If we have a new gentleman in our midst, he doesn’t need to impress people by spending $500 on a bottle of vodka at a tabloid-trash nightclub, though he is perfectly happy to spend $15 on a meticulously shaken crushed-ginger concoction at one of the private and subdued speakeasies that have been cropping up in London and Manhattan and San Francisco over the past five years. Look around and you’ll see a handful of actors and musicians who have somehow not devoted their lives to becoming drooling Us Weekly ass-clowns: Don Cheadle and Edward Norton, George Clooney and John Legend, guys anachronistically committed to upholding high standards in their work and in their personal conduct. If designer Tom Ford’s cultural instincts are correct—and experience suggests that they often are—then it’s worth noting that while much of the commercial world is feasting on big and crass, the Gucci veteran is adjusting his zeitgeist meter for compact and custom-made. This spring, Ford, who could probably sell out to Target and spend the rest of his days studying the sunsets off Fiji, will instead open a boutique on Madison Avenue that will specialize in custom-tailored menswear. “In some ways, Elizabeth Street in Nolita is the antidote to the Targets and the H&Ms and the Gapsit’s small, niched, and special-feeling,” says Project Runway’s own perfect gentleman, Tim Gunn, the chair of the Department of Fashion Design at Parsons The New School for Design. “So many things in fashion are reactions, and this is a reaction to the behemoths, and it’s an understandable one.”
All of which makes sense, because the Gen X gentleman looks for things that hover just under the radar. Indeed, just under the radar is a fitting description of where he prefers to hang out. He’s comfortable enough in his own skin to understand the rightness of traveling with both a well-pecked BlackBerry and a well-thumbed book of John Berryman’s acid-tinged verse. He gets fired up by words like small-batch and indie, by microbrewed and bespoke and smuggled Époisses. For him there is such a thing as cultural literacy, after all, and it involves more than knowing where Lindsay Lohan checked in to rehab.
Jason Tesauro and Phineas Mollod, both 35, co-wrote the amusing and encyclopedic The Modern Gentleman: A Guide to Essential Manners, Savvy & Vice, and since its publication in 2002, they’ve detected a revival of interest in letter writing (as opposed to IM’ing), old-fashioned courtship rituals (as opposed to troglodytic MySpace-trolling), and even dressing up for work. “You carry yourself a little differently when you’re wearing pinstripes as opposed to sweatpants,” says Tesauro, who’s begun leading Modern Gentleman seminars at a Ritz-Carlton outside Washington, D.C. “We are seeing signs of it, and it’s on a small scale, and that’s okay with me. While a gentleman may be an endangered species, he’s not going extinct.”