The very picture of calm, cool sophistication. The late, great Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957).
As has been written here before at The Average Guy's Guide to Classic Style, there's more to kicking up our everyday style a few notches than simply swapping out those ratty sweatpants, flipflops, and worn cargo shorts for tweed jackets, flannel pants, tan wingtips, and natty wool ties. In fact, the lion's share of the change must come from within. With that in mind, here are 10 related ideas to ponder.
1) Strive to be well-rounded.
A narrow guy is an uninteresting guy. Conversely, a guy with broader interests and knowledge, a guy who looks beyond the end of his nose, has at least the potential to come across as a more interesting individual. So, make an effort to become acquainted with a lot of different things, ideas, concepts, people, places, art, literature, and events. In other words, do something more than simply sit in front of the TV watching sports. And for God's sake, find something to do besides filling your evening hours with various Play Station or Xbox games.
One of the implicit aims of The Average Guys Guide to Classic Style is to help guys, who might realize the need, to become more multifaceted individuals. They might want to kick up their everyday style, broadly speaking, yet not know where to start in the process of increasing their level of sophistication and degree of cultivation. A good place to start is by working to become a more fully developed, well-rounded, as opposed to a flat, character. My apologies to E.M. Forster.
Think of it like this. Given the choice, would you like yourself to resemble a slice of toast with butter that's gobbled in a hurry while standing over the kitchen sink? Or, would you prefer to resemble a sit-down dinner, consisting of several courses, wine, dessert, and coffee, capped off with a small glass of brandy or cognac and a fine cigar to conclude the evening? Throw in interesting company and the good china on white or cream table linen with candles, and what's not to prefer about the latter?
2) Be pleasant to have around even when it's just the close family.
Say good morning with a smile. Use please, thank-you, and excuse me always. Don't be a P-I-G pig (figure it out). Answer anyone who speaks to you in complete sentences rather than monosyllabic grunts. Look at people when you speak to them, and they speak to you. Don't simply stare like a zombie into the TV or your I-phone during a verbal exchange. Don't fool with portable electronic devices at the table during meals. Offer to help out around the house or apartment. Stuff like that.
What else? Pick up after yourself, and, assuming it was neatly arranged in the first place, leave a room looking like you found it. Fix dinner for everyone else from time to time. Volunteer routinely to do necessary chores like taking out the garbage, running the vacuum cleaner, or loading and running the dishwasher. Or, here's a concept, unload the dishwasher when the cycle has finished. Don't wait to be asked to do these things, and don't argue about it when you are asked.
A word of caution however. Don't do a shitty job on purpose in the hope that you won't be asked to do a particular chore again if you make a hash of it now. You're not seven years old anymore, and life isn't a Three Stooges episode.
3) Master the lost art of conversation.
Many people seem to be really very highly skilled when it comes to blabbering incessantly about themselves in most social settings. I suppose this is not a recent development. And maybe it's all down to extreme nervousness, and seizing/maintaining control of a group is how that manifests itself with a lot of people? Pay attention the next time you are with a group of friends or acquaintances, and you'll very likely see what I mean.
Often, there will be one person who talks rapid fire about a whole lot of nothing, never gives anyone else a chance to speak, but, when someone else does manage to mention something pertinent -- or worse tries to head the topic off into another direction that might allow more people to participate -- the offending talker stops momentarily, looks nonplussed or even mildly annoyed, and then resumes his or her long-winded narrative. I've noticed this problem with friends, family, and work colleagues, and it makes people who hold forth like this crushing bores. Or should that be crushing boors?
In any case, true conversation is a two-way street. Listening -- really truly listening -- to the other people involved in a group, responding, and asking appropriate questions fosters true two-way exchanges that might be slightly more interesting and entertaining than suffering through one more endless monologue from a friend or family member about the Mastiff-Pitbull mix she is fostering at the moment and the related trips to the dog park.
4) Be a little more reserved in your interaction with people.
You see and experience it everywhere these days. Service people and receptionists in doctor's and dentist's offices immediately address you by your first name on the phone and in person. People you've met only a time or two are your best friends, blurting out and/or asking about all kinds of personal details before you know one another well at all. Everyone is in each other's face, and in each other's business at the drop of a hat.
These people probably think they are being friendly, but it's actually off-putting, to say the least, and even a bit patronizing and intrusive. Perhaps this is a strangely North American phenomenon, but it's not pleasant in any case. As my maternal grandmother used to say, "Familiarity breeds contempt."
