I started watching the British show Misfits on DVD last week. One of the characters is referred to, much to her anger, as a chav, and I had never heard the word before. Within minutes of searching on the internet, I came up with a general idea, but finding an exact definition has proven to be much harder:
The phrase seems to come from the Romani word “chavi” for child, and the Collins English Dictionary defines it as “a young working class person who dresses in casual sports clothing.” The broader image though is much more pejorative. It seems used to suggest an uncultured working-class teenager with no sense of class or style. The track-suit seems to be a key feature, as well as overly gaudy gold jewelry.
It seems very similar to American use of “guido,” minus the Italian-American heritage. Think “Jersey Shore.” However, a search of chav on Flickr suggests that many include any seemingly “tacky” people fitting the category.
The parody archetype chav (or chavette as is sometimes used for girls) is Vicky Pollard from the show Little Britain. More chavish behavior that fits the stereotype (including filthy language — be warned) can be found on YouTube.