How to be a top bloke
The Age, Wednesday March 5, 1997
by Leo Schofield
STYLE: A method or custom of performing actions or function, esp. one sanctioned by usage or law. A particular manner of life or behavior. Outward demeanor. Thus is style defined in Volume 16 of the Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition, one of dozens of definitions for this word that range from style in the literary sense to style as form of address.
Pretty broad description, eh? Plenty of leeway. But does this mean that usage has made the tattoo stylish? Or merely fashionable?
We're in deep water here. Declare some mode or practice to be stylish and you immediately brand those who reject them as unstylish.
It can be argued, however, that in male behavior, there are some things that mark out a chap as stylish, cut him from the crowd and give him an aura of specialness. Equally, there are certain things that are determinedly unstylish, among them BO, bad breath and plain old-fashioned rudeness.
Herewith, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, are 10 tips to help the late 20th-century male achieve that "particular manner of life and behavior" that the good old Oxford Second Edition reckons constitutes style.
1. Demeanor. Will Rogers observed that a chap never gets a second chance to make a first impression, and he was spot on. Always appear interested in what others have to say. When introduced to someone new, give the impression that you'd like to meet them again even if you know you never will. Try to remember names and look people in the eye when talking to them. Don't yawn while they're talking to you. Imagine you're talking to the most interesting person in the world and behave accordingly.
2. Dirt. Thou shall not go grubby into the world. Dirt is for digging, not for deploying on self or clothing. Attempts by the grunge set to popularise grime are doomed. The stylish male is always clean. He bathes/showers/washes regularly. Uses a good stiff nailbrush. Twirls cotton buds expertly about his ear holes. Maybe even has a battery-operated nose hair clipper.
3. Hair (or what's left of it). Should be washed regularly and arranged according to personal taste. It must be said that dreadlocks, punk parrot looks, thinning hair grown long on one side and arranged artfully across the skull in doomed attempts to cover patently bald pates, ponytails and Veronica Lake falls of shoulder-length hair are all anathema to the stylish male.
4. Clothes. Truth is that some blokes can look as stylish in jeans, T-shirt and loafers as many of their fellow males do in suits. Clothing is a matter of choice and should reflect personality. Clothes should also be comfortable. Always. What marks a stylish male out from the pack is not his choice in clothes but their maintenance. Regular cleaning, brushing and pressing are essential. Placing a pair of trousers under a mattress and sleeping on them is a poor substitute for passing them through an Elna press. Shirts need special care. They look a mess when crumpled or poorly ironed. If you stain a tie, send it to St Vincent de Paul's, not to the drycleaner. Drycleaning makes a tie, especially one in soft silk, go limp and lose its form. Remember that the easiest thing in the world is to look like a dag and, to tell the truth, it's often tempting to do so. If planning a dag day, make sure you're alone or with someone you know terribly well. Otherwise make the usual effort to look both individual and spruce.
5. Shoes. OK, what with your early morning jog, triathlon practice, laps, there isn't a lot of time to devote to marginal tasks. Ah, but shoe-shining is no marginal task. Maitre d's can always tell a gent from a ruffian by looking at his hands. Or so they say. Another way of telling is by checking out the shoes. If they are scuffed and dirty, chances are the wearer is a bit slack. A shine, or better still, a spit polish, bespeaks organisation, attention to detail.
6. Surroundings Stylish surroundings come in all forms from upholstered Victoriana to a spare white box. There are no rules other than that the space you inhabit should be as much a mirror of your personality as a suit.
7. Conversation Thou shalt communicate. Grunts aren't good enough. Develop a facility for conversation. If this fails, elect to listen intently. There are lots of good talkers around but a dearth of good listeners. The stylish modern male should be able to converse on numerous subjects, not one. For openers, he should have a nodding acquaintance with politics, business and the arts. Enthusiasm is highly contagious, so if you feel passionate about any topic, get the habit of expounding zestily on said subject. Stylish chaps are good talkers.They're also good listeners.
8. Correspondence The stylish male writes letters, sends postcards, makes telephone calls. He is on auto-pilot when it comes to sending a bread-and-butter letter when he has been a guest at dinner. He answers correspondence promptly. None of the above should occupy an inordinate amount of time if one is disciplined about it and with e-mail, there is no longer any excuse for not doing so. A good tip: ring the day after to thank your host/hostess for dinner. If you miss out on doing so, there is no alternative to a note.
9. Cheerfulness. Most stylish males are upbeat, optimistic. Cultivate a sunny outlook. Don't let things get you down. God knows, what with demanding bosses, treacherous colleagues, lying politicians, fickle females, poor-performing sports idols, disappointing golf days, the tyranny of exercise and a dodgy Aussie dollar, there is no shortage of things to depress the contemporary male, but a little style will keep the blues away. That ultimate stylist Fred Astaire sang With a Shine on My Shoes. Another of his numbers included the line: "Pick yourself up, dust yourself down, and start all over again."
10. Generosity. One of the things that marks a stylish man from the herd is his generosity. He gives freely of his time and himself. His gestures towards others need not be extravagant - indeed, they shouldn't be - but they are particular. An example. A lady friend was moving house recently and a gentleman friend, a busy businessman, arrived when her spirits and energy levels were at their lowest. He had twigged that having dispatched the fridge she would be without food, so he brought sandwiches and wine and they sat down to a modest but welcome lunch. She thought that a stylish gesture and rightly so.
There you are, 10 handy hints. Remember, style is a generic thing. It's not something you can buy ready-made. You can't say if you do this, this and this you have style. Style is an evolution of self. One makes one's own. It's a mix of habit, imagination and conviction.
I saved a copy of this article for more than 13 years. I must have known I would have a boy.