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Get schooled on how to be a gentleman

Friday - 8/8/2014, 1:41pm  ET

Wine, whiskey, flowers and clothes were among the topics at the Gentleman Clinic. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)

WASHINGTON -- In medieval Europe, "gentleman" was a term used to describe a man who was not part of the royal court. That's what Eric Schulze, co-founder and creative director at ThirstDC tells a room full of men -- and a few women -- gathered at the UberOffices in Dupont Circle Wednesday night.

He continues, "As feudalism disappeared, it took on a different meaning: gentle man -- one of action, someone who does good. And I think that's the meaning it takes on today."

The crowd was not huddled in the room full of pizza boxes and empty Prosecco bottles for a lesson in history; they were there to pick up some pointers on how to be gentlemen.

D.C-area businesses and startups UrbanStems, State of Affairs, VinoLovers and Catoctin Creek hosted their first Gentleman Clinic, where they offered short seminars on everything from how to order wine at a business dinner to how to order flowers and find the right fit and style of clothing.

Believe it or not, the clinic wasn't focused on helping attendees score ladies (or fellows). The message was all about building one's confidence and broadening one's knowledge in a range of topics.

Some of the takeaways:

Order Whiskey With Confidence

There's nothing more gentlemanly than sipping on a smoky whiskey. But if you don't know much about the beverage, ordering it can be stressful. Chad Robinson, of Catoctin Creek, says first, it's helpful to know what kind of whiskey you want to drink.

Bourbon is an American whiskey, made primarily with corn. Some distilleries add a mix of rye, wheat and barley to the alcohol. Rye is an older American whiskey that "kind of fell out of favor" but is beginning to make a comeback, Robinson says.

And then there is Scotch whisky, a 100-percent barley whiskey, made in Scotland. Once you know what type of whiskey you want to drink, you need to know how to order it. And Robinson says it never hurts to order your whiskey with a little water.

"It opens up the whiskey and gives you a better chance to get the aromas from it; it gives you a better idea of what you're working with," he says.

Some restaurants and bars bring water to the table in an eye dropper, which is a great way to dilute the beverage with control, Robinson says. Don't have access to this tool? Don't be ashamed to use the straw from your water glass to accomplish the same task.

For those who aren't fans of sipping straight whiskey, Robinson suggests trying it in a cocktail such as a Manhattan or Old Fashioned.

Don't Ignore Wine

For all men who have sat at a business dinner and didn't have the slightest clue what wine to order, Justin Harrison understands. He was once in that position.

Now, he's the CEO of VinoLovers, a D.C.-based wine subscription service that delivers tailored wine collections to customers. He's also a sommelier, and he wants to teach more men about wine.

"For men, [the options] shouldn't just be beer and whiskey. Wine's not just for women; wine is lifestyle, you know what I mean? We know the difference between chicken and fish, and we should know the difference between pinot noir and cabernet," Harrison says.

Understanding the basics of wine can come in handy during social situations: "You're cool, you're calm, you're confident about what you want to drink."

Harrison has a few tips when it comes to ordering a wine: First, don't get flustered. Think about what flavors you like. He says it's far more important to remember a region than a brand.

"I know red wines from Napa Valley are going to have certain characteristics and whites from New Zealand are acidic," Harrison says. Remembering brands is much trickier, and most restaurants don't always carry the same labels on their menus.

If you don't know what you like, don't be afraid to ask the sommelier for suggestions. Harrison says the general rule of thumb is that red wines go well with traditional meats, while white wines tend to pair well with fish, chicken or pasta with buttery sauces.

When the waiter brings the wine to the table, save the show for later; don't unnecessarily sip, sniff and swirl for show -- do them discreetly.

First, look at the wine to make sure there aren't any imperfections. For older, aged wines, it's normal to have some sediment. But newer wines shouldn't have much suspended in the liquid.

Sniff the wine to make sure it doesn't smell off. Then, give it a slight swirl to open it up and let it breathe. After all, from the vine to the bottle, the wine has had a long journey to your table.

"It's like when you come home, you have to kick off your shoes for a second and let the feet air out. The same thing happens to the wine," Harrison says.

Finally, give it a taste. Make sure it's what you want for the evening. And don't be afraid to send it back, or ask for another recommendation to suit your preferences.

Find the Right Fit

When it comes to wardrobe, Kendrick Jackson, managing partner at State of Affairs, says it's all about the fit. Making sure shirts, jackets and pants are tailored to perfection sounds like a tedious task, but Jackson says it pays off in the long run because it helps clothes last longer.

"If men don't like to shop, then they can maintain a wardrobe for a lot longer," Jackson says.

Having a well-rounded wardrobe doesn't mean you have to have a lot of clothes. Jackson says sometimes the best wardrobe is a small one -- as long as everything fits properly. Jackson recommends getting professionally measured.

"Most guys know that they're a 34 waist, 38 pants, and they know their weight and their height; other than that, they don't know much about their size."

Then, take a look in your closet. Everything you don't wear, donate it or get it tailored so you will wear it.

"The most expensive things in your closet are the things that you don't wear," he says.

"It's not about dressing in the highest fashion; it's about wearing clothes that fit," Jackson says. "If it fits well, you look good and feel good."

Pick Up Flowers Just Because

Ajay Kori says guys just don't send enough flowers.

"Ninety-five percent of women want to get more flowers, which is not that surprising," says Kori, co-founder of UrbanStems, a local business that delivers flowers in D.C. and Arlington. "But guys consistently don't send enough flowers at random, for no reason."

This, Kori says, can make all the difference.

"Guys tend to be occasion-based senders -- you know, Valentine's Day, birthdays, that kind of thing," says Jeff Sheely, UrbanStems' other co-founder. But research shows it means the most to the majority of women when flowers are a surprise.

"It's such an easy way to brighten someone's day and really make a big impression. And it's not hard."

Kori and Sheely say when choosing flowers for a woman -- whether a mother, sister, friend or significant other -- think most about what they would like, what resembles them.

Red roses are a bold statement, Sheely says. If you're intending to keep it casual, go with a more rustic bouquet of seasonal flowers.

If the flowers are fresh, they should last one to two weeks, especially when the stems are cut at an angle and the water is changed every few days.

"It's really the gesture that matters," Kori says. "Sending flowers at random is just a really gentlemanly thing to do."

And they say chivalry is dead.

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