Pretty much everyone has a chambray shirt—or four—at the ready these days, but guess what? The fabric—which also goes by Sydney Bristow-worthy aliases cambric and batiste—has been popular for a long while. Get to the bottom of all that below. —bea koch
The Origin: Historical textiles can be tricky to pinpoint because of the plethora of names and minute differences in warps and wefts and whatnots. Chambray was probs a variety of cambric, which had a white weft and warp. Then someone decided to make the warp colored, and there you have it: Our beloved chambray was born. Legend gives a man named Jean-Baptiste Cambray living in 14th century France cred for the major development (but there’s not so much hard evidence to back that up).
The Evolution: These days, we usually think of chambray as blue, but, really, that warp can be any hue you want. Take this pink dress from around 1880 that’s at the Detroit Historical Museum.
In the early 20th century, the U.S. Navy added chambray shirts to its uniform. But it was during WWII that the shirts achieved icon status. Pairing them with with denim bottoms and a white tee, sailors often cut off the sleeves, like this handsome fellow here.
After the war, chambray continued to be popular with dudes as they returned to the workforce, and these ads were targeted at just such a man.
…And then movie stars like Marlon Brando—here with his cat in 1954—helped drive the popularity among men who weren’t clocking it at factories.
Just doing their part to contribute to the cool factor: Seventies-era Steve McQueen and Paul Newman (in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) embracing the material.
In the nineties, chambray features heavily in the wardrobes of our beloved Tanner family. Like on Uncle Jesse, and Michelle, and D.J…
The Right Now: Everyone loves chambray. Everyone! Even French Vogue, which put Carla Bruni on their January cover rocking a shirt in the fabric (and not much else).
For more backstory, head this way.