What exactly is a gentleman?

Considering the name of this site, I feel I have the obligation to address exactly what a gent is.

When I started in 2009, the word “gent” wasn’t as commonly used on the internet as it is today. To be honest, if it was, I probably wouldn’t have chosen such a name.

Along with that ubiquity came the brand marketers’ (and the internet memeographers’) personification and embodiment of what a ‘gent’ looks like, how he acts, and what he does in his spare time.

If you believed everything you saw in print and TV ads, you’d imagine that to be a gent means you wear impeccably-tailored suits, have a glass of scotch (neat) in your hand, possess well-coiffed hair, and smoke cigars in your dimly-lit, private library with leather-bound books stacked on shelves that reach the ceiling.

There is also probably a gorgeous woman nearby, often in a silhouette-revealing, skin-tight dress, somewhere in the frame.

So… is that what a gent is?

The Ubiquitous Gent

Apparently, there are many ways gentleman is defined. Here’s what Merriam-Webster says:

a. A man of noble or gentle birth;
b. A man belonging to the landed gentry;
c. A man who combines gentle birth or rank with chivalrous qualities;
d. A man whose conduct conforms to a high standard of propriety or correct behavior

Wikipedia states that the original definition of gentleman denoted “a man of the lowest rank of the English gentry, standing below an esquire and above a yeoman.”

Here’s a screenshot of the rankings. Pretty low on the totem pole.

Wikipedia also says this (under Modern Usage) which, to me, is a much better summary of the term’s meaning:

In another sense, being a gentleman means treating others, especially women, in a respectful manner and not taking advantage or pushing others into doing things he chooses not to do. The exception, of course, is to push one into something he needs to do for his own good, as in a visit to the hospital, or pursuing a dream he has suppressed.

So, while the definition of a gentleman began as a way to distinguish among social classes, in modern day, it is more associated with the mannerisms, behaviors, and general way one of that status would (or should) comport himself.

But where in all those definitions does it talk about nice suits, scotch, cigars, and women?

gent image search
gent image search

Good ol’ Google telling us how to be gents. Click to enlarge.

To be honest, I find the commonly-used visual of the modern-day gent a little contrived, a little corny.

If you think being a gent is about how your suit fits, you’re missing the point. It’s about much more than that.

Let’s create our own definition of “gent”

Being a gent isn’t exclusively about the clothing you wear. It isn’t just about the watch on your wrist, the scotch in your glass, the label on your cigar, or the hotness level of the woman on your arm.

Why not?

  • There are many well-dressed men who may look the part, but aren’t necessarily gentlemen by definition
  • There are many gents who fit the definition, but simply don’t know how to dress well

Sure, dressing appropriately for any occasion (in accordance with how he lives his life and what he does) is part of it.

But it’s also about how he carries himself. How he behaves when no one else is watching. How he treats those who owe him nothing.

A gent is courageous—he sticks his neck out for what he believes in, even if he’s hesitant. A gent is honest—he tells the truth, even if it’s not the easiest thing to do.

He is self-assured; he knows what he likes, what he wants, and what suits him best.

A gent is adventurous—he lives for the unforgettable experience, and strives to immerse himself in things he doesn’t yet fully understand, in order to gain empathy and become more open-minded.

He is subtle, whether in dress or action. He isn’t showy and doesn’t look for recognition. Instead, he is interested in the story and sentimentality behind the items he owns and wears, and he does things simply for the pleasure it brings to both him and the recipient.

A gent is chivalrous—he treats others with politeness and cares about their well-being, and if he has a partner, he treats her with respect, cherishes, and adores her.

He is refined, both in manner and possessions. He is a curator, an editor of his own life, unapologetically pursuing that which brings him immense pleasure, and relentlessly cutting out the insignificant and unworthy experiences that only serve as distractions.

A gent is generous, especially with the people he loves and cares about, but even with those who can’t offer anything in return.

A gent has principle and character, staying true to himself despite the ever-changing tides of popular belief.

That, my friends, is what being a gent means to me, and while this site focuses on dressing effortlessly, I hope you see that being a gentleman encompasses more than simply what you decide to wear.

Try Every Day

While I’m certainly not the perfect embodiment of all those things, I do the best I can and I try every day, and as readers of Effortless Gent, hopefully you too strive every day to live up to the same principles.

So, if you’re new here, and you’re still trying to figure out if Effortless Gent is meant for you, understand that it’s not just about the clothing.

Sure, we can help you dress better, but we want that focus and care to extend to other parts of your life as well.

We all have the ability to be gents, no matter our history, upbringing, or current social status. We’re all gents in training, striving to be upstanding, honorable, gentle men.

Sure, let’s talk about how to dress well. But remember, being an effortless gent goes beyond the clothes you put on your back.

Thanks to reader Rick B., Simon, and David for inspiring this article.

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PUBLISHED September 17, 2015


Barron is a Lean Wardrobe Advocate and Founding Editor of Effortless Gent. He's from San Francisco but currently living in New York. Connect with him on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, or Tumblr.



  • Jan

    Barron,
    Very well written! I completely agree with the above: being a gentleman is more than being well dressed, or well-mannered. It is a combination of all these things. Perhaps one thing I would add to the list is that a gentleman should be humble, while at the same time radiating an air of self-confidence (without overdoing it of course. You do not want people to think you are a jerk).

    Jan

    • Humble, indeed. I lumped that idea in with “subtle” but I guess humble would have been a better choice 🙂

  • deliberatefellow

    Barron,
    I couldn’t agree more, the term ‘gent’ has certainly lost its original meaning and seems to be focused solely on the outward appearance. I had recently started my own blog and struggled with that term and ended up with http://www.deliberatefellow.com. As much as gentleman do focus on the exterior, it’s the character and quality in the man that makes the clothes. Nice article and keep up the great work, you guys are an inspiration!

