A denim or chambray shirt can be great with tailoring. Perhaps more than anything else, they have the ability to subvert its corporate, even dandy associations. They reliably give the appearance of being both casual and practical.

The two terms, however, are used very broadly.

So in the spirit of this guide to shirting fabric, I thought we’d set out how they are defined in the industry, starting technical and then expanding into modern uses. 

 

 

Denim is usually defined by its indigo-coloured warp thread and white weft thread. 

This can be done in any weave structure but is usually a twill, and in jeans or other heavier cloths, a 3×1 twill. 

So in a shirt, the cotton used may be a lot finer than that used for jeans, and the feeling might therefore be rather different. But it will have the same warp and weft threads, and be a twill. (Shirt and jeans shown above.)

The first way denim is thought of differently is to focus on the indigo colour – so calling a cloth denim even though it has both an indigo warp and weft, for example. This would perhaps be more accurately called ‘denim-coloured’. 

And the second is to focus on the yarn and the weave. So a pair of white jeans might be referred to as denim based on the coarse cotton and 3×1 twill, even though there is no indigo. 

 

 

Chambray (above and below) is sometimes unhelpfully used as a description for a lighter weight denim. 

But it does have a tight definition, which is a plain-weave cloth with a coloured warp (not usually indigo) and a white weft. It is also always single ply, where denim shirting can be two ply. 

Although I won’t go into the cultural histories of the two cloths (plenty on that elsewhere), it is relevant to point out that chambray was originally created as standard issue for the US Navy, and was meant to be both practical and breathable. 

This is why it is light in weight and often quite open. It is also why it is associated with a slubby yarn, creating texture redolent of linen. 

The original US shirts were not meant to be slubby, but became so with exposure to salt and water. (In the same way denim was not originally meant to fade, yet that is now a defining characteristic.)

 

 

Today a slub yarn is used by mills to create this effect in chambray, and this is the most common way chambray is thought of differently – by its slubbiness rather than the coloured warp/white weft.

So for example you occasionally see a ‘chambray’ shirting that has a white warp and a white weft (indeed I have one, and love it). This is basically an all-white version of the normal chambray, and might perhaps be better called a chambray effect. 

Interestingly, chambray is generally thought of as being pale blue, almost as much as denim is thought of as indigo. Yet it can have any colour in the warp – from red to brown to green. 

 

 

 

It might seem a little academic to set down definitions like this, but it is something that I find consistently confuses readers. 

There is a tendency to think a term, such as ‘hopsack’, defines everything about a cloth. So a customer goes into a tailor, asks for hopsack, and is confused when shown things that they don’t think of as hopsack – because the term merely refers to a weave. 

Or they ask a shirtmaker for an oxford cloth, associating it with traditional American work shirts, and are surprised when they get something rather sleek and shiny. Again, ‘oxford’ just refers to the weave. 

(For a full breakdown of the different shirting weaves, see this post in this series.)

As a result, I’ve found it helpful to describe fabrics in the same way as set out above with denim and chambray, starting with their narrow definition and then expanding into other associations.

It’s a helpful framework within which to discuss why tailored denim trousers look nothing like jeans, for instance. The finer cotton means they drape and have a sharpness that clearly separates them from jeans – despite having the same yarn colours and weave. 

 

 

In any modern tailored wardrobe, I think it’s worth having a fine denim shirt – such as our Everyday Denim – which is similar to a normal corporate shirt in being a two-ply yarn for example, but has a touch of the indigo shade and fades at the seams and edges. 

And then it’s worth having a pale-blue chambray for the summer, which also offers an alternative to a standard business shirt – but with variation in the texture rather than fading. 

Those two shirts work across smart and casual work environments. And if your office is quite formal, the rest of the wardrobe can be sharp poplins and twills. If it’s very casual, the rest can be T-shirts and polos. 

Everyday Denim cloth is pictured above, and my favourite chambray – the Blueberry from Albiate – is pictured below. 

 

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Barrance

Interesting article. So in a nutshell – what’s the difference between denim and chambray if someone was asking?

Anonymous

The primary difference is that, in everyday real world stuff, chambray fabrics are typically made in quite light weights compared to denims, and therefore lend themselves much better to warmer weather.

Omar Asif

Hi Simon,
I earlier thought that the coloured warp and white weft was known as ‘end on end’, which is the fourth picture in the post? and what Drakes calls their Chambray shirts are woven using same colour threads in a one on one weave, just that the weave is slightly looser and the threads stiffer than the usual poplin.

Jason

Quentissential ‘PS’ – a great post. Every flaneur worth his salt should have a couple in their wardrobe.
Quick question – in the top shot (flannel trousers), what is the technical expression for this particular shirting ?
I ask because I have a magnificent specimen from Brioni in this colour. I’ve had it for many years and it is in danger of falling apart.

