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chambray shirt fabric history
chambray shirt fabric history

Style Defined: Chambray

March 9th, 2016

Of all the classic menswear fabrics, chambray is a favorite of many, and for good reason.

The origins of chambray fabric are expectedly rather vague – the weaving process is pretty darn generic, and the color choices have been typical and widely used since textiles were first developed.

Some attribute the specific creation to a Jean-Baptiste Cambray, but this history is widely refuted and has no real verified standing. That said, the name itself is likely derived from the term ‘Cambric,’ which refers to the French town of Cambrai, where some of the earlier plain-weave workwear fabrics were heavily produced.

chambray shirt fabric history

The versatility of a chambray shirt on full display – it tempers the formality of a blazer for a casual and cool look.

So what exactly is chambray? As mentioned, it has a close relationship to denim, largely in what one could call their defining characteristic – the use of a white horizontal thread in the weave of the fabric (also known as the weft, while the vertical thread is called a warp).

The real beauty of this process shows as the fabrics age and the white weft becomes more and more visible, lending to the beautiful fades so revered by denim-heads and chambray enthusiasts. Even in a brand new piece, the contrasting threads offer a nice texture and visual depth over the relatively flat appearance of poplin.

EXPLORE: What’s the difference between denim and chambray?

In the modern era, chambray has seen a proliferation both in appearance and application. Primarily woven in indigo initially, you can now find the fabric in any variety of colors – some will even classify fabrics with colored weft threads (as opposed to white) as chambray, just so long as the warp and weft are two different colors.

chambray fabric history

A classic navy blazer adds some refinement to a chambray shirt.

These days, while you can always find a classic blue chambray shirt, it’s just as easy to find them in reds and greens and greys, or even woven patterns.

Additionally, though chambray has traditionally been a more casual fabric, the advantage of its aforementioned versatility has encouraged more and more designers to start incorporating the unique textile into formalwear.

While heavy denim is hard to dress up into a formal trouser, a crisp, lightweight chambray will do the trick just fine. And it’s now used for everything from dress shirts to ties to full suits.

chambray fabric history

Rugged and casual, chambray is perfect for everyday style.

As such, if you want chambray in your life, the options are endless, and you’re sure to find something up your alley, whether it’s rugged and casual or sharp and refined.

Thanks for reading.

Stylishly Yours,

Adam Lehman
He Spoke Style

Menswear history buff? Read more of our Style Defined series and explore the Glossary.

Photography by Rob McIver Photo.

Photo of Adam Lehman

Adam Lehman

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