I certainly don't suggest being cold like the characters in so many Ingmar Bergman films during your interactions with people. A warm persona is certainly something we should all try to cultivate more of in the fast-paced 21st century. However, letting up a bit with the rampant false bonhomie and leaving a bit more of ourselves for later would be an extremely good idea if you ask me.
5) Make an effort to practice more self-control.
On a related note, reining ourselves in a bit is also highly desirable. That might be the case with uttering or exclaiming certain four letter words in reaction to every unexpected, and usually minor, setback. It might have to do with how much beer or liquor we drink in a social setting. The cultivation of greater self-control might also have to do with how much food we heap, or rather shouldn't heap, onto our plates at the dinner table.
My particular pet peeve, when it comes to the apparent lack of self-control so many people exhibit, involves bodily noises. Not that many years ago, it seems like people attempted not to hiccup or burp out loud, and passing gas in public -- as well as laughing about it afterwards!!?? -- was definitely not on. All three used to be considered extremely rude and very embarrassing if one accidentally let it happen. Today, that seems to be a different story, at least in my neck of the woods, when you might even notice women and girls making these social gaffs if you're unfortunate. What changed? Or has that always been acceptable behavior for the masses? I had a grade school teacher when I was about 9-10, a very interesting guy, who was a former army officer. Mr. Fred Gansel fought in WWII (European Theater), took part in the Berlin Airlift, was later in Korea, and very early on in Vietnam as a military adviser. He used to tell us, "If you can't control it, excuse yourself and go to the bathroom to take care of the problem." Sound advice if you'll pardon the very bad pun.
The point is, it might be a good idea for us average guys, who are striving to kick up our everyday style several notches, to become a bit more self-conscious in our speech, habits, and behavior. Doing so will positively affect how we come across to others and, I hope, help us to appear somewhat more polished and well-groomed in the process. That's not a bad thing. Unless, of course, you actually want to go through life behaving like you were raised in a barn. Then, by all means, go right ahead and do so. But let's not hang out together if our mutual paths ever happen to cross, hmm?
6) Be curious about and aware of what's going on around you.
And I don't simply mean peeking furtively through your front blinds at the sexy new neighbor across the street, who happens to be single and has a nice derriere! What I'm talking about is the world, so pick up a news and current affairs magazine from time to time and read it cover to cover. Online outlets like OMG! and Yahoo News are -- Surprise! -- not real news. Sorry to drop that bomb in your lap if you didn't know already, but there it is.
That's right, guys. The antics of Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, Snookie, the pathetically sad Mylie Cyrus, and the Desperate Scousewives in the U.K. ain't real news. Most so called "news" items on showbiz personalities like these are inconsequential drivel, lack depth, and seem more intended to whip up fear, hype, and hoopla than to inform people about stuff that really matters. The quality of writing on sites like these is also abysmal more often than not. They have become the grocery store checkout lane tabloid newspapers of the early 21st century. Subscribe instead to an actual Sunday edition of a major newspaper and read the main section as well as the Week in Review section. Barring that, make a habit of frequenting websites like those of the BBC or Deutsche Welle where you can explore the news and events of the previous week.
Make it your business to learn a bit more about the ongoing song and dance in the Middle East. Find out about China's own economic issues and how that might conceivably affect the Pacific Rim countries, or even the rest of the world. Become better versed in global affairs and their broader implications. Finally, whatever news outlet you might seek, avoid simply looking for a hard copy or online source that does nothing more than confirm and support the opinions you hold already. Try taking a broader view of the world than that, and challenge yourself by seeking at least two sides to every story. Why bother? See my opening remark in Point #1 above.
7) Make an effort to be well-read.
Detective thrillers and Stephen King novels are great. But if that's all you ever read, you're missing out on an awful lot of other potentially very interesting things. The same thing goes for just about any other subject matter or author. I get it though. If you're really interested in a topic, or you love a particular writer or genre, you want to read everything by an author or about a particular subject. But that's the fast track into a deep rut that might hard to get out of. Sorry guys, but Dean Koontz and Lee Child novels aren't the be all end all of great prose. It's time to look farther afield.
