Why Decorum and Style Should Work Together: Pillars of Modern Civility, Part 1
Alright, men, here’s a question for you: What is civility?
In an age filled with instant gratification and uninterrupted access to information, what does modern civility look like compared to years past? Honestly, it seems like we may have lost this incredibly important quality within social media and hustle culture, burying civility deep within the comment section of the latest posts and videos.
At Ox & Bull, we believe that it’s time to revive and redefine modern civility. In one of our previous posts, we outlined the concept of modern civility, drawing a picture of how men should treat others they encounter, as well as how they should present themselves.
In this article, we’re diving into one of the five pillars of modern civility, decorum, to build an understanding of how decorum and style make a difference in both professional and social events.
But first, let’s take a look at the history of civility.
The 110 Rules of Civility
At age 12, founding father George Washington had handwritten his own copy of the 110 Rules of Civility, an etiquette guide that was already almost 200 years old. Today, these rules may seem a bit anachronistic, since they describe a lifestyle founded much more on courtly protocols and customs than on the modern ecumenical culture we know today.
But modern civility can’t simply discard these rules as old-fashioned or outdated. A close reading shows us that the same values we have today are founded on many of the concepts our first president learned in the mid-1700s.
The rules aren’t separated into distinct categories, but they do break down into about five pillars of etiquette and civility: Decorum, Wisdom, Dignity, Honor, and Respect. These core values still permeate our society, but some of the rules have changed to adapt to new cultural customs and norms. We’ll start our journey to modern civility with decorum.
What Is Decorum?
The simplest definition of decorum is, as the Oxford English Dictionary states, “behavior in keeping with good taste and propriety.” To put it another way, decorum is the way you present yourself around others. And most commonly, we see decorum as a standard of behavior for dinners.
We all know some basic table manners: sit up straight, don’t play with your food, and chew with your mouth closed. In the 110 Rules of Civility, however, 17 of the rules deal directly with dinner etiquette and behavior. And if you’re going to demonstrate a sense of modern civility and decorum at a dinner party, all these rules are important.
But there are five more rules within this long list that deal with other areas of decorum in relation to speaking with people, spending time with colleagues, and acting appropriately in social situations. Let’s dig into a few to paint a better picture of decorum.
Mind your body language, and give some space (Rules 6, 12, and 14)
It’s said that around 90 percent of communication is nonverbal. This was clearly well known all the way back in the 1600s, when the original manuscript of the 110 Rules was published.
In rule 12, the gentleman is instructed to “shake not the head, feet, or legs; roll not the eyes; lift not one eyebrow higher than the other.” Essentially, keep your composure while conversing with those around you.
And the image is clear: your body language is a symbol of your respect for other people.
But even more, allow proper space for those around you. The rule literally says not to spit on your fellow man by getting too close to them. And in another rule, the simple instruction is to “lean not upon anyone.”
In casual company, it’s easy to fall into these bad habits, but if you want to show true decorum, it’s important to start with making sure your body is speaking the same thing as your words.
Keep Confident Eye Contact, but Keep Your Sneezes to Yourself (Rules 5 and 13)
If you’ve ever been in the middle of a conversation only to have someone cough or sneeze on you, you know the feeling of embarrassment for both parties. Again, it’s not surprising that this social faux pas has its roots in classic etiquette.
An entire rule, number 5, is dedicated to addressing sneezes, coughs, sighs, and yawns. The simple instruction is to keep these things as private and quiet matters, and to never speak through a yawn.
Eye contact is another part of proper decorum. When you speak with others, don’t turn your back to them (Rule 14). This, too, is connected to the concept of respect. It’s easy to see why a turned back reflects a disinterested person. Keep your attention on the conversation to show honor and respect for the people you speak with.
Use Good Manners at the Table (Rules 90 to 107)
The longest portion of this pillar goes to table manners, most of which revolve around traditions of nobility and royalty. Still, we could learn a thing or two from these detailed instructions.
The rules we typically hold today are part of these instructions, but it goes a bit more in-depth than we’re used to. From how fast you eat, to how you chew, to who should start and end the meal, the 17th and 18th century standards of good table manners point to one basic concept: temperance.
Rule 91, for example, makes it clear that eating as if you’re starving is a terrible way to present yourself around others. Rule 94 expands on this, making it clear that putting more food in your mouth than you can chew is inappropriate, at the least.
It might seem like common sense, but have you ever watched people eating fast food on a short lunch break?
Modern society rushes meals. Modern civility and decorum demand that we slow down, appreciate our meals, and take time to acknowledge the people around us with respect.
It’s certainly out of the norm today, but it’s something that true gentlemen do without thought. If you want to demonstrate decorum, it’s an excellent place to start.
Why Decorum and Style Should Work Together
So what does this have to do with good style? Simple: decorum, along with all of modern civility, places importance on attention to detail.
Decorum and style go hand in hand because those who attend to details in conversation and dining should also show that same attention to detail in their style and accessories, even when they're dressing in a more casual style.
It might be a simple piece of jewelry that pops against the formal suit jacket, or it could be a tie and pocket square that coordinate just right.
Incorporating Decorum and Style into Your Wardrobe
Let’s start with that rule about coughing and sneezing. A handkerchief was a common accessory as recently as 40 years ago. Today, you may not carry a handkerchief with you for many reasons, but the tradition still lives on with the pocket square.
If you want to elevate your look with a simple callback to the tradition of decorum, add a well-coordinated pocket square to your suit. This simple addition can speak volumes about your demeanor and your sense of style.
Taking another approach, showcase your decorum and style together with an elegant tie bar or tie clip. This accessory is perfect for business professional attire, and it shows an eye for detail and practicality without being gaudy or overstated. It’s also a generally affordable addition to your men’s jewelry collection, offering a versatile piece to add to nearly any outfit.
For formal events, stud sets and cufflinks are a requirement. But what you choose tells those around you about who you are. The right stud set defines your look, and the right cufflinks can set a man apart from his peers without flaunting wealth.
On a practical level, properly fastening your cuffs can prevent embarrassment as well. Don’t settle for a loose cuff with an otherwise clean, smart suit and shirt combination.
Decorum and style should never be separate thoughts, just as modern etiquette and civility should always be the foundation of a man’s wardrobe and accessories. If you’re struggling to find the style that suits you best, Ox & Bull has the men’s jewelry and accessories you need to look modern, dapper, and stylish without spending a fortune to get there.
And our top-notch customer service means that even in a pinch, we can make sure you’re ready for the most important events in your life. We are invested in creating moments that sustain memories. Start your own legacy today with a piece that speaks to you.