Do you ever wonder why we gentleman do the things we do? At Forgetful Gentleman, we’ve always been fascinated by the origins of the gentlemanly actions we conduct every day. In some cases, understanding where our cultural norms come from can give us a renewed appreciation for them. In other cases, it just makes for fun trivia. Either way, we hope you’ll find these historical tidbits as interesting as we do. At the very least they make for great cocktail conversation fodder!
Why do we escort women on our left arm?
When a man escorts his partner, tradition has it that he offers his left arm. This tradition originates from medieval times when men escorted women around town and through the fields. Should a threat arise or the women’s honor require defending, the man’s sword hand (his right hand) would be free, giving him quick and easy access to his sword, worn on his left side.
To this day, the left arm rule still applies while indoors. However, with the rise of wheeled vehicles and non-pedestrian streets, the proper escorting etiquette evolved over the years for outdoor environments. Today, when escorting a women outdoors, you should position yourself on the outside (closest to the street) to protect her from traffic, mud splashing, etc.
Why are the bottom buttons of our suit jackets and blazers never to be fastened?
This fashion guideline is typically attributed to King Edward VII, the British monarch from 1901 until his death in 1910. Quite the gourmand, King Edward loved his food so much that the royal tailors often had trouble keeping up with his ballooning figure. One day, seeking reprieve from the confining constriction of his waistcoat, King Edward casually unbuttoned the bottom button. At that time, the King set the fashion trends and when members of his court saw his new look, they quickly emulated it. The fad spread like wildfire and within weeks unbuttoned bottom buttons were found everywhere.
We continue to honor the memory of Edward the Wide to this day. Modern suit jackets and blazers are actually designed to cutaway at the hips with the bottom button left undone. Buttoning it results in unsightly pulling and bunching of fabric at the waist and disapproving looks from your fellow gentlemen.
Why do we give toasts?
In ancient Greece, being poisoned was a real and constant fear. In order to allay this fear, at a party, the host would pour wine for his guests and then take the first drink and toast everyone to show that the wine was safe to drink. Incidentally, the term “toast” also comes from this tradition. Toasting is a reference to the toasted bread that ancient Greeks dipped into their wine to cut the acidity.
Where did the custom of removing or tipping a hat as a sign of respect come from?
In medieval times, knights often encountered each other in full armor making it difficult to distinguish friend from foe. As a sign of friendliness, knights would lift their helmet visors, showing their faces to one another. The custom of tipping ones hat to another, as a symbol of politeness, is a direct descendent of this medieval practice. Interesting note: the modern military salute shares the same origin.
Why do we give flowers to communicate our feelings of love, friendship, grief, sympathy and congratulations?
In the 1700’s, Charles II of Sweden returned from Persia, bringing with him the custom of “the language of flowers” to Europe. Different flowers communicated different sentiments or meanings to the point that entire conversations were carried out through the sending and receiving of flower bouquets. Today we usually communicate our intent overtly with an attached note or card but the custom of sending flowers endures.
Do you know the history behind your favorite gentlemanly etiquette? Share it with us in the comments section; we’d love to hear it!