It's much more interesting in the long run to vary what we read in the name of multidimensionality. So, jumble up what's on your nightstand a bit. If you read a lot of non-fiction most of the time, how about trying on some of the greats in fiction for a while? What about Ibsen, Strindberg, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Conrad, Chekov, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Cheever, or Updike for example? Never had much of an ear for poetry because it strikes you as too flowery and effeminate? Then how about reading some work by figures like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon?
Love male-authored detective fiction? How about trying stuff by Martha Grimes or Sara Paretsky? And don't forget authors like William S. Burroughs or Kerouac, who defy easy description. What about those works of non-fiction though? It's fine to be steeped in WWII, Vietnam, or the American Civil War military history of course. But how about putting those to one side for a couple of weeks and reading some economic history by Niall Ferguson? Whatever new reading material you might try on for size, however, the point is to get out of your rut and expose yourself to something new now and again. It's healthy for the ol' mind.
8) Try to be more patient, considerate, and helpful.
Our world has become so fast-paced, that virtues like patience, charity, and benevolence very often seem to fall through the cracks of life. So many of us seem to be in so much of a hurry so much of the time. It's easy to become frustrated and bark some sarcastic putdown in the direction of that mother with three small children ambling along an airport concourse in front of us as we race to make a connecting flight. I know, I know. Same thing with an older couple slowly deliberating about what to leave behind at the checkout counter in the grocery store because they can't afford to purchase everything during their weekly shopping trip.
What I suggest is that we suck it up, keep unkind remarks to ourselves, and, oh, I don't know. Maybe offer some assistance? Most people will be surprised and extremely appreciative. Trust me. And will it really ruin your day to take a moment and help someone wrestling with a heavy suitcase, or open your wallet and offer a couple of dollars to someone in obvious need? I'm not talking about chronic street panhandlers either, which are often a different case all together.
9) Exchange the brash cockiness of youth for quiet, mature self-confidence.
Having confidence in one's abilities and skills is fine. But routinely bragging about it, or drawing attention to it in every other conversation is another thing entirely. No one likes a braggart or loudmouth for long. Once again, it's far preferable to keep people guessing and leave a little to their imaginations in personal, social, and occupational interactions.
With that in mind, there's no need to constantly remind others about the various projects you have been placed in charge of at work during the last eighteen months. Moreover, you needn't mention again and again that certificate of recognition you received for selling the most units in all four business quarters of 2011. Likewise, keep the sizable raise and/or impressive year-end bonus you received to yourself.
I'm certainly not suggesting constant self-deprecation on your part, but a little humility in what we share about ourselves, and how we do so, goes a long way in how others perceive us. And if people want to know, they'll ask. . . although hopefully not about monetary things. A safe answer when faced with those kinds of tacky and tasteless questions is, "Enough."
10) Don't fear showing a little self-respect and self-assertiveness.
Finally, don't let others walk all over you in life. Being a figurative punching bag or doormat should not be in the job or life description of anyone. That does not suggest you go looking for altercations and fights. What it does mean is that you shouldn't take attitude, grief, and/or gobbledy gook from anyone. The sales associate on the telephone, the checkout clerk in a store, waitstaff in a restaurant, or a co-worker. It doesn't matter. Call them out on their behavior and ask to speak to a manager, the person in charge, or a supervisor.
And if that doesn't work, go above their heads. Rinse, wash, and repeat until the situation is resolved to your satisfaction. The squeaky wheel gets the oil as the saying goes. But don't be a jerk about it. Keep a smile on your face as the issue at hand is sorted out. If you prefer to be addressed as Mr. So-and-so rather than by your first name, for example, ask politely and move on. Where services and retail transactions are concerned, you can always vote with your feet and take your business elsewhere if a situation is not resolved. But don't avoid sending your meal back to the kitchen in a restaurant when it's not right -- and sooner or later that will happen -- because you don't want to ruffle any feathers.
Same thing for more personal friendships and romantic entanglements. Don't let someone walk all over you again and again because she has pretty eyes and a nice figure, or he is tall and really buff. No self-respecting person deserves being emotionally dismissed, manipulated, or taken advantage of. If the way someone treats you makes you feel crummy, and what that person says to you sounds like a load of stuff, it probably is. Know when to say "enough" and walk away.
Without a doubt, there is much more that might be said about each one of these points, but we'll leave that for another time. Hopefully, average guys looking to kick up their everyday style a few notches might consider and aspire to all of these qualities in an ongoing effort to come across as a well-groomed and sophisticated man. You're with me on that of course. Aren't you?