What exactly is a gentleman?

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

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 gentleman 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 “gentleman”

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

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

That, my friends, is what being a gentleman 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.