As scouts, we should “be prepared” for some situations, good or bad. Here we list fifteen items that every gentleman should have around, from occasional to frequent-usage; nothing too unusual. Some are unavoidable, and many Internet lists mention them, but some are decidedly intriguing.
Oh, lists. We like lists. Don’t you? Confess – you look eagerly for the yearly list of nominees for the Academy Awards.
We collected some ideas on the 15 must-have items a gentleman should have. Similar lists abound – many books, blogs and magazines carry them – but sometimes they focus on the country guy or include elements that are so obvious you should not even bother to read it.
I know this list will probably generate dozens of answers saying that we should have included this or that item, but we made an effort to focus on handy things. By the way, this is not an EDC – “Every Day Carry” list, such as we’ve featured before; it is more like a “use or have these items at the office or home,” even though you may, of course, carry some around daily.
1. A Bespoke Suit
Or, a made-to-measure suit if bespoke is out of your budget. A better presentation is one of Gentleman’s Gazette reasons for existence – and few things boost a gentleman’s morale more than a good bespoke suit, as we have discussed here. The reason is self-evident: the fitting is impeccable, the details are top-notch, sleeve buttons are functional (but please, don’t fall for the faux pas of leaving one opened; a true gentleman is understated, low-profile, and moreover many off-the-rack suits have them.
The ultimate experience in bespoke suits can be had, of course, in London’s Savile Row, as we’ve discussed here and here. This street has become so intricately associated with suits that the Japanese word for suit, sebiro, is a mispronunciation of Savile Row.
As for the color, be practical: if it is your only suit – which is questionable, for usually, the bespoke suit buyer is a man who already has a few suits – go for navy or dark gray. If it is not, opt for one that reflects your style or that enhances your physique (here and here).
If a bespoke suit is out of your budget, a Made-To-Measure suit is the next best thing.
2. A Lighter
When I was a young adult, I was in a party with a friend, and a lady asked me to light her cigarette. Since I didn’t smoke by then, I said, sorry! But my friend reached into his pants pocket and produced a beautiful gold lighter. He lit the cigarette in her lips, she puffed, and said thank you! with a smile. I asked him, “Why do you carry a lighter if you don’t smoke?” He grinned and replied, “For moments such as this!” Next morning I visited a jeweler near my place and bought my own Cartier lighter, which I still own.
After years of cigarette smoking, I quit them and started to enjoy an occasional cigar. I bought a nice Dunhill silver lighter specially designed for cigar smokers, with a double flame. If you enjoy cigars, you may check Xikar accessories and Dunhill, both highly recommended for the quality of their products.
3. A Good Umbrella
I still own an umbrella that belonged to my father. It is English, with a wooden stick and Malacca handle; it has a gold collar with a “G&S” mark on it. Its handle and tip have a mechanism that allows me to fold both and fit the umbrella inside a suitcase. My conclusion is that some countries sort of “specialize” in certain products, and since Britain is a rainy country, umbrellas and trench coats thrive there.
There are many good umbrella brands, but today I’d go for a Brigg. They have options such as the size of ribs, canopy material (you may order yours with silk instead of nylon for a premium), engraving of initials on the collar and color of the canopy. You may also choose the handle wood (Malacca, chestnut, maple, bark ash, hickory, and the most traditional, whangee). Fox and James Smith are also good makers, and the latter has carved handles (duck, dog, jaguar, etc.) for the more daring gentleman.
4. A Trench Coat
Purists swear by the standard raincoat, Burberry. Its fabric, gabardine, was invented in 1879 by Thomas Burberry, but Aquascutum also claims the creation of this coat in the 1850s. It protects you from a sudden shower, keeps you warm in dreary weather, and adds a bit of mystery to your look.
We have already covered trench coats, but my personal preference goes to the honey-colored Westminster, an extra-long Burberry model. For a fee, you may have your initials embroidered on the inner flap.
5. A Corkscrew
Forget crazy contraptions with air pumps, manifold levers, and hundred dollar price tags. We’re talking about the real thing here, a Laguiole. The name refers to the small namesake village in France, their equivalent to Germany’s Solingen. According to legend, Napoleon I allowed the village to use his imperial symbol, a bee (even though some say that it is a fly), on their cutlery products and on the city’s coat of arms.
You may find the Laguiole corkscrew priced from $10 to $100 or more, depending on the presentation and on the handle material. The materials and the knife (for cutting the wine foil) are top-notch and will not let you down when you are about to pour a great Burgundy for your guests.
6. Linen Handkerchiefs
Yes, you may use them as pocket squares, too, but its primary utility is blowing your nose, cleaning your glasses or drying up your lady’s tears when you are watching Les Misérables (or Bambi).
Linen lasts a lifetime, and real Irish linen handkerchiefs may be passed from father to son through generations: Luckily for me, my father and I had the same initials, so I use 50- or 60-year old handkerchiefs that are still pristine. We have our Fort Belvedere Irish linen handkerchiefs available here.
7. A Fountain Pen
Gentleman’s Gazette published a guide about fine writing instruments here. I know: sometimes it is cumbersome to write with a fountain pen, especially if you are in a hurry; besides, the ink will not work well on some surfaces. For a quick jotting down of a phone number or directions you have the rollerball or ballpoint, but when you want to confer gravity to a document, nothing replaces a good fountain pen.
