The most elegant places in London - Citimarks

Ladies & Gentlemen

Lady walking by modern storefront in Covent Garden, London.
Gentleman exiting a fragrance & grooming store in Saint James London.


"A real gentleman is a true nobleman, one who is capable of exposing himself, even sacrificing himself for those he guides. He is not only a man of honor, but also a man of conscience."
Hippolyte Taine, Notes sur l’Angleterre, Hachette, 1890.
chapter 1

What makes a gentleman?

I am attempting to grasp the significance of a profoundly important term: a gentleman. It consistently resurfaces, encapsulating a multitude of distinctly English concepts. The pivotal question surrounding an individual often takes the form of, “Is he a gentleman?” Similarly, for a woman, the query may be, “Is she a lady?” In both instances, the implication is that the person belongs to the upper class, a class readily identifiable; there is no attempt by a worker, a peasant, or a shopkeeper to breach this boundary. But how does one discern that a person is a member of the upper class?

In France, we lack this term because we did not undergo the described societal evolution, and these three syllables from across the Channel encapsulate the narrative of English society. Unlike in France, where nobles by birth, squires, barons, and feudal chiefs, under Louis XV, devolved into mere privileged, ornamental parasites—ultimately harmful, unpopular, and odious […]- English upper-class individuals maintained their connection with the people. They opened their ranks to talent […], continuing to be commanding figures, leaders, or at the very least, influential individuals within the town and the State. To achieve this, they reconciled with the demands of their era and their roles. They assumed positions as administrators, leaders, champions of reform, adept managers of public affairs—diligent, educated, capable individuals. In essence, they became the most enlightened, independent, and valuable citizens of the nation.

This very framework gave rise to the concept of the gentleman, distinctly separate from that of the gentilhomme (noted as noble by birth). The gentilhomme evokes notions of elegance, finesse, tact, exquisite politeness, and dignified honor—characteristics emblematic of the upper class in France. Similarly, the gentleman embodies the distinctive traits of the English upper class, starting with the most conspicuous ones, those that catch the less refined eye: an independent fortune, a particular lifestyle, a specific appearance, opulent habits, and material comfort. Often, in the eyes of the common people, especially those of the butlers, this external facade suffices. […] However, for those who truly understand, the essence of this figure resides in the heart. […]

For these discerning individuals, a genuine gentleman is a bona fide nobleman—someone worthy of leadership, a person of integrity and selflessness, capable of putting himself at risk, even sacrificing himself for those under his guidance. He is not merely a man of honor but also a man of conscience […] someone who, by nature, conducts himself commendably and, guided by principle, acts even more virtuously.

In this ideal portrayal, one would recognize the consummate leader; infuse it with English nuances—self-control, unwavering composure, perseverance in the face of adversity, innate seriousness, dignity in behavior, and an aversion to all affectation or boasting—and you will have the epitome […].

A novelist depicted this ideal figure under the name of John Halifax, gentleman; the character is that of a destitute, abandoned child who ultimately becomes the respected leader of his community. One singular phrase sets the tone of the book: when, after numerous trials, John achieves a certain material comfort, purchasing a house and a carriage, his son exclaims:

– “Finally, we became gentlemen!”

– “We have always been gentlemen, my child.”

Hippolyte Taine,
Notes sur l’Angleterre, Hachette, 1890.
Grooming store shopping window in London.
Barber shop storefront in London.
Barber joking with patron at Spitalfield's Market, in London.
chapter 2

The Dandy

What must have amazed the foreign visitor to London between, say, 1790 and 1830 was the elegance, the splash and the grandeur of the new London. […] One manifestation, whose influence was more than temporary, was Byronism. All Europe, even Russia, adopted it. Another was dandyism in the genius of Beau Brummell.

Beau Brummell is often presented to us as a man who spent his morning tying a neckcloth, and therefore the epitome of extravagant folly. He was not. Puritanically, he brought good sense and simplicity into dress and manners.

He also introduced the notion that personal cleanliness was important.[…] Born in 1778, he was the son of a man who became private secretary to Lord North, went to Eton, and inherited a large fortune. But he was the grandson of a man who let lodgings to the nobility in St James’s, and, reverting perhaps to a good servant’s sense of what is proper, became an arbiter of dress and manners to his betters. […] He stood quite alone, determined to be undefeatable by royalty, aristocracy and anyone else, on their own ground.

