An Ode to Denim and Chambray Shirts

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We love these shirts and so should you.

Even though Spencer and I are pretty much hoarders when it comes to menswear, we actually do have a list of must-haves.  Number one on the list is blue stripe spearpoint/OCBD to wear with your patterned ties; that’s pretty much a no brainer if you’ve really read this blog.  It literally goes with everything, which means that my plain shirts (whether they are spearpoints or OCBDs), seldom see the light of day.  But I’ve begun to change my mind, as I’m starting to really dig chambray and denim shirts.  In fact, they’re pretty much neck-and-neck with my blue striped pieces.

Selections from Drake’s and the Armoury.

Obviously I’m late to this “trend” as Die Workwear, Put This On, and Permanent Style have already covered this oft-hailed piece of shirting.  Hell, Male Fashion Advice put out a post (check it out, it’s good) while I was already writing this article!  The reason I haven’t written about it before is because I never really owned a good denim or chambray shirt!  In the past, I’ve always found them a little too workwear for my taste.  That’s probably due to my preference for strict 1930s-1940s looks which separated tailoring from “casual” style.  But tastes have changed, and my style has incorporated a little bit of everything, which has made me open to trying more things.  Plus, I was able to actually add some great shirts into my wardrobe, which lets me offer my own personal perspective on the matter.

The reason why I’m (finally)writing about denim and chambray shirting is because they really are one of the most versatile pieces a guy can own, much more so than my preferred blue-stripes due to their inherently more casual fabric.  While they are a “blue shirt” (with some flecks) at the core, there is so much more more interest than a plain poplin shirt.  Oxford is a close match to it, but I really prefer the rugged vibes that you can get from chambray and denim. It doesn’t even wrinkle as easily as linen (which is the usual go-to casual shirt fabric for guys).

Now I’m sure most of you guys know the history and general info of chambray.  It’s basically an end-on-end cotton, with a white weft and and a blue warp.   Some chambrays are pressed with a hot roller in order to create a glossy finish, but this isn’t always the case with every shirt.   In  general, most shirts have both a physical and visual texture that results in a durable fabric that is similar to denim but not as heavy due to the differences in how it’s woven (denim has a heartier twill).

These two fabrics were the preferred  choice when making workwear since they would hold up during manual labor.  It wasn’t originally made for being “dressed up”, but there were a few times when guys back in the day rocked their workwear shirts with a tie and when tailors actually made formal versions.  Hell, there were even variations with the work versions, with details being changed all the time: throat straps, pocket placement, and even the size of the collar.

If true-blue ruggedness isn’t your thing don’t worry.  The shirts have really been transformed in recent years, as the rise of #menswear has put classic menswear back into a small-limelight.  I’m sure it’s fueled by the countless men who want to look nice, but not have to wear stiff business shirts everyday.

You can actually find different weights, washes, and treatments depending on what you want (just like jeans).  Heddels and Put This On have written excellent articles detailing the construction, with the latter differentiating between the casual variations and the dressy ones.   And that’s just what we’re going to do this in article.

Spoiler alert; we like them all and own all 3 variations!

The Work Shirt

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Enjoy this bad, old picture of me.

The classic workwear chambray and denim shirt are probably the ones you see most often because they’re sold everywhere, from high quality brands like Mister Freedom to affordable (and just okay) ones from J. Crew.    These usually have the casual cats-eye buttons, a short-ish point collar (with or without a throat latch), and some form of patch pocket.  The contrast stitching and more heathered apperance makes it a definite throwback to the original ones worn by actual laborers.

While there isn’t a doubt that it can be worn casually (think workwear: denim and hearty chinos), I am always intrigued when it’s worn with tailoring.  It’s usually a smart match for textured stuff like tweeds or flannels in Winter or cottons, frescos, and linens in Summer.  Ties can be worn with it, but make sure that it also has some texture to complement the shirt; knit seem to work best.

Don’t forget to pay attention to the collar; most mall-brand shirts have a tiny collar which makes it difficult to wear with a tie.   Pieces from before the 1950s are good (my dream is to find one with a spearpoint, but they can be very expensive) but 1960s-1970s ones usually have a more disco collar. Those ones will also be made party of polyester so watch out.

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My chambray workshirt is actually a thrifted one from J. Crew. It’s pretty much the same design as the classic ones just with a short collar, which makes it difficult to wear ties.  I still get to pull it off if the tie is thin enough for a tight not, but I tend to keep things pretty casual (tie-less) when I wear mine.

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While Spencer has a few workshirts, his preferred one is actually the utility chambray made by Mister Freedom (copped on eBay for a steal).  It features a spearpoint collar (with with a throat latch) and a fun slanted breast pocket.  It looks pretty damn good with a vintage tie, since the knot it creates is much smaller and tighter than most contemporary ones.

There is also a special variation called the sawtooth shirt, which is pretty much done in the classic western style.  The collars are usually pointed with a medium/short length and will feature snap buttons.  Pocket designs will change but the traditional ones will have two breast pockets with a double-pointed flap, hence the “sawtooth” moniker; a yoke will also be stitched.   I don’t think this style is as versatile as the regular work version, but the Brycelands guys prove that it can have a place in a vintage/classic menswear wardrobe, worn with or without a tie.  I know for a fact that Spencer wants one.

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I’ve also got this crazy 1930’s European chambray, spearpoint shirt that has a deep 3-button half placket (pull-over style) that I bought when I was in London.  Its very baggy and I don’ wear it often, but it’s definitely a cool piece! Due to it’s rough texture and dark workwear buttons, I gives off a safari/workwear vibe that I lean into; I don’t really wear it with tailoring too much.

