The denim shirt is never not having a moment. From rockstars to reggae singers, cowboys to tux-clad Canadians, U.S. presidents to average joes — denim shirts have been worn by just about everyone in every way, and they’ve yet to go out of style.
When you think of a denim shirt, likely two different styles pop into your head; a denim shirt and a chambray shirt. Both are equally stylish and equally essential to a well-rounded wardrobe. To understand which one to wear in what setting, you need to know the differences between denim and chambray.
Let’s start with the technical stuff. Don’t worry. We’ll keep it brief.
Denim vs. Chambray: The Fabric
Both chambray and denim are cotton fabrics made up of two different yarns, typically one indigo and one white, resulting in a blue-hued textile. Where chambray and denim differ, though, is in their construction.
Chambray is constructed using a “plain weave,” which involves single strands of yarn being woven together. Though it resembles denim, it is softer and thinner, making it super breathable and lightweight. As a result, chambray can be touted year-round.
Denim, on the other hand, is constructed using a “twill weave,” which involves multiple strands of yarn being woven together. The result is a thicker, more structured fabric, often associated with a casual, rugged style.
Both are great — just different. We’re huge proponents of both because, while they have a lot in common, they can and should be worn differently.
Button-down vs. Western
Both the button-down style and western style are classics. A case can easily be made for both options, but ultimately, it comes down to personal preference.
The polished and preppy button-down shirt is reminiscent of a button-up dress shirt. It is fairly simplistic design-wise and generally features flat-faced buttons. The western-style shirt, alternatively, is slightly more ornate, often featuring mother of pearl snap closures, double breast pockets, and more intricate seam details.
Each of them can be done in denim or chambray and can be worn casually or more formally, depending on how you style them.
How to Style Chambray and Denim Shirts
The best thing about denim and chambray shirts is their versatility, hands-down. You can create completely different looks with them by pairing them with different things.
If you’re looking to shake up your office style, you can wear a chambray shirt buttoned up under a sport jacket. It looks polished without feeling stiff, making your transition from work-from-home wear to office-appropriate attire much smoother.
Or, throw it on with a pair of chinos and sneakers, and you’re ready for errand-running and patio-hanging, alike.
A denim shirt can be worn as outerwear, styled similarly to how you’d wear bomber and leather jackets. If you’re looking for a masculine, city-slick style, wear it unbuttoned over a black t-shirt, paired with black jeans and boots.
Or, button it up and throw it on with a pair of jeans in a varying blue wash. Yes, denim on denim, when worn right, is totally acceptable. It’s also very on-trend, at the moment.
How to Pick Your Wash
No calculated decision necessary with this one. Just pick the one you like.
Like anything truly timeless, as denim and chambray shirts are, they just keep getting better with age. More so denim, but also chambray, looks worn in all the right places the more frequently you wear it. So anticipate the wash to change slightly over time.
Many of our favourite denim and chambray shirts are garment-dyed. Essentially, that means the colour was applied after the shirts were constructed, creating a soft finish — both in terms of colour and texture.
How to Pick Your Fit: Slim vs. Relaxed
The rule of thumb is this: If you intend to wear it under something, opt for a slim-fitting style. If you plan to wear it over something, pick a slightly more relaxed-fitting style.
A slim fit is going to look more refined and is appropriate for semi-formal to informal occasions. A relaxed fit is inherently more casual and will keep you looking fresh in laid-back settings.