    • I like fellow. I think that’s my main issue, the fact that “gent” seems to be understood as referring to outward appearance, which I’m disagreeing with in this post (clearly, I think it should encompass much more)

  • jbmorgan310

    The Art of Manliness is a website that does a great job helping men develop all of these areas you mentioned.

  • Douglas

    Being a gentleman is an attitude. I agree wholeheartedly with your new definition of the consummate gentleman. If you practice all the attributes in your list daily you indeed will be a gentleman

    • Thanks for reading; glad it resonates

  • Terry Tomlin

    Barron, great article and I totally agree. I’ve always considered being referred to as a gentleman to be a badge of distinction, but as you have stated, the term have become diluted. A modern gentleman should embody all of the things that you have mentioned along with manners. A gentleman can be easily spotted. He’s the guy holding the door at the restaurant. He’s pulling out the chair for his female companion, and standing when she returns to the table, and much more. He’s that confident guy who stands out In the crowd for how he carries himself with respect and dignity. Here’s to that guy!

    • Yes, manners! I sorta touched on that with chivalry, but we’re on the same page. Glad you agree 🙂

      • Terry Tomlin

        Ah Chivalry! That could be it’s own topic! It’s a lost art.

  • Jim Voll

    Great article! You brought some very good points. A gentlemen can be confident but still be humble, I tell my sons all the time that you should not do things looking for praise all the time, just knowing you did a good deed should be enough. doing what is right may not be what is easy or what you want to do at that particular time but it’s right. I think a true gentlemen should always care about how he dresses. It does always have to be the latest fashion but he should care how he presents himself. You can not care about others, your job or life unless you first take care of yourself. Everything falls into place and a true gentlemen will emerge

    • Well said, and I hope I can eloquently convey the same stuff to my children one day (when I have some)

  • Dharmesh Barot

    If I had to pick one article that was close to perfect if not perfect, it would be this.. It is MVA.. Most Valuable Article 🙂 on Effortless Gent.. I am sure there was nothing effortless about creating it 🙂 AWESOME!

    • Thanks, Dharmesh! Glad it made MVA and happy it resonates 🙂

  • Michael

    Your best article to date. The word I would add is, honor. A gentleman lives within a code of honor: he does not take unfair advantage, he keeps his word, serves his country, etc.
    I think being a gentleman is going to become very popular.

    • I sure hope it does 🙂

  • Philip

    I have always found that the “better” a man dresses, usually the less of both a gentlemen and a man (they are two different things) he is.

    • Hmm, that’s unfortunate. I haven’t had the same experience, but that doesn’t discount yours. Maybe it’s coincidence, or not being able to observe outside your immediate area?

      In any case, I think there are well-dressed assholes and well-dressed nice guys and well-dressed gents and well-dressed manly men. And there are poorly-dressed versions of all those things too.

  • I absolutely love your definition of a “gent.” Being this guy takes so much more than a nice suit or anything materialistic…you’re spot on about his character and actions taking precedence. Such a great read!

    • thanks for reading 😉

  • JackalopeJones

    I really love that there’s a growing movement here on the Internet that’s trying to bring the idea of gentlemanhood and “what it means to be a man” into the future. The constant thread I’m seeing is strength through gentleness, confidence through acquiescence, virility through restraint. I LOVE IT.

    I agree with what you have written here, Barron — and I think that part of being a true gentleman is aiming for excellence no matter your station or situation. If you’re a convenience store clerk, be the best damn clerk you can be. Carry yourself with pride and confidence; be considerate and polite to the people around you; have a strong, personal moral fiber that you prove through your actions.

    It’s about so much more than clothes and grooming, even though your outward appearance broadcasts a lot about your state of mind. It’s about knowing who you are and how you fit in the world, and using the power you have to make your little corner of it just a bit better. That confidence doesn’t come without self-knowledge, and that self-knowledge doesn’t come without diligent and persistent effort.

    Being a gentleman is a process, a lifestyle. It’s not a title you take upon yourself; it’s something that you strive for, and it’s something you let others confer upon you.

    • Aiming for excellence no matter your station, well said. I definitely agree that it’s a process, maybe even a journey a man takes on his own, and it all takes place within himself. That was a little trite and corny-sounding but pretty much true 🙂 Thanks for your comment.

  • Andrew Mack

    “A man whose conduct conforms to a high standard of propriety or correct behavior” this along with your other points are spot on! “Courageous, self-assured, adventurous, subtle, chivalrous, refined etc.
    I believe there is so much more to the modern gentleman than a fine suit. I am, through a blog of my own, trying to discover what that is. It’s about what I am doing and what I have gone through. It’s my warts and all journey on becoming a gentleman.
    This really resonates with me. Great Post!

  • I mean, I wouldn’t mind being part of the “landed gentry” (whatever that is), but I like your definition too 🙂

  • Cmattsstyle

    Finally I got around to reading this beautiful summary of what it means to be a gent. Seeing as many men who come close to meeting most aspects of this description that I know don’t drink liquor or smoke cigars I was glad to see that your description went well beyond the physical realm. All this despite the fact that putting men into clothes that fit and help enhance their outward appearance is what I do. Thanks for opening what can be an ongoing dialogue. As a woman I certainly would love the world to be populated by an opposite sex who embodied these characteristics. The only comment I would make is that I am sure there are gay men who read your column and their partner would not be a woman. There was one comment that should’ve been more all inclusive.