Evelyn Waugh and the Charvet Shirt

A recent issue of the New York Times style magazine, somewhat presumptuously called “T,” carries an article (“Not Just Any White Shirt”) describing shirts made by the Parisian fashion house Charvet. In his efforts to validate this company as the benchmark brand for men’s shirts, the author (James McAuley) cites Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited:

Is it any wonder that Charvet is how Evelyn Waugh suggests the elegance of Sebastian Flyte in ‘‘Brideshead Revisited’’?

Having only recently reread that passage, I thought something didn’t sound right about this reference. It comes from the opening scene of the novel (following the prologue) where Sebastian arrives to summon Charles for his first visit to Brideshead Castle (Penguin, p. 24):

Sebastian entered–dove-grey flannel, white crepe de Chine, a Charvet tie, my tie as it happened, a pattern of postage stamps…

It was a Charvet tie, not a shirt, and it belonged to Charles, not Sebastian. By that time (after they had known each other for several months) Charles’ tastes in clothing may have been influenced by Sebastian, but there is nothing in particular to link Sebastian himself to the Charvet brand. Although the “white crepe de Chine” worn by Sebastian may refer to a shirt, the article says that Charvet’s shirts are best known for their cotton fabrics, and crepe de Chine is (according to Wikipedia) woven from silk, wool or synthetics.

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