The Chambray Shirt – An Impetus For Change

Style Inspo: Football legend, David Beckham dresses up his chambray shirt with matching sports coat and trousers for H & M Modern Essentials  campaign photo shoot.                (Photo Credit: E-Online )

Historians have traced chambray’s origins to the mid 1500’s. The plain weave cotton chambray is often mistaken for denim. Chambray is not denim because it is woven differently. Unlike denim it is softer, lighter and thinner in its fabric construction. These characteristics make chambray an excellent addition to any wardrobe despite being more suited for persons living in climates prone to arid conditions and humidity. The advantage of chambray’s finely woven texture is its high thread count which accounts for a more breathable and longer lasting fabric. This is guaranteed to keep its wearer stylish and literally cool. It is yet another reason why it is considered a staple especially in designing shirt collections for men. However, there is more to this fabric than its physical aesthetic. Astoundingly, chambray transcends all generations with a relatable message that is familiar to all travelers who experience this journey called life.  Chambray’s story is steeped in a tale about a revolutionary past, a thought provoking present and a vision of hope for the future.

Style Guide: Chambray Shirt + Chino Shorts in Light Gray + Men's Braided Laced Up Loafers in Gray + Watch + Wallet + Aviators in silver accents and tones.                                          Shop RGG Denim Co. Island Chambray Shirt (click to shop your 'must have' chambray shirt)

Intriguingly, the name Chambray is derived from the English spelling of the French word “Cambrai”. Cambrai was a French town associated with a lightweight and plain weave fabric similar to chambray. The chambray shirt became popular in the early twentieth century among the American labourers who donned chambray shirts and denim trousers to work. The indigo dyed fabric became a favourite for plant operators, drillers, miners and other skilled workers of the blue collar class because it did a better job at masking the grime and dirt that soiled their clothing due to their working environment and conditions. It is this moment in history that also birthed the name “blue collar” earmarking the skilled labourers by the blue collar chambray shirts which they wore in the manual and industrial fields of work in contrast to the “white collars” of office and managerial workers.  The chambray shirt became the premier choice for the U.S. Navy’s uniform in 1901 until World War II because of its durability, practicality and rugged aesthetic. Nevertheless, America was not alone in adopting the chambray shirt and its blue collar identity. Australia also became a living testament of this distinction between worker stereotypes.

Style Inspo: Style icon, David Beckham in long sleeve chambray shirt, black chinos and chelsea boots. (Photo Credit : Pinterest)

Globally, the classification of workers based on the new collar classification sparked an unwavering interest from groups who could no longer turn a blind eye to the exponential growth of unjustified working terms and conditions for the blue collar workers. Europe, Britain, Australia and America saw the establishment and the rise of labour movements and trade unions that challenged employers, advocated and fought for the blue collar workers who toiled in hazardous conditions. Trinidad was not exempted from this movement as trade unions mediated the biggest women led industrial strike in its history. In 1939, The Reknown Factory owned by Phillipa Mahanna Haddaway and her husband ceased operations due to an industrial strike led by women only garment workers. The trade union that represented them demanded a 12.5% increase for the underpriced and overworked women garment workers. Workers from shirt factories such as Sabga’s Shirt Factory, Briks and Chizer and Straumwaser also joined the strike in solidarity with the women.

Style Guide: Chambray Shirt + Checked Wool-Silk Jacket + Wool Trousers in Gray + Brown Oxfords + Leather Backpack + Belt + Watch Shop RGG Denim Co. Island Chambray Shirt (click to shop and style your chambray shirt)

Traditionally, chambray fabric was used to create shirts. It was only after World War II that it served as a muse for fashion. When the war ended the chambray shirt became an inspiration for Hollywood actors and actresses. Soon the trend caught on and the chambray fabric became a flexible way to get creative in styling the denim look without the additional weight and features of the denim fabric. Today, chambray shirts are still worn by both men and women but it is no longer designated for the workplace nor a certain classification of workers. The chambray shirt continues to dominate the fashion scene. It is stylists’ leading choice in building a foundation wardrobe for men. Stylists fancy the chambray shirt because it is an essential and versatile men’s shirt. It transitions exceptionally well from daytime to nighttime.

Style Inspo: International Celebrity, David Beckham in semi buttoned down, monogrammed chambray shirt, black chinos and signature white t-shirt at a former FIFA World Cup event. (Photo Credit: Pinterest)

The sartorial features of the chambray shirt reveal that it’s an ideal choice for travel. The chambray shirt is not a seasonal item which means it can be worn all year round. Men who are travelling for business or leisure and love to pack light can enjoy more than one look from the same shirt regardless of the destination’s climate. They can layer it with coats, jackets and sweaters or  dress it up for an evening out. Likewise, they can opt to dress it down by wearing it on its own and pairing it with the right wash, fit and length of tailored chinos, jeans or trousers. The chambray shirt is a "must have" article of clothing for men who are ready to transition from their college “frat boy” lifestyle and graduate to the gentlemen’s club.

Trinidad has not been excluded from the chambray shirt affair. The chambray shirt is more than a trend in styling menswear locally. It is a reminder of the resolve to continue to contend for the rights of others. Trinidadian designer, Jessel Brizan is the beautiful mind behind The Jessel Brizan Design Group (JBDG) and the commemoration of the Island Chambray Shirt under his label RGG Denim Co. In addition to being the founder of JBDG, he is an educator, distinguished fashion professional, published author, mentor and philanthropist. Brizan has almost a decade of combined international and regional experience and expertise in fashion which has proven to be instrumental in transforming the local fashion industry. He has committed his concept and philosophy in business to philanthropy through fashion in a move to nurture a culture of giving in all aspects of life and business.

Style Inspo: Football icon, menswear guru and entrepreneur extraordinaire, David Beckham is wearing rolled sleeves with his chambray shirt, white chinos and sneakers.      (Photo Credit: PopSugar)

It is no surprise that this class act designer has added the chambray shirt to his collection. He is able to espouse the history of the people of this world and their concerted victories whilst continuing to bring awareness to the battle for human rights, fair trade and ethics with the chambray shirt. Brizan understands that the person who wears the chambray shirt is not only making a home for an essential piece in building their basic collection. The wearer is also making a conscious decision to make a statement by wearing a symbol of the strength and the resilience of a global people and their continued wager for the restitution of workers’ rights worldwide.  The Island Chambray Shirt from the RGG Denim Co. label is currently in stock and available for order online for anyone to access and be part of the movement. Undeniably, an informed decision to wear a chambray shirt for travel and lifestyle is a decision to live with intention and the conviction of purpose. Chambray is more than an essential shirt; it signifies the impetus for change.