A Gentleman’s Guide to Grooming

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Elegance is in the finishing touches. For a woman, this might mean eyebrow shaping, make-up application, shoes, nails and accessories. But what of the finishing touches for a man? With the exception of make-up, they are much the same. Men benefit from a host of options when they want to dress, despite what one might think. (How exciting can a grey suit get? I hear you ask.)

Well, pish posh, I say! Let’s start from the bottom. No, not that bottom, I mean the shoes.

Shoes & Socks

A gentleman will always want to ensure that his shoes are neatly polished, with laces that show no sign of wear. It’s very simple to buy a new set every few months. Or, when you pick up a new pair of shoes, buy several pairs of laces in advance. You wouldn’t be the first lace fetishist they’ve ever seen; believe me.

Pay particular attention to the heels of your shoes, scanning for signs of wear and dirt. Women’s eyes habitually glance down there, after they’ve glanced up somewhat, so be prepared. Invest in expensive shoes and have them re-soled periodically rather than replacing cheaper shoes on a regular basis. The difference is noticeable. And always use a shoe horn to keep them shapely and to prevent the leather from creasing.

Socks should always match the colour of your trousers or the colour of your footwear. The only exceptions are red for quirky aristocrats, and regimental/school stripes – but they seem a little ostentatious to me. I recommend you opt to match them with the colour of your trousers, as this will make your legs look longer, which is particularly useful if you are running for a bus. For daywear, ribbed socks are ideal, and when the moon is out, you can don the smooth look.

Belts, Ties & Cufflinks

Belts are an undervalued accessory. They can and should be made of the same leather as the colour of your shoes: brown for “gentleman farmer’s return from the country estate” look and black for the “high-powered banker on his way to the gym, then cocktails” look. Oh, and cordoban for the “European marketing director with a Spanish grandparent” look. The belt should also be chosen to suit the trousers and shirt you wear. If your belt buckle shows, then choose one that matches the metal you might wear for jewellery, such as your wedding ring or your watch. This might be a quirk left over from my modelling days, but belts are always best fastened on the third perforation.

Your tie is the one element that can make your look really work, or it can make you look like you should be entertaining at a children’s birthday party. Choose colours that enhance your skin colouring and, if you can, find a pocket square that complements the tie (but is not identical). Stripes should be reserved for regimental/club ties and patterns should be discrete. Ties are effectively a small surface onto which a small motif goes. Large shapes will appear unbalanced. Whatever happens, make sure it is just the right length – that is to say to your waistband. Also note that ties ought to get dry-cleaned every so often, and thrown out when they fray!

Cufflinks: it’s far better to invest in one pair of silver or gold than to have 50 cheap pairs to match each outfit. Though many fun pairs exist (hot and cold taps or burger and fries to name but a few), opt instead for classical elegance. Don’t wear your heart or a mini fountain pen on your sleeve.

Shirts, Suits & Waiscoats

Could the person who invented the short-sleeved “dress” shirt please stand up? I’d like a word. Well, two words to be specific. For those who might think it’s acceptable to wear short sleeves and a tie together, I’m afraid I have some very bad news. I appreciate that summer is coming and soon you’ll be too hot to think about looking good, but write yourself a little note and put it on the fridge; you can use your mini fountain pen.

Shirts will fray around the collar, so watch out for that. Some patterned cottons like herringbone twill will catch on your beard stubble more frequently, and are more prone to damage. There isn’t a lot to be done about that, except a close shave and a good shirtmaker!

You might like to think about having your initials embroidered on your shirt. Some tailors offer the service on cuffs, but I’m partial to a tone-on-tone monogram, just around your 7th to 9th rib area, on the left. You might need to bring in an x-ray to get it exactly right. If an x-ray is not available, go with four fingers down from your pectoral muscle. If no pectoral muscle is available, it might be time to hit the gym.

Plain shirts of white or blue cotton are ideal for work, but for a more casual environment, stripes or check patterns will do very well. Feeling floral? Visit a garden instead.

When you next get a suit made, think also about getting a waistcoat. This will unify the outfit, conceal a plethora of evils and make you look like you stepped out of an Aston Martin, even if it was only the subway. Check out the etiquette of buttoning your jacket, and always leave about 1cm of your shirtsleeve showing. Not just pretty; it’ll protect your jacket from getting dirty.

Hair

Where grooming is concerned, gone are the days when men would have to ‘just borrow’ a touch of hair gel or moisturiser from their wives, girlfriends or mistresses. Nowadays, cosmetics companies fully cater to their needs and there is no excuse for a substandard coiffure or dehydrated skin. Makeup should be left at the counter, though.

Hair: brows should be kept trimmed, ears functional and nasal passages clear, unless you fancy being called the missing link behind your (furry) back. Many hair removal options exist, so do explore them if you feel it would enhance your appearance to be less of a yeti. This is a matter of personal choice, one which should be taken with the assistance of the person who shares your life, or the one who unclogs your shower drain.

Facial furniture: whatever its design, facial hair should be well groomed. I’ve never made a secret of my love of beards. Not quite so sure about goatees and lambchops though. If you choose that route, it should enhance your style, not make you look like a topiary.

Scents & Sensibility

As is the case for women, scent should be worn only for your own benefit, and that of one other person. Not the whole train carriage. It’s not there to mask your last visit to the gym, either. Shower as needed, pretty please.

Tattoos: if you work in an industry in which it wouldn’t make an ounce of difference to have a tat, then fill your boots. If, however, you are a solicitor, surgeon, trader, politician, work with the public, or hold a post of responsibility, you might like to think twice about the half-naked woman on your bicep. There is no denying that some tattoos are exceptionally beautiful, but so is a myna bird. It doesn’t mean you should roam around the office with it on your forearm.

Wristwatch: one sees the most elegant men about town with a digital watch, worn as a sort of fashion statement, but that statement says, “I wear a cheap watch”. If you can afford a decent watch, do so, or make a plea to all your friends to get you one for your next birthday. If you can’t, then it’s best to check the time on your mobile telephone, rather than to get a substandard timepiece.

The last item on our agenda is your manicure. There is nothing effeminate about maintaining your nails (hey, why else do you think we call it a MANicure) so make sure you show you care for details by caring for your hangnails, cuticles and ridges. If you don’t know what those are, then get one done professionally; your wife (present or future) will love you for it.

Nathalie Findlay is a lifestyle and etiquette coach, expert in all matters pertinent to the modern sophisticate and socialite. Follow her on Twitter.

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3 Comments

  1. An excellent piece – and your correspondent’s penchant for beards clearly emphasises her credentials in the arenas of taste and sophistication. HOWEVER, on the subject of trouser upholstery, I cannot concur. Walking past a high street establishment (Belts’R’Us or the equivalent) yesterday I noted their strapline ‘What does your belt say about you?’. The only response to which is ‘I am not sufficiently successful to have my trousers tailored to fit properly’.

    In fairness – I do own one belt. Its cerise, canary yellow and Royal blue silk from Ralph Lauren and could be the regimental colours of an especially effete cavalry outfit. It goes with a similar (but not identical) pair of socks.

  2. This is a wonderful guide written with a wit and sense of humor which I find refreshing, especially on a topic we might have been taught at a very young age. Thanks, Nathalie for a kind and gentle refresher course!

  3. What a great piece. I must get my partner to commit it to memory. A piece on summer grooming for men would be most welcome. The hairy or the smooth?

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