How to Sit, Stand, and Walk in Public
Women have long been instructed on how to sit, and the iconic image of the “finishing schools” of yesteryear is that of the young lady practicing comportment with a hardcover book balancing atop her head. But rarely are men instructed on the basics of sitting, standing, and walking.
When sitting such that the lower body is exposed—on a dais or as a platform guest, during a television interview, when sitting for a photograph, or while waiting in an airport or train station, for example—a gentleman should exhibit modesty and dignity. He should sit upright, with his back against the back of the chair or seat, with both knees together, the right foot brought behind the left foot then placed alongside the back-half of the “outstep” of the left foot, toes of both feet pointing directly forward. When hands are not actively engaged, they should be placed upon the lap, one hand atop the other or with fingers interlocked as if in prayer. Never, when the lower body is exposed, should a gentleman sit in public view with his legs wide open or spread apart at the thighs so as to expose his crotch. “Family jewels” are better kept under lock and key. And he certainly should not open and close his legs repeatedly—as if a bellows. In less formal situations, legs may be crossed by placing one knee over the other. And in very casual situations, it is acceptable to cross legs by placing the ankle of one foot atop the knee of the opposite leg. It should be noted, however, that in certain cultures (See chapter, “International Customs”), exposing the sole of one’s shoe or one’s foot is regarded as disrespectful).
When standing, a gentleman should display an upright posture, his stomach in, his shoulders squared, his weight evenly balanced on both legs. In casual or relaxed settings, a gentleman may assume contrapposto from time to time.
It is said that a man’s chest should enter a room before his stomach. For more portly gentlemen, however, that rule of thumb may be easier said than done. Regardless, every effort should be made to effortlessly carry oneself in an upright, confident, elegant manner. Shoulders squared and slightly back, chest out, stomach in, a man should walk placing one foot in front of the other, toes pointing directly forward, as if walking upon the four-inch side of a two-by-four plank. (Women, on the other hand, should place their feet as if walking upon a chalked line). While much of a gentleman’s gait is the result of genetics, body type, and culture, the overall objective of gentlemanly carriage should be to exude an understated, innate self-confidence. And to achieve that end, a young man, during his early teenage years, when he is perhaps most lacking in coordination on account of growth-spurts, should enroll in a local fashion-modeling course that teaches—in a mirror-paneled classroom—proper bearing. Also, when casually walking in front of storefronts and display windows, for example, he should periodically—but discretely—observe his posture and overall carriage, self-correcting any obvious flaws along the way. Eventually, proper carriage will become second-nature and a part of a young man’s overall appearance.