It’s time to consider the most often overlooked element of the perfect ensemble: texture. When it’s time to put away houndstooth and wool for warmer days, you need to fake the weight of those fabrics without building walking around in a tailored sweatlodge. It’s during these seasonal transitions that denim’s cousin chambray comes to the rescue.
“The chambray palette tends to harken back to its workwear roots with more saturated yet subdued hues,” says Dwight Fenton, vice president of design for Bonobos. “While even yellow or orange chambray shirts are not uncommon now, they tend to be very wearable versions of those colors that can be mixed pretty easily into a wardrobe.”
Originally used for work shirts, chambray is a light blue collar fabric because only half of the threads in the weaves are dyed. Inside, it looks dark. Outside, it appears lighter. They may have been created for the farm, but chambray shirts are even more at home in the stands on opening day.
But chambray doesn’t owe its sudden ubiquity – there are ties, jackets, even J. Crew suits – to practicality. It’s success is born of versatility. It looks good with clothes, period, though Fenton recommends dark colors and textured fabrics. “A pair of navy trousers or white jeans can accommodate just about anything you put them with so I’d start there. My favorite chambray shirt, the classic indigo version, might be the most versatile piece a guy can have in their closet.”
A note on care: in practical terms, chambray is a lot like linen: the harder it works, the softer it gets. As a result, the best way to wash chambray shirts, for instance, is to turn them inside out, which will protect against fading. And keep your new chambray suit away from the dry cleaner, washing it very occasionally and ironing it out. [Shirts from $78; bonobos.com]