Anonymous

Simon,what do you think of a blue end-on-end shirt as a alternative to the shirting described above?

Anonymous

Glad you agree Simon.I love this weave,it’s great with a suit,smart as you say but with character and it can also be worn casually with chinos etc.Two shirts in one.

Anonymous

As far as I know you never wrote about silk, neither with regard to shirts nor to suits. Your guide to shirtings also contains no mention whatsoever. What’s the reason for that? Perhaps you consider silk as an impractical material (?)

Anonymous

It seems like Albini discontinued their “Blueberry” chambray fabric. I’m having a hard time finding it in Albini’s latest shirting collection.

Anonymous

That would be extremely helpful! Thank you Simon

Anonymous

Is Oxford a plain weave or a twill weave? Seems to have characteristics of both

Stephan

Dear Simon,
Thanks, an interesting read. However, as many such articles, due to length it still leaves me with quite a few questions. E.g. how to spot a chambray vs denim in the flesh and online, as the photos often seem so similar, and there are no hard definitions as you mention here and in the comments. Is twill vs plain and indigo vs no indigo the quick answer? I also struggle with understanding terms such as 2-ply and why such shirts are good/better than single-ply (is that what it’s called?), as well as ‘unlined’ tie that you mention here. I’ve only ever seen ties that have minimal lining so are almost unlined (but still are), or are 6- or 7-folds and therefore have lining made of the same fabric. And I guess knit ties are truly unlined. Oh, and I don’t understand self-tip vs non-tip vs hand-rolled etc. Can you clarify on these points? Perhaps a post of this nature on ties is also called?
Thanks!

Stephan

Thanks, this makes the points clearer.

Joe

Hi Simon, I wonder if you might be kind enough to share the code for that particular shade of the Albini Blueberry chambray – if you still have/know it, of course!

Gonzague

Simon,
I like the chambray casual look a lot but as I generally dislike shirts with rippling/fading along the seams of plackets, collar,… (ironing issues?), I am considering a shirt with a fused collar and placket in order to reduce that effect. Would that work you reckon, any other suggestion to get less rippling?

Néstor

Hi Simon,

Do you have any recommendation for a chambray cloth to be done bespoke?

My shirtmaker (Golia, in Naples) does have primarly Canclini books but I don’t think Canclini has chambrays in theis standard offering.

Thanks!

Néstor

Jon

Hi Simon, is this Japanese chambray still in the works? Obviously the world has turned upside down since this article was written. Thanks for all the great work on the site and the store

Anonymous

This is great news! Will there also be ready-made shirts? If so, when do you expect them?

Jon

That’s great news, will look to get a bolt of this when it comes into the PS shop

Néstor

Hi,

That’s great news.

Thanks!

Néstor

Anonymous

Is a chambray shirt only a summer shirt like linen or is it wearable more months of the year than linen?

Is chambray comparable to oxford in being similar „comfortable“?

Anonymous

I have a light denim shirting cloth that through some washings have turned almost white in some areas. It’s a bit embarrassing to wear outside because some areas are lighter than others.

Is this supposed to happen w/ denim shirting? Will it happen with PS everyday denim and PS lighter denim?

Sam

Hi Simon, can you please explain the main differences between the PS Everyday Denim, and the PS Oxford. I’ve read your articles, and feel like I’m following along, but still both seem very similar to me and I can see you wearing both light blue options with similar outfits. I’m struggling to decide what is right for me… Specifically, I’d be interested to know the functional differences, such as warmth/breathability and next to skin feel. I understand that the denim will fade more than the oxford, and the oxford looks more slubby in texture, but is one more formal than the other? I currently wear my bespoke denim jeans (and sometimes brown sport jacket) more than I wear chinos, trousers and the like. Many thanks.

Eva

Thank you for the superb articles on shirting fabric! I am writing a tutorial on making jeans for dolls. One minute I think I have the fabric terms down, then I read something new and I’m not sure any more. Thank you for clearing things up.

Would you say that indigo thread almost always have a white core? For example, can I expect any indigo chambray to fade from wear? Also, is it common for non-indigo chambrays to fade in the same way?

RSH

Hi Simon. Denim, chambray, and indigo linen are my go-to shirts for making navy jackets look more casual. Just love it. But are there equivalent shirtings to equally downplay grey jackets / suits? I have been wearing white (PS OCBD, polo) but wondering if you had alternatives.

Rob

Simon,
The chambray pic in the article looks grey. I’ve been looking for that exact color here in the US. Any info on what color that actually is, (is that the Blueberry?) and where I might find it. Thanks and as usual, another great article.

Stefan

Hi Simon,
What style of a chambray shirt do you recommend for a weekend wardrobe? With a chest pocket or some other details or as simple as it may be?

Thanks