The Updated Gentleman's Guide to Chivalry
Apocalypse-heralding horsemen? Nigh.
In these tumultuous times, we’ve decided to revisit the rules of the past—to see if they’re really dead, and if so, if any are worth reviving. To kick it off, Kempt etiquette-tician and really polite soup-eater Gabby Kruschewsky looks at the rules of chivalry.
To start the assignment, I headed to the public library (libraries: also still real), where I came across a dusty tome, Esquire’s Guide to Modern Etiquette, published in 1969.
According to the gents at Esquire of old, the rules of conduct for men, when women are concerned, boil down to just 10 things.
I divided them into three categories: irrelevant, optional and mandatory.
• Tip: “The tip of the hat is a must for all brief encounters with women, known or unknown.” • Tip: “Hop to them [your feet] whenever a woman enters a room where you are sitting, and stand on them [again, your feet] until she sits or goes.” • Tip: “In dancing, lead off with your left foot.”
Nope—these are either disruptive or just plain dated. Hopping to your feet whenever a woman enters a room is a great way to make a nice dinner feel like a round of musical chairs, and most men don’t wear the tipping kind of hats, which makes that one DOA. (That said, if you wore a hat, pulled it off and tipped it, sparingly, I could be onboard. It also might help to smile and be from the South. See also: all tips.)
If you’re looking for a rule of thumb, steer clear of anything showy, theatrical or that distinctly reminds me of my grandfather.
• Tip: “Hold all doors for her, just as she hadn’t a muscle in her body.” • Tip: “Hold all chairs for her, when she sits and when she rises.” • Tip: “Help her in and out of her coat.” • Tip: “Walk on the street side of the sidewalk when you can do it gracefully.”
Sure, if you can swing it—it’s sweet to pull out my chair if you’re standing right there; it’s not sweet if you awkwardly run around the table. Ditto with the coat, door and street situation: if you end up on the street side, or come at the door first, hold away (probably skip telling me that it’s because I haven’t a muscle in my body). If you’ve got a free hand, and are already holding my coat, help away. Just don’t lunge for it—that tends to look more like you’re trying to steal it.
In other words, like most etiquette, boil it down to gestures that are nice, as long as they seem easy. It all falls apart when it starts to look like work.
• Tip: “It’s the man who pays, but not necessarily for expenses which come up during a chance encounter with a woman.” • Tip: “Give your hand to a woman, palm up, as a kind of rest or ledge for her hand when you help her down from buses, out of cabs, down into boats, and so on.” • Tip: “It’s ‘ladies first,’ except when your going first is in form of service to her.”
The first is a standby: if you invite me out and pick the spot, you should pay. If I offer, you should refuse. (If I offer a second time, all bets are off.)
But the “giving your hand to help her down” and “ladies first” philosophies—those are ones to live by. If high heels are involved, giving me your hand might keep me from hurting myself, but all the other times, it’s just sweet and gentlemanly. Same with “ladies first”—it makes your companion feel valued.
If you’re not interested in that, why did you just read an article about chivalry?