Chambray vs. Denim – What’s the Difference?

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Last updatedLast updated: June 22, 2021

The fashion industry is consistently changing, with new designs popping up every day.  People are moving from fast fashion trends to much more creative, comfortable and personal options. This move has stirred a massive Chambray vs. Denim debate among designers and influencers.

These two fabrics seem to have a startling resemblance; some might even say they are the same thing. If you’re asking yourself if chambray is actually denim, then the correct answer would be, not quite. As much as the two share numerous similarities, there are traits that make each fabric unique. Let’s talk about the key differences.

What you need to know about Chambray

Chambray vs. Denim - What's the Difference?

What is Chambray? Initially woven in the French commune of Cambrai (obviously where it gets its name), Chambray is a plain weave cotton fabric that is dense and soft, but still quite light.  Though not as common as denim, it is much older by years; sources date its existence back to the early 1500s.

What you need to know about Denim

Denim is one of the most common clothing fabrics out there, even creeping into the furniture and accessory fabrics’ scene. Characterized by its relatively heavy and rugged feel, denim is known to be very sturdy. This fabric is famous for its bright blue color palette, but is also available in a wide range of colors ranging from pink to black.

Difference between Chambray and Denim

Threading

This is where the main difference between chambray and denim lies.

First off, we need to establish the basics of fabric weaving. To weave fabric, you need two sets of thread; the warp which are strung vertically and the weft which run horizontally. The difference between chambray and denim thus rests in the weaving technique; chambray utilizes the plain weave method and its threads alternate one over the other to produce a crisscross pattern. This results in a thinner, softer and breathable chambray fabric.

Denim on the other hand uses the ‘twill weave’ technique, where the warp thread goes over two weft threads creating a diagonal pattern. The result is the signature rugged fabric we all know and love. That said, you will need to find the best heavy duty sewing machine if you wish to thread denims.

Sewing easiness

Denim and chambray are known to lean towards the tougher fabrics; denim being the tougher of the two.

This automatically means that chambray is much easier to work with. At times the fabric is available ‘calendared’ making it much smoother and softer.

Now for denim, as popular as it is to use, it is considerably hard to work with…with regular tools of course. That said, you can easily find the best sewing machine for jeans if you wish to have an easier sewing session.

People who tailor their own jeans and denim articles…or even make their own designs from scratch don’t use the regular sewing machines. They tend to use heavier duty machinery to ease the burden. As old as jeans are, it should only make sense that there are sewing machines brands specifically catering to denim, like Brother and Janome. According to the best tailoring and design review sites, some of the most reliable sewing machines catering to these fabrics are the Janome HD1000 and the Brother PQ1500SL.

Washing

Chambray vs. Denim - What's the Difference?

For these fabrics washing inside-out is the gospel. They should be gently hand washed for durability.

With denim, you want to preserve as much of the original cloth dye as possible. That said, washing your jeans or denim jackets inside-out prevents ‘bleeding’ of the fabric since the colored area doesn’t undergo as much friction when washing. It is also advisable to wash your denim with the regular laundry-soap and not detergent.

For chambray, it is basically the same story. Wash inside-out to preserve the more vulnerable fabric and keep the color in.

Proper washing ensures your clothes look newer for much longer, curbing fading and slowing down wear & tear.

Wearing options

Let us rediscover chambray, shall we?

Chambray has become a favourite for many designers due to its unique characteristic properties. It has been used to make pants, dresses, shirts and surprisingly even suits. Owing to its soft and easy to sew nature, chambray shirts can make quite the official statement. Their neutral color scheme makes it an easy pick. Throw in a tie and a blazer and you’re good to go.

Nothing says casual like a pair of khakis, a white tee and a buttoned-down chambray shirt to layer it all up. Or even pair it with some chambray shorts for a day out fishing. This fabric is better for summer in comparison to denim as it is lighter and more breathable.  On colder days however, you can layer the chambray shirt with a cardigan for added warmth. It is also used to upholster furniture and other items but you need to have the best upholstery sewing machine for that.

As for denim, a simple jacket could take your outfit from a 7 to a 10. And to top it all off, they’re warm especially during winter. Denim jackets are without a doubt a staple in any closet all over the world.

Final thoughts

For the purpose of fashion sense, comfort and convenience, chambray comes out as very versatile. Its characteristics make for a wide range of use, style and implementation. Since it feels like a ‘toned down’ version of denim as we know it, it can very much be worn where denim cannot, if of course, it’s not being rocked on its own. With the increase in the fashion-forwardness of the general population it is sure to gain a growing traction and be more popular in the days to come. This may help to settle the Chambray v Denim debate.

Denim is a darling to most of us; it easily makes an outfit a bit more fun, a bit more casual. Denim pieces already make a statement and are incorporated in every possible way; jackets, shorts, hats, shirts, jeans and dresses; the list goes on. Furthermore, it requires the least amount of work to style.

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