You may have your name or initials engraved on the cap and the pen will become a beautiful heirloom. The only “problem” with fountain pens is that you tend to become a collector – lawyers and doctors are serious candidates!
Choose an ink color that reflects your personal taste. Some people buy variations of their favorite color and mix their ink. Ah – avoid lending your fountain pen, for practical reasons – the nib may change with somebody else’s handwriting. But if you do lend it, keep the cap with you and the person will forcefully remember to give the pen back!
8. A Toolbox with Tools
The idea here is to collect the most used tools in a single place, so that you don’t have to search for a wrench when the faucet starts to sprinkle water around the kitchen, for instance.
My father swore by his Stanley screwdrivers, which I still own and use regularly. A good hammer, like this Dewalt ,will be handy for hanging a picture frame. Irwin has a good and comprehensive plier set; finally, this General Tools laser and tape can’t be beaten as a measuring instrument. Carry your tools in this Goplus 5-tray box.
9. A Real Camera
Yes, I know your smartphone has a resolution of a gazillion pixels. But sometimes you may prefer to have complete control over the shutter speed, focus, depth of field and other adjustments to produce that perfect photo of your significant other, of your kid or of that once-in-a-lifetime, perfect sunset over the sea.
Brands abound, but some have made the transition from film to digital better than others. We have already talked about the Leica, and many professional photographers of the past, such as Robert Capa, used nothing but Leicas to immortalize everyday moments or historical events. The quality of their lenses and mechanism is difficult to beat. Check a digital Leica model here.
10. Black Dress Shoes
In a previous article, we showed the best dress shoes with which you may start your shoe wardrobe. Personally, I’d say that if you have to narrow down your list, you should stay with a black cap toe Oxford. It is elegant, uncluttered by decorations and has a grave aura to it.
Virtually every American and English brand make a good Oxford, but my advice is to buy the best your budget allows. It will have a longer life and give you a better mileage-per-dollar ratio. But always remember to rotate your shoes to make them last more.
11. A Signature Scent
I believe Gentleman’s Gazette has produced an article for virtually every item a gentleman should possess, but one of the best has been this cologne guide. Our olfactory memory is amazing: I can still remember the smell of the gauze curtains in my grandfather’s house, and in Remembrance of Things Past, by Proust, there is this evocative passage:
And suddenly the memory returns. The taste was that of the little crumb of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before church-time), when I went to say good day to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of real or of lime-flower tea.
That is my tip: use a cologne that evokes good memories. It will make you happy, and your good mindset spreads around you like the scent you chose to wear on that day.
12. A Serious Watch
The first (and frequently, the only) jewel a man owns, the watch is an inestimable friend every gentleman should own. Of course, there are thousands of options around, but I’ll try to make things easier for you. First, consider the main use of your watch: is it for professional wear? Evening wear? Weekend wear? There are watches that may be worn in most occasions, but as a rule of thumb think of the dial and the strap.
An uncluttered, clean dial is better for professional use, preferably with a leather strap; an evening watch may have a dark dial, also with a leather strap; and a weekend or sportive watch may be more elaborate, such as a chronograph or diving model, with metal or rubber strap.
Go for the best watch your budget allows, but be sensible: a precious metal watch will look pretentious for diving, for instance. Also, many etiquette manuals say that you should forego a watch with formal wear (the rationale being that you shouldn’t care about the time in such occasions). Be sure to check our previous articles on watches, such as this, and this.
13. A Bottle of Vintage Port from Your Birth Year (or Your Kid’s)
It is a Portuguese tradition: when your kid is born, you buy a bottle of Vintage Port from the same year to open it when he (or she) turns 18, and you drink it together. See here if your kid’s birth year (or your own) was declared Vintage – if a given year didn’t come out as the regulatory institute expected, then it does not approve the Vintage Port for that crop. If the year you are interested in was not declared a vintage for Port, check out the Colheita Port – a Tawny, not a Ruby as the Vintage, of a single crop.
14. A Great Copy of your Favorite Book
And by great, I mean a first edition or another edition where the author made some important correction or added something. Preferably leather bound and, if your pocket allows, signed and/or dedicated by the author. A good place to search is the Abebooks website.
We all are used to the ubiquitous Kindle or similar gizmo for reading e-books, but I believe these contraptions will never give you the same sensation as you have from turning the pages of a paper book, especially one that was seasoned by the time and dust of a good bookshelf.
Resist the temptation to write on it, unless you do it lightly with a pencil and do not intend to sell it someday. Collectors frown upon annotated books and the marginalia – the comments inscribed by a previous reader – devaluate an otherwise valuable copy.
15. A Pristine White Shirt
Well, if you had to have only one shirt in your wardrobe, probably it would be a white shirt with spread collar and French cuffs, made of a good fabric. We have covered the dress shirt here.
If you really want to hit it, have two classic white shirts: one that you use weekly and another kept neatly folded (or hanging) in your wardrobe. You never know if a friend will surprise you with a formal party – or if that old uncle decides to leave this world. A white shirt is simply unbeatable in terms of versatility.
Which items would you add or subtract from the list?