Bonaparte to Obama: the Story of Charvet, the World's First Shirt Shop

Charvet was the world’s first shirt shop
Charvet was the world’s first shirt shop | © Claude TRUONG-NGOC / WikiCommons

Paris has always been associated with style and sophistication, but it may not be as well known that the city actually pioneered the fine art of shirtmaking. Founded in 1838, Charvet became the world’s first ever shirt shop and has attracted a very illustrious clientele ever since.

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Paris has long been recognised as an elegant city

Paris, the City of Light, has always captivated people’s hearts with its class and sophistication. In fact, only last year did Paris receive an official award in recognition of its elegance.

From the world-famous Paris Fashion Week, the most important event in all fashion enthusiasts’ diaries, to the enduring legacy of luxury brands like Chanel, the city has been inseparable from fashion for centuries.

In many ways, it comes as little surprise to learn that shirtmaking was pioneered in Paris. Which other city could rival its fashion excellence?

Chanel headquarters

How Charvet became the world’s first ever shirt shop

The Parisian shirtmaker Charvet has been associated with bespoke elegance since it was founded by Joseph-Christophe Charvet in 1838. Not only was it the first shirt shop in Paris, but also the first shirt shop in the world.

By way of comparison, the first shirtmakers in London were created between 1885 and 1895.

Charvet in 1909

Before Charvet was established, shirt and tie makers would travel to visit their clients at their homes or workplaces and so, this was the first time that all the fabrics were assembled at one address.

The shirt-buying experience became even more enjoyable when the window shopping aspect was added, as people were able to browse through the extensive collection at leisure – and with their friends and family.

When the shop first opened, it became especially popular with what was known as the Jockey Club – a group of fashion-conscious, trendy young men who loved horse racing and high-quality clothes.

The original style of Charvet shirts

Window shopping for a new shirt might seem like second-nature today, however, the concept was so new at the time that the word chemisier (shirtmaker) was actually invented to describe Charvet. The store has been situated on the trendy Place Vendôme since 1877.

Charvet was founded in 1838

Jean-Claude Colban and his sister Anne-Marie Colban purchased the shop from its founders in 1964 and shuffled its address to the current position of 28 Place Vendôme in 1982.

But other than the new address, very little else has changed. This luxury shirtmaker and tailor continues to enchant the most famous and fashion-savvy individuals.

The shop has always attracted illustrious clients

Specialising in ‘royal haberdashery’, Charvet was the official shirtmaker to British King, Edward VII. The most impressive name on Charvet’s list of customers, though, is none other than Napoleon Bonaparte, the first emperor of France.

Being wardrobe curator to one of the greatest military leaders in Western history has clearly played in the shop’s favour, as the list of clients that follow is no less impressive.

Charvet was the world’s first shirt shop

Keen to model themselves in this military hero’s footsteps, the likes of Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy have shopped here – and, more recently, Barack Obama.

Many famous writers have flocked here, too, from Émile Zola, Charles Baudelaire and Marcel Proust to Oscar Wilde and Ernest Hemingway.

As well as artistic masters, such as Claude Monet and Henri Matisse, the store has inspired fashion icons themselves, like Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, who have proudly worn items from this store.

Shop Charvet's awe-inspiring choice of fabrics


© Claude TRUONG-NGOC / WikiCommons

When you walk through these famous doors, it can be difficult to know where to start. There are 6,000 different fabrics, showcased across seven immaculately organised floors, available in more colours and nuanced shades than you could possibly imagine. There are no fewer than 400 whites available in 104 different shades, for example, no doubt to the appreciation of artistic masters like Monet and Matisse. But you’d expect nothing less from such a high-end expert tailor. Whether you want to buy a bespoke suit or a ready-to-wear shirt, this luxury Parisian retailer is one of the most internationally renowned. They also design and sell neckties, blouses and pyjamas.

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