One half of NackyMade rocking an untucked workshirt.

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The Armoury Real McCoy’s workshirt.


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One of the best looks of all time, courtesy of Kenji Cheung.

A slouchy casual look that I’m all about.

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Looks great with a Palm Beach suit!

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Our friend Jon, wearing a modern, casual chambray shirt.

Cody Wellema rocking the sawtooth.

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The Button-Down Collar

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Even though our preferred shirt of choice is the spearpoint, we also have a soft spot for a button-down collar.   This type of collar is considered less formal than a spread/spearpoint one, so it’s a solid step up formality wise from the workshirt. It’s obviously something that takes you to ivy style due to it being an OCBD just not made of oxford.  I really like that since the texture is provides some versatility with styling and much  more interesting than the plain blue oxford.  I especially am a fan of the “puckering” around the collar, placket, and cuffs; they really add to it’s dressed-down nature.

I personally like to wear mine with a tie, but you can always go tie-less for a real ivy-casual look.  In this arena, I think that Drake’s makes a great case for one, as they seem to wear it all the time.  It really fits in with this neo-ivy, casual-but-not-too-much, easy sartorial look that we can always recommend to people.  The secret to being comfortable in your clothes is the comfort of your clothes.  I like having soft, broken in shirts instead of the stiff ones most guys tend to prefer; it makes it easy to transition from work to play.

God that sounded like something out of a basic-ass menswear blog in 2013.

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Unknown maker, no roll.

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Even though the button-down collar is my preferred variation of the chambray/denim shirt, I only have two  and they get worn pretty hard. The first one I obtained has some unknown label and  was purchased from Roxy’s Deluxe Vintage (a production costuming warehouse ); its a fine 120s cotton shirt from the 80s pr 90s.  If you think back, you’ll actually find that they were pretty common during that time period.  My second one is actually an 80s-90s Brooks Brothers one that has more body and roll to it.  I’m really going to get my wear out of them this season!

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The Brooks shirt.

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Spencer has what is arguably the quintessential chambray button-down from Drake’s.  The fabric is a bit more rough than mine, as they are similar to the material used for the workshirts.  This results in a more rugged OCBD-esque shirt that works great with that neo-ivy look.  It’s a bit out of price range for me right now, but it was well worth Spencer’s savings. He wears this damn thing all the time.

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The Armoury denim button-down on Amechi.

Drake’s!

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Spencer also has a true denim button-down from Kamakura, as a part of their “Vintage Ivy” collection.  It’s heavier and darker than the chambray ones, but that’s some of the reasons why we like to have denim shirts.  Who doesn’t want variations on the same theme to fill out your wardrobe?

The Dressy One

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The main reason why I count these variations of shirts as more formal than the others is due to the treatment of the fabric.  Compared to the others, these ones have a smoother texture and a more “even” appearance, making the chambray look ever closer to a regular end-on-end and the denim just like a dark cotton twill; the main difference is felt when you actually wear it and how it breaks in over time and wash.

Wearing these more formal shirts (aka, not a  button down collar) pretty much a sartorial fuck-you, since denim/chambray is so casual and yet making it in a more dressy design makes it now appropriate to wear with suits; the lack of collar buttons doesn’t let you lean too hard on the casual connotations anymore.  Again, the puckering adds to the casual vibes.  Like the button-down collars and workshirt, it’s a great way to show that you like menswear but you’re not about the business shirt life.  It still lets you play with textures and washes in order to create a fun outfit.

Now you can find them in spread, point, and even spearpoint collars; they’re pretty common. Again, Spencer and I prefer the more casual options (workshirt and button-down), but I do like to break my spearpoint out every so often.

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Conclusion

I really don’t know why it took me so long to write about denim and chambray shirts.  Perhaps it’s because I felt it was too basic and a bit of no-brainer.  Or (more truthfully), it took Spencer and me while to actually get a variety of good ones and get some wear out of them.

These shirts really do go with everything. Yeah, a blue striped shirt could get you out of most formal situations but these are different.  The fabric is inherently more casual and rugged than normal poplin; it’s even more interesting than a broken in oxford.  While they aren’t as breezy as a linen shirt, I really prefer these since they hold structure better and can still be worn year-round.  The best part is that any variation of the denim/chambray shirt look great with or without a tie.   When I wear a broadcloth shirt sans tie, I can’t shake that “formal” feeling.  A tie-less chambray or denim? I’m good to go!

There are a bunch of different variations that you can go with and it all depends on what vibe you want to exude:  a 30’s inspired look, a neo-ivy look, a vacation look, or even a workwear outfit. Personally I think that the button-down collar can get you out of most situations while the workshirt and the dressy ones are best for specific intentions, but it’s always up to personal style.  Luckily there is plenty of inspiration to be had in this article (or this nifty imgur album I just created), whether it’s from the Armoury, Drake’s, or Bryceland’s.  Or you can get some general inspo from the MFA post.  Either way, you should try it out!

Always a pleasure,

Ethan W.

@ethanmwong 

Street x Sprezza 

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12 comments

  1. Lang · July 2

    A chambray or denim shirt, a corduroy blazer and a knit tie. You are set for Autumn.

    Like

  2. Steve Morrisette · July 2

    Nice work. Great assemblage of photos. It is amazing what a difference the BD collar makes in the look and feel of these shirts.

    Like

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