He instituted the notion, at least in dress, that the duty of a gentleman was to be inconspicuous.

After the Napoleonic wars, the English became the fashion in France; dandyism was absorbed by them into the Romantic movement: one became a London dandy, bored, impassive, androgynous, insolent and keen on horses. It was known as dressing à la Valtre-Scott! Dandyism became, of course, conceptualized in France […] and was in fact an anti-bourgeois movement.

In England it started as a Puritan protest – for that is what Brummell’s campaign was, London manners always being in need of improvement or, at any rate, of being pointed up like London brick. The important difference between the dandyism of London and that of Paris is that London took the lesson and regarded the rest as useless, superficial and foolish; whereas the French saw it as a revolutionary gesture.

V.S. Pritchett,
London Perceived, The Hogarth Press, 1986

Waistcoats at a gentleman's store at Saint James, London.
A gentleman walking by Richard Ogden jewelry store in London.
Luxiourious bathrobes on the storefront of New & Lingwood, in London.
chapter 3

Gentleman’s talk

By the 19th century, clubs had become conformist and respectable. It was not done to talk politics or religion freely, and the smooth arts of gentlemanly evasion and persiflage were invented. Certain subjects were excluded, just as certain people were excluded from the conversation of the upper middle class…The gentleman was not speechless, but he was committed to a conversational formulae. […] The 18th century lay down a manner of talk that has never quite died. […]

Good London talk – if we can risk a definition – is, before anything else, light, sociable, discursive, enquiring, personal without vulgar reserves, prone to fantasy, never too serious, avoids entering the wilderness of the merely informative, the expert and the didactic – a bore is the man who tells you everything. […]

It sedulously avoids the professional, never harangues and is enhanced -or ruined, according to your view – by the amateur spirit. London talk has a horror of conclusions, and some foreigners have been exasperated by its fundamental eccentricity, though they have been charmed by its skillful evasions.

V.S. Pritchett,
London Perceived, The Hogarth Press, 1986

A waiter talking to his manager at a restaurant patio in London.
The Coral Room of Bloomsbury Hotel in Soho, London.
A barman at the The Coral Room of Bloomsbury Hotel in Soho, London.

The Coral Room, Bloomsbury Hotel’s stylish bar set on the edge of Soho, revives the ambiance of the swinging 1920s with its coral-coloured walls, Art-Deco chandeliers and sleek marble bar.

subscribe to our newsletter
chapter 4

“No, thank you.”

The Belgravia district extends beyond Brompton Road and Knightsbridge, where the Peerage boasts monotonous cream-colored hotels with stucco columns, particularly around Eaton Square, reflecting that dry post-Napoleonic architecture prevalent throughout Europe, except in France.

Within the very chilly lounges, adorned with Hindu silver bowls and a flowerpot carved from an elephant’s foot, elderly ladies, already withered during the reign of King Edward, lead a simple and secluded existence. It appears modest until the day after their passing when The Times suddenly reveals the enormity of their incomes. For these wrinkled individuals, preserved in the cold drafts that sweep across the parquet floor and ascend through a small fireplace adorned with a white paper fan, the sole source of warmth is the teapot, covered with a quilted hood, positioned next to the three-tier plate rack for sandwiches.

An old butler dressed in black tie, attends to them in their solitude, akin to how we serve during Mass.

– Stanley … the cheese?

Stanley, having read in the Morning Post it was time to economize, responds:

– Your Ladyship has been declining the cheese every day; I took the liberty of discontinuing it.

– That was a mistake, Stanley; starting tomorrow, you will have the pleasure of reinstating its service.  

The following day at lunch, the butler presents the aged cheese, and, just like every day for the past 35 years, the elderly lady calmly declines, saying, “No, thank you.”

[…] If a notary, concerned by the spending habits of an old Lord of Belgravia -who coincidentally is his client- suggests eliminating the two Italian pastry chefs assisting the cook, the Lord, appalled, responds:

– Doesn’t a gentleman have the right to enjoy a cookie with his sherry anymore?

Paul Morand,
Londres, Plon, 1962

Stylish young lady entering a cab at Mayfair, London.
A stylish young gentleman walking in London.
Stylish young gentlemen walking in Mayfair, London.
Colorful shirts at a department store in London.

London of the gentlemen

Elegant places to be pampered like a gentleman.

More from London