Chambray and denim are so similar that a lot of times, clothing made of chambray is marketed as denim. But despite appearances, these two fabrics are very different in how they’re made and aren’t the same. That’s why I’ve created this guide to chambray vs denim so that you can learn to tell the difference between the two.
Chambray and denim are both fabrics that are made from cotton and are traditionally blue. But the main difference between the two is the type of weave used to make the fabric. This weave determines the characteristics of the fabric as well as its uses. Chambray is mostly used for shirts and dresses, while denim is used for jeans and jackets.
In this article, we’ll take a more in-depth look at each of these fabrics, the type of weave used to make them, and how the weave affects the characteristics of the fabric. I’ll also help you to determine which of these two fabrics is better for certain uses. Continue reading to learn more.
Chambray vs Denim: Key Points
The following table provides a summary of the differences between chambray and denim.
|Soft, thin, lightweight
|Stiff, thick, heavyweight
|Light blue, but available in more colors as well
|Dark blue, but available in lots of washes
|Ease of Care
|Machine-washable, wrinkles easily
|Machine-washable, easy to remove stains
|Some brands can be expensive
|Dresses, men’s and women’s shirts
|Men’s and women’s jeans and jackets
|When to Wear
What is Chambray Fabric?Chambray fabric has been around since the 1500s. The name is an English variation of the “Cambrai,” a town in France where the fabric originated from. The fabric is made of 100% cotton fibers and traditional versions were made using blue and white threads. A plain weave is used to make the fabric. This weave, combined with the cotton fibers used to make it, results in a lightweight and breathable fabric.
Because of the color and overall appearance of the fabric, chambray is sometimes confused with denim. Both of these fabrics were used primarily by workers who wore denim pants and chambray shirts. Because both fabrics were blue, it led to the term “blue-collar.”
What is Denim Fabric?Denim fabric was first created in the 1870s by Levi Strauss (of Levi’s Jeans) and his business partner. The fabric was blue and the original use for denim fabric was for trousers, eventually leading the way to “blue jeans.”
But, the fabric wasn’t perfect. When making pants from it, there were areas that needed to be reinforced. Levi’s partner, Jacob Davis, came up with the idea to use rivets to reinforce those areas, which helped to make the pants stronger for daily wear.
Like chambray, denim is made from 100% cotton. But unlike chambray, which is made using a plain weave, denim is made using a twill weave. This results in a sturdier and more heavy-duty fabric. Today denim is still one of the most worn fabric types, especially in America.
What’s the Difference Between Chambray and Denim?
Fiber TypeThere is no difference in the type of fiber that is used to make chambray and denim. For the fabric to be true chambray or true denim, it needs to be made from cotton. Cotton is a natural fabric that is generally breathable and durable. It is also versatile so that it can be woven in various ways to create different fabrics.
In the past, both chambray and denim were made from 100% cotton. Today, most chambray fabrics are still made from 100% cotton. But due to the creation of synthetic fibers, particularly spandex, it isn’t unusual to find denim fabrics made from 99% cotton and 1% spandex. This is to make the fabric slightly more stretchy due to denim’s type of weave and heavyweight nature.
I mentioned that fabrics made from cotton can be woven together in different ways. The key difference between chambray and denim is the type of weave used to create them. The type of weave affects the characteristics of the fabric, such as weight, breathability, durability, etc.
Chambray is made using a plain weave. This is the most basic type of weave used for fabric, in which the two threads- the vertical warp and the horizontal weft thread- alternate over and under each other. The finished weave results in a fabric that is lightweight and breathable but still durable. The texture and appearance of plain weave fabrics are also the same on both sides of the fabric.
Denim is made using a twill weave. In a twill weave, the weft thread is woven over one or more warp threads, then under one or more warp threads. This causes an offset, diagonal pattern resulting in a thicker and stronger weave. Being made from a twill weave means that denim is a much more durable and heavyweight fabric than chambray.
The type of weave determines the texture of a fabric. Due to the plain weave, chambray is softer and more lightweight than denim. The twill weave means that denim is heavier and has a texture that feels more rough and stiff.
