Chambray – The Versatile Comfort of the Blue Collar, and Work Wear Style.

Written by Jason Disley
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Chambray is a fabulous fabric that offers the unique texture and appearance of denim but without the density and weight. Denim shirts have been popular over the decades and can produce some very interesting fades, but, wearing denim shirts can mean sweating uncontrollably during the summer months.

They are, in my opinion, more suited to cooler climates, and autumn/ winter. Chambray is an excellent good summer alternative. Chambray, perhaps unsurprisingly, has a storied and centuries-old history. Have you ever wondered where the term “blue-collar” came from?

Chambray’s history begins as far back as the mid-1500s, as it originally found roots in the cambric fabric. Cambric is a lightweight plain weave fabric, that at the time, was made of linen. The cloth was originally made in Cambrai, a formerly Flemish region in northern France. It was a high-quality cloth and was often used for shirting, handkerchiefs, and for intricate pieces like lace and needlework. The term cambric is synonymous with “batiste,” a term that also originated around the same period.

Chambray The Versatile Comfort of the Blue Collar

Chambray stemmed from this plain weave linen-like fabric, and the English spelling of the term first became widely known in the early 1800s. It was formally endorsed in places like the 1831 US Farmer’s Bulletin:

“For outdoor work in mild weather, choose a material such as chambray, which is durable, firm enough to prevent sunburn, yet lightweight enough to admit air and be fairly cool.”

The fabric made its way into widespread American use in 1901 when the U.S. Navy first authorized the use of denim and chambray. From then on through World War II, it was commonplace to see sailors wearing chambray shirts and denim trousers. Workers all over the U.S. quickly adopted the shirting fabric, giving birth to the widespread term “blue-collar.”

If you’ve ever taken a close look at chambray fabric, then you will know that it has a signature pattern that gives it an almost grey or blue like coloured appearance. This comes from a coloured warp (usually blue) and a white weft in a 1×1 plain weave. The white threads running over the coloured threads give the fabric a certain depth, all the while maintaining a lighter weight.

Chambray The Versatile Comfort of the Blue Collarr 1

Of course, chambray can be woven in different densities, much like denim, and can come in other colours. Finely made lightweight chambray dress shirts are now, it seems, more commonplace than they ever were.

However, heavier chambray work shirts will always be a hit with people who like a little more heft to their clothing.

There are tactile benefits, too. Chambray is typically exceptionally soft and smooth to the touch due to a finishing process where the cloth is heavily pressed, which also gives it a subtle sheen.  Chambray is so popular these days that even the average shopper would not balk at the thought of buying a shirt made from this fabric…even if they mistakenly call it “denim.”

People that are more style-conscious are aware of Chambray and will no doubt have items in their wardrobes. I have a wonderful Charles Caine tab collar shirt made of the fabric and a Chambray Baracuta G9 Harrington jacket. But it doesn’t just end at shirts and jackets. You can buy trousers, shorts etc - and even ties!

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Traditionally, a chambray shirt was only to be worn at the weekend with chinos or in the workshop, due to its inherently casual nature. Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Robert Redford have all worn it onscreen, and notably, Dustin Hoffman wears a Chambray button-down in The Graduate. Yet another example of a fabric/style working its way into the consciousness of the public and giving style nods to the observant.

In fact, it’s nature as workwear has to be realised. It was comfortable, lightweight, and practical, hence the US Navy adopting it as part of their uniforms. These days it is acceptable to mix and match chambray with more tailored looks. It can be seen to make outfits look more comfortable and a little less formal yet offer a style that is almost subversive.

Chambray The Versatile Comfort of the Blue Collar Dustin Hoffman

Fashionably workwear style has seen a boom in recent years, as a mix of vintage styles and the enduring relationship with denim and chambray has meant that there are many “looks” out there. Music often plays a part in style Its not surprising when you see Kevin Rowland, and other members of the band Dexy’s wearing such styles. Or Hip-Hop artists wearing Chambray. Chain gangs from the 1900s onwards would wear outfits made of Chambray and denim, as would cotton pickers, working in the fields. So, with Blues music, and early rock and roll and other styles of music, you see photos of artists wearing such outfits that influence many people with their individual styles. Although fashions come and go – it seems that there will always be a use for Chambray. It is here to stay, because it's practical, and you can make it as modern or retro as you like.

Chambray The Versatile Comfort of the Blue Collar dexys midnight runners kevin rowland

Read 2068 times Last modified on Wednesday, 20 May 2020 09:02
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Jason Disley

Jason Disley

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