What's the deal with chambray?
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Chambray versus Denim: What's the difference

What's the deal with chambray?

Words— Alison Robins

Why choose chambray




A chambray shirt is as much a staple in your closet as denim, but one might say with even greater versatility. Just like denim, chambray acts as a neutral that can be paired with nearly any colour scheme. However, the thickness and general stiffness of the denim almost ensures that it remains a “day-time” material.


This is where chambray gets to strut its stuff. Chambry’s softness and lightness allow it to be worn just about anywhere. While it’s more commonly worn casually like its denim counterpart, the sleekness of the fabric has inspired designers to venture into creating more formal-inspired attire including shirts, ties, blazers or even full suits. Let’s be honest, it would be tough to dress up denim, despite the beloved “Canadian Tuxedo”, which seems to make a forceful comeback time and time again, eh?


While chambray is most traditionally made in a classic indigo blue, its growing popularity has led brands to venture into a slew of colours such as shades of grey, green and red. And as an added bonus, the classic white weft becomes more prominent with wear giving the fabric texture a classy depth.


Despite its thinner weave, chambray is a four-season fabric. You can wear a button-up chambray shirt under a cardigan during the fall and winter seasons, or leave it open over your swim trunks, beachside. Basically, you can’t go wrong.




Cool, but what is it? How is it different from denim?




If you look up the definition of chambray, you’ll get a confusing yet lovely string of words sounding something like a sartorial poem. The only problem is, what does it mean?  


A linen-finished gingham cloth with a white weft and a coloured warp, producing a mottled appearance.


Did you get that? That’s ok, we’re here to help.


For all intents and purposes, chambray appears to be very similar to denim, but due to the particular weave of the fabric, they’re more like distant cousins than brothers. In fact, chambray predates denim by a long shot.


Dating way back to the 1500s, the word derives from Cambric, referring to the French commune of Cambrai where plain-weave fabrics, like linen, were first produced. From the eye of the novice, chambray and denim are one and the same, but for a modern fashion connoisseur, they’re two completely different fabrics worn for different purposes and occasions.


Understanding the difference will help you purchase the right attire for the right look and make sure that you pair it properly in an ensemble, like the well put together man that you are. Also, random tidbits of information always make for great conversation starters - and why not sound like an expert?  


Let’s start off with the basics. Simply put, to produce a fabric, two sets of thread called a warp and a weft are woven together.





Warp: The threads that are strung vertically  Weft: The threads that run horizontally.



When it comes to chambray, the warp uses a coloured yarn (more often than not an indigo blue) and the weft uses a white yarn. Denim also uses that defining white horizontal thread and indigo blue yarn, two reasons for which the two fabrics are so often confused.


The difference between chambray and denim rests in the weave. Chambray is a plain-weave fabric, wherein warp and weft threads alternate one over the other to create an even criss-cross pattern. Alternatively, denim’s warp thread goes over two threads in the weft, woven in a diagonal twill pattern. This skipping of threads is what gives denim its signature look.


What’s the result? Chambray is a much thinner and softer-to-the touch fabric than denim. One is not better than the other, in fact you’ll find enthusiasts for both (denim heads are a real thing) - they’re just different.



How should it be worn?




There are multiple ways to wear chambray, depending on your style. Whether you’re a classic-cut guy or you like to push the boundaries, you can make chambray work. Remember that accessories will help bring your look to life, so for example, converse will give the fabric a much more casual look than chelsea boots - but there’s not one way that works better. This is a fabric made for you - have fun with it.





Let loose


Finish off your classic jeans and a white tee look with a chambray shirt, loose and open. The softness of the fabric gives it a more relaxed look and it’s less of a statement than denim on denim - the Canadian Tuxedo is a bold move that not everyone is willing to make.





Instead of putting on another white poplin shirt with your suit (whether for work or play) - try a slim-fitting chambray shirt. It serves the same purpose but gives the look an edge, and a much-needed refresher. For those who are required to wear a suit and tie every day, why not switch things up and stand out from the pack.

Meet the parents


When you need an appropriate, look but a suit is a notch too fancy,  try wearing a chambray shirt tucked into a pair of khaki chinos, with a belt. It’s a safe bet - you’ll look well put together without trying too hard, but the texture of the fabric gives the look a bit more punch. To take it from day to night you can always add a slim tie.

Get shorty


As we’ve said, this is a four season fabric. Wear it with a pair of shorts and boat shoes (ditch the socks) to take you through the hot city in a well-styled look that breaths during the summer season. Chambray typically uses a higher thread count, making it a finer more breathable weave. Either push up the sleeves of your chambray shirt or look out for one with short sleeves.



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