The Same but Different

Recently I saw a photo in which someone claimed they were wearing chambray and I wondered if they really were. I am a textile geek, after all, and I could see why someone would think that a fabric is one thing when it’s really something else. I wondered if the fabric in question was indeed chambray, or if it was denim.

Left: striped chambray Right: denim

Left: striped chambray
Right: denim

Chambray and denim are very similar in that the warp threads – the threads that are attached to the loom in weaving – are dyed threads, and the weft threads – the ones that come off the shuttle (I remember it by “weft goes left…and right”) – are white threads. And they’re both typically made of cotton.

Denim is typically a pretty thick canvas, but it can be very lightweight as well, it just depends on the gauge of the threads used. Chambray is typically lightweight.

This is a great blog post about denim, and it explains the structure of “the simplest example of a woven fabric” (which weavers call “plaino”) and the structure of a twill fabric (looks diagonal). Herein lies the fundamental difference between denim and chambray: Chambray is plaino weave – one over, one under, and denim is a twill weave, two over, one under.

Ultimately, I was concerned that the person was accidentally wearing an Albertan Tuxedo (denim jacket and jeans – a fashion I unwittingly adhered to for much of the 90s and early 2000s). If you want to go blue on blue, make sure you’ve got a chambray top and denim jeans – or vice versa.