Thackeray liked to call the Regency dandy the “genlmn”, and to admire in his place the new Victorian “gentleman”. Neither species is to be confused with The Gent, an obnoxious specimen of town life that flourished on the London streets in the 1830s and 1840s, to the amusement and indignation of his contemporaries. “The Gent” was a label pasted on young men at the very bottom of the respectable class, the scrubby clerks, apprentices and medical students who scraped along in the backwaters of London on less than 50 pounds a year, calling themselves (hopefully) “gents” and their betters (admiringly) “swells”. The Gent was a creature of once-a-month sprees and splurges, of false fronts to calico shirts, of phony jewellery, half-price tickets to the theatre, greasy hair and dirty ears….
The Gents thrived on the disreputable new ready-to-wear clothing shops of early Victorian London. These shops provided their clothes and also, often, their livelihood: the most commonly caricatured breed of Gent was the haberdasher’s or linen draper’s clerk….To flatter the Gent’s snobbery the cheap tailors called their fashions after aristocrats and dandies: the “Chesterfield” great-coat; the “Byron tie”….“If the things are not dignified by these terms,” wrote a contemporary authority, “the Gent does not think much of them.”
— The Dandy, by Ellen Moers