Since the overall weave and texture can influence durability and other fabric characteristics, it also helps determine what the fabric is used for. Denim is used for clothing that sees more heavy use and while chambray is used for clothing that you may not wear as often or don’t use as heavily.
Some of the confusion between these two fabrics is because both are traditionally blue. This is a result of the warp thread being dyed blue before it is woven, while the weft thread remains white.
True chambray is a lighter blue than denim is. Denim was traditionally dark blue. However, it can still be difficult today to identify chambray and denim just by looking at the color. This is because while many chambray and denim fabrics are still blue, they can be found in other colors and shades of blue.
It is not uncommon to find chambray in light and dark blue and colors such as black, white, and grey. Some clothing manufacturers may also make chambray clothing in red, yellow, and even purple.
Denim will still mostly be found in blue, but there are many different shades of blue or washes. The washes can range from the lightest blue to the darkest blue. You can also find denim in white, grey, and black. Because of these color differences, remember that the true identifier of different fabrics is not the color they come in but rather the type of fiber and weave used.
Ease of Care
One of the great things about these two fabrics is that they are both easy to care for. They can both be washed in the washing machine and dried in the dryer. And because both of them are used for clothing designed to be worn frequently and cotton can shrink easily, clothing made from these fabrics is usually pre-shrunk.
Due to the type of weave used for each of these fabrics and the fact that they are both made from cotton, it is easy to remove stains from them as well. The biggest difference between the two in terms of care is that chambray wrinkles more easily than denim since they are thinner and lighter. You may have to iron chambray, but it is highly unusual for there to be a need to iron denim.
Both of these fabrics are fairly inexpensive since cotton is a very abundant material and the process for making them isn’t that difficult. Because the fabric is thinner, chambray tends to be a little bit cheaper. Denim is relatively cheap as well.
However, when buying fabric or clothing made from either of these fabrics, the cost ultimately depends on the brand. Some brands use higher-quality fabrics than others, and the cost that you pay may be higher as a result.
UsesThe differences in texture and characteristics determine what each is used for. Both fabrics are used for both men’s and women’s clothing. Chambray is used mostly for shirts that are typically button-up and collared.
It can also be used for dresses for women, particularly those that are worn during the summer. Denim is mostly used for men’s and women’s jeans, shorts, and jackets but the style can vary based on the brand.
When to Wear
Chambray is more lightweight, so it is more of a breezy summertime fabric. Shirts can be worn by themselves in summer but may not keep you warm during winter. You can wear them as a layer when it gets colder. Denim can be worn year-round since it is used to make both jeans and shorts. But denim jackets are better saved for winter when it gets colder.
Pros and Cons of Chambray
Now that we know the different characteristics of chambray fabric, we can look at the fabric’s pros and cons as a whole. The pros of chambray fabric are that it is softer and more lightweight than denim. It is also affordable and easy to care for. The cons of chambray are that it wrinkles more easily and isn’t as versatile as denim. It also can’t be worn as much during the colder months.
Pros and Cons of Denim
Denim has its pros and cons as well that may lead someone to choose it over chambray. Denim is one of the most durable fabrics because it is so heavyweight. It is also more versatile than chambray while still being affordable and easy to care for. But, some brands of denim clothing can be more expensive if they are high-quality and from well-known retailers. Denim can also be too hot for some people to wear during summer.
So Which Is Better: Chambray or Denim?
Each of these fabrics have their advantages and disadvantages, so neither is better than the other overall. But each one of them is better for certain types of clothing and seasons. Chambray isn’t typically used for pants, so it’s better for summertime shirts and dresses. Denim is used for pants, jackets, and shorts, so it can be worn year-round. But it is a much better choice to wear during the winter than chambray is.
Popular Products Made of Chambray
Popular Products Made of Denim
I hope this guide was helpful in helping you identify chambray and denim fabrics. They are similar in color and overall appearance, but the texture is different because they are made with different weaves. The weave determines the use and overall characteristics of each fabric. If you enjoyed this article, share it and leave a comment. Thanks for reading!