: This rule is still valid today. Shoveling down food as soon as it is on your plate is very ungentlemanlike. In the absence of any other instruction from the hosts, you should wait until the host and/or hostess is seated and starts eating before you start eating yourself. You should also not start until any toasts have been given or other customs followed. By waiting for the host to be seated and begin eating – as they will often be the last to sit – everyone can enjoy the meal together.
Related: 10 Famous Toasts in History
8. Avoid Private Conversations In Front of Others.
Origin: Etiquette expert Professor Walter R. Houghton wrote in his 1883 manual American Etiquette and Rules of Politeness that one should "never engage a person in a private conversation in the presence of others, nor make any mysterious allusions which no one else understands." That still holds true to date.
Why Do It Today: Private conversations make others feel excluded, so save those topics until you and the person it concerns are alone. Speaking of which, if you're talking to someone new, it's generally best not to talk about weighty, off-putting or polarizing topics, like abortion or politics.
9. Send Handwritten Letters
Origin: The first handwritten letter can be traced back to the Persian Queen Atossa in the year 500 B.C. Letters were used primarily to communicate short messages, whether for business, personal use, or royal correspondence. But, what once was the only way for people who were far apart to communicate has now been overshadowed by email and texts.
Why Do It Today: Handwritten letters are a special and still-appreciated gesture that is still used by CEOs and presidents. For instance, in 1989, President Ronald Reagan started the tradition of departing presidents leaving a handwritten note in the Oval Office for their successors.
Regardless of the words, the thought and time put into a handwritten letter make it more meaningful. Whether it's a love note or a sympathy message, there are times you should bring out the trusted pen and paper.
10. Express Gratitude
Origin: Throughout history, religious leaders and philosophers have extolled the virtue of gratitude. If you look into the phrase's origin, you'll discover that "thank you" actually comes from the word "think ."In Old English (c.450 – c.1100), the noun "thank" was phonetically related to "thought ."The definition then progressed to a "favorable thought or feeling, goodwill," and by the Middle Ages, it had become a "kindly thought or feeling entertained towards anyone for favor or services."
Why Do This Today: Gratitude has become described as the "social glue" that holds together relationships between friends, family, and romantic partners. One of the first things most of us were taught as kids is the value of saying "thank you ."Since these two little words are used so often, don't be afraid to use a different phrase.
For instance, you can alter this phrase to say, "I really appreciate you," to demonstrate that you're not only grateful for what was done -- you're appreciative of who did it. If you feel the need to go the extra mile to express your gratitude, consider acting on it. A thoughtful handwritten note will always be an excellent place to start.