Did you know that working from home was generally a no-no for Victorian gentlemen? The domestic space was regarded as a woman’s domain and no place for a gentleman to spend his days.
This was a particularly big problem for writers who were afraid that working from home threatened their masculinity.
This is just one of many interesting aspects of Victorian masculinity. Read on to learn more on what are the characteristics of a gentleman.
What Made Someone A Gentleman In The Victorian Era
Masculinity, along with its cultural expectations in terms of etiquette, changes constantly from era to era and within different regions and cultures.
For men living in the Victorian era (1837-1901), the biggest expectation placed on them was personal morality. This was in line with the more widespread moralistic view of the entire United Kingdom during this era.
Liberalism and Christianity, which gained prominence during the reign of Queen Victoria, emphasised personal virtues like charity, responsibility, mercy, kindness and discipline.
Being a patriarchal society, the moral burden was heavier on men. There was a lot of emphasis on the etiquette and code of conduct for gentlemen. This included how they handled themselves at home with their family, in their work and business as well as in social situations.
While a sociology or gender studies scholar would give you a more thorough dive into the profile of a Victorian gentleman, here’s a quick summary of what was expected of him.
A focus on personal morality was the main characteristic of a gentleman. A proper gentleman was expected to be kind towards others, protective of his wife, show mercy to everyone regardless of their status and maintain constant self-examination.
As we mentioned, this was in line with the general morality and liberalism that pervaded society in the Victorian Era. It led to campaigns and movements to abolish slavery and child labour.
Personal morality was strongly connected to religious expectation. A Victorian was supposed to be pious, faithful and deeply spiritual. Men were considered to be the religious heads over their families with the responsibility of encouraging virtuous behaviour in family members.
Work was essential for Victorian men to maintain their masculine status. A Victorian man was expected to provide for his family and uphold moral work and business ethics.
Interestingly, aristocratic men weren’t expected to be hard workers, since they were already rich. They were usually landowners.
The work ethics imposed upon Victorian men, particularly lower class and middle class males, led to a rapid rise of the middle class. The economy grew and aristocrats had significantly less control on society and governance.
As you can expect, for a society focused a lot on discipline and morality, the dress code was equally strict.
Victorian gentlemen were expected to be clean and smartly dressed at all times, whether they were working or at a pub.
As men strived to maintain their masculinity and respectability, they adopted a sombre dressing stye characterised by neutral colours and overcoats.
There was a morning dress as well as an evening dress, with both generally being formal and consisting of a coat, vest, doeskin trousers and dress shoes.
Since the dress code was largely uniform among men, high quality materials and expert tailoring became crucial in defining a man’s status.
As for accessories, the most common were hats, bow ties and gloves. Pocket watches with elaborate chains also became popular.
Fitness and Sportsmanship
In the last half of the Victorian era, there was a shift in the perception of manliness to focus more on fitness and athleticism.
Being fit was seen as important to personal discipline, sacrifice, patriotism and morality. This view led to a major rise in various sports.
Athletes were seen as more manly and gained higher respectability in society.
The Modern Gentleman
Today, the concept of a gentleman is based more on personal preferences than cultural expectations. Part of this because gender roles are more blurred and there isn’t as much focus on morality and piousness.
To put it in a simpler way, no one expect you to be a gentleman of some sort; it’s up to you to dress, behave and live in a way that you think a proper gentleman would.
That said, some characteristics of a gentleman are universal and common across eras: maintaining decorum in all situations, dressing well (a nice suit, watch and pair of shoes) and showing kindness to others. Here are some of the great books on becoming a gentleman.