A boutique is a small shopping outlet, especially one that specializes in elite and fashionable items such as clothing and jewelry. The word is French for “shop”, via Latin from Greek ἀποθήκη (apothēkē), “storehouse”.
The term entered into everyday English use in the late 1960s when, for a brief period, London was the centre of the fashion trade. Carnaby Street and the Kings Road were the focus of much media attention as home to the most fashionable boutiques of the era. Now the East of London has been regenerated and more Boutiques pop up in fashionable areas, such as Tower Bridge Road.
It can also refer to a specialised firm such as a boutique investment bank or boutique law firm. The word is often used to describe a property in the independent section of the hotel market (such as The Rockwell in London) in order to distinguish themselves from larger chains (such as Hilton Hotels). In such cases the establishments aim to convey the idea that the operation is elite and highly specialised.
In the strictest sense of the word, boutiques would be one-of-a-kind but more generally speaking, some chains can be referred to as boutiques if they specialize in particular styles.