Prince (Un)Charming

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Cal: I was supposed to say that you are the perfect combination of sexy and cute. Which is actually something that I used to say to my wife, but now it's become corrupted and I have eighteen layers of clothes on. I'm wearing a shirt and a tie and a sweater and a suede jacket that just seals in all the heat. Seals in all the juices. I'm just...it's all sweat under here. This is just sweat from here down. I'm...this sweater, this is called slim cut, but it feels like a scuba suit and I'm looking at your breasts. What's that about?

Kate: You think I'm the perfect combination of sexy and cute?

Cal: That's what you picked up from what I just said?

                                                            --- Crazy Stupid Love

One day, while doing some work in Union Square, I met Philip, a lanky man with exaggerated features and an affinity for vintage clothing. He sat down next to me and opened with, “Are you writing me a love letter?”  I knew immediately he was a pickup artist (with shady moves like this guy), but despite his transparency, his charm was undeniable. And despite my awareness, I found myself talking, laughing, and even exchanging email addresses with him [spoiler: we did not date].  Philip was definitely not the most handsome man I’d ever met, but his charm -- however obvious and forward it may have been -- transcended his looks.

This experience seems to contradict our current alleged “crisis in charm”: The Atlantic recently declared that we are officially “devoid of charming men” -- a statement supported by The Hangover trilogy and the Judd Apatow slacker man-child tales. Yet, a quick YouTube search for “pick up artist” videos yields nearly 2 million results -- suggesting that “charm,” in some form, is not reserved exclusively for fairy tales, but is alive and actively roaming a street near you (and is possibly even charming your mother).

We love to be charmed -- and yet, we fear it.  It not only connotes attraction, but also magic, manipulation, and deception.  To charm is to cast a seductive spell, and spells bewitch us, rendering us disoriented and powerless. Still, we lament the demise of charm.  Why?

Charm is the art of communication. To speak and act with aplomb is admirable and desirable. But communication -- and charm -- is more than verbal.  It also includes how we visually present ourselves. So what does “charming” look like?

Fortunately, charm does not correlate with hotness.  It’s often associated with a certain old fashioned sense of style -- a visual nod to what some would argue is the lost art of chivalry and gentility.  The return of dandy stylings, as witnessed through recent trends like the seemingly ubiquitous bow tie, suggests that perhaps not only dressing but acting the part of the gentleman is back en vogue.  Why? Because how you appear suggests how your audience might also expect you to behave.

And men are not the only ones with the power to charm: A a recent study indicated that “feminine charm” (a.k.a. “an impression management technique available to women that combines friendliness with flirtation” ) helps improve social and economic negotiation, suggesting that more women should turn up the charm, as well.

If The Atlantic is wrong (as some think it is) and charming men do still walk the earth, have they lost their efficacy? Do women even want or react to charm? Are we immune to its powers? If my encounter with Philip -- and millions of YouTube videos -- are any indication, the answer is no. Charming men, though perhaps not the Prince Charmings we once imagined, haven’t lost their mojo.

Here are some tips to help you (or the men in your life) bring chivalry back and flex your charming muscles:

  • Get inspired: Whether you watch a Cary Grant film, like An Affair to Remember, or a modern classic like Richard Gere in Pretty Woman or Ryan Gosling in Crazy Stupid Love (see them in action via the links),  find your personal charm icon and construct your identity accordingly.

  • Get the look: Follow this formula and build your gentleman’s wardrobe with classic items (with a twist): Start with a well-tailored, interesting blazer, pay attention to details like pocket squares, don’t be afraid to get creative with cufflinks, and step into some revamped wingtips.  You will radiate charm -- guaranteed.

  • Act the part: Nothing screams charm like “old fashioned” gestures, like standing when a lady gets up or approaches the table and always walking curbside.  It may seem affected, but it’s always appreciated and impressive. Bonus: it’s free!

richard_gere paul stuart Silk Color Block Dots Pocket Square walking_etiquette_tip