Have you ever seen the portrait of the 18th century French king Louis XIV bearing his regal robes, crown, and scepter? There is an unusual feature to the painting that causes me to reflect on an idiom used in the professional world—putting your “best foot forward.” But how did this become a common reference to the attempt of making an excellent first impression?
Clearly, Louis XIV was not the first to draw attention to his beauty or legs. For several centuries, European noblemen and wealthy gentry were greatly concerned about outward beauty and appearances. They affected ruffled sleeves, powdered wigs, black satin knee breeches, and full-length hose above buckled shoes. Many of the idle rich were quite vain and took particular pride in showing off a good pair of legs.
Some believe that individuals gave preference to one leg as being more attractive than the other. For example, a fellow who wanted to make the greatest possible sensation at levees and balls might find a place where he could stand with his best-looking leg and foot in front, where it would attract many glances.
This is not dissimilar to the modern-day preference by individuals on the hunt for the perfect “selfie” with the right angle, perfect lighting, and ideal composition. Have you ever started to take a photo and realize that you move your head in a certain angle or position? By doing so, you are showing a preference towards your “good side,” as you attempt to attract many glances and likes from followers.
However, more recently, it has been thought that when young ladies curtsied and young men bowed, they were advised to “put their best foot forward” to make the best curtsy or bow possible. It seems that people can be left- or right-footed just as they are left- or right-handed. So, parents wanted their children to put forward their “best” foot, depending on whether they were left- or right-footed.
Regardless of the true reasoning of putting your feet and legs forward, by the 16th century, a person wanting to make a good impression knew that this was what they should do.
Such notion clearly has carried through the reign of Louis XIV and into present-day social interactions. When you meet someone for the first time, interview for a new job, or travel to a foreign locale, you might be a bit more concerned and conscientious of your appearance in order to make a great impression.
Even though we have made the handshake our primary tool of first impression building, I might just have to extend my best foot forward next time.
- Garrison, Webb. Why You Say It: The Fascinating Stories Behind Over 600 Everyday Words and Phrases. MJF Books, 1992, 23
- Bowles, David. “Early American Trivia: Put your best foot forward”. The Westward Saga, 20 Oct. 2007, https://westwardsagas.com/early-american-trivia-put-your-best-foot-forward/. Accessed 19 Jul. 2019.
About Dr. Donald “Doc” Hecht — Doc is an Educator, University Founder, and President Emeritus writing and discussing the trends and challenges facing higher, online, and distance education, among other topics. Please feel free to comment, make suggestions, or ask any questions! You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.