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You Need This... I Promise

The Chambray Shirt

I am really feeling chambray right now. Though to be honest – I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t feeling chambray. Seasonless – timeless – ageless. Like blue jeans for your top half.  Soft, personal, and neutral enough for your own personality to come through. My original chambray associations are all Western-inspired. A product of the expansive imagery of Bruce Weber’s vision for the 1980s Ralph Lauren ads… all that is big and romantic and American. It is hard to find a picture of Ralph and Ricky Lauren in which one of them is not wearing chambray. In Montauk. In Colorado. At the Met Gala. Always, always in chambray. In 1985 I often showed up to work at Vogue in a short-sleeved chambray camp shirt from the thrift store with white linen pants — a direct copycat look of the editor Jade Hobson. (The nicer editor – so cool and calm.) Come to think of it, she was probably the Ricky Lauren muse… her loose, wavy hair just beginning to go grey. Totally natural but not too hippie. She would glide down the carpeted halls and never, ever yelled like my boss. If she was a fabric, it would have been chambray.

Ann sitting on the floor in a faded chambray shirt and blue jeans
denim on denim

So that was and still is MY kind of chambray look. But to mix it up — why? — you could make it look very aged Italian aristocrat with a paisley silk scarf and huge dangly earrings. Or something more classically preppie-tomboy with just the faded blue collar peeking out from a dark crewneck sweater and white jeans and sneakers. Or swap in grey flannel trousers and loafers to make it a bit more sophisticated. Do you see what I mean? You can make it go any way you want.

It is a fabric that I love even more having lived in it and made it my own – enjoying the history I am making in the wearing and then the washing and ultimate fading. FADE. Such a negative word for such a positive thing. The list is not endless when it comes to things that improve with time. Wine, some cheeses. Leather. And even with those there is a tipping point where they’ve aged for too long. But chambray and denim never stop getting better. If I were to rate the things in my life that have faded the most, it is my pink living room couches first, me second, and my chambray shirts third.

I am so sad about those couches. Instagram and perhaps my oversharing have made those familiar to some. For twenty years they have lived in sunny rooms that have bleached to the extent that they barely resemble their former selves. A strong watermelon lightened out to pale coral. I love them and I love the memories. But the backs no longer match the front, much less the pillows. Their spots make them look like an art project. I think I told someone once that all you had to do was spit on them and they’d change color. The people at George Sherlock were so kind but they did not tell me that the linen I had sent them was absolutely not suited to upholstery. That is what happens when you go off-road I suppose. NO number of pillows and strategically placed throw blankets can really do the job camouflage. They are what they are. Faded, yes; better, no. 

My own fading is another story altogether, but probably a familiar one if you are close to my age. I have always exercised just enough and done the same for skincare, choosing to be grateful for good enough. Now I am watching the fade with more curiosity than despair – mostly because I am so frequently in a hurry that I do not have time to really get up close to the mirror. My bathroom is amazing but it has 3 walls covered in windows and no curtains – so I try to keep my nude comings and goings very brief so that I don’t embarrass the neighbors. Occasionally I will catch a glimpse of myself and think – wow. What happened? Best to just squint and focus on the positives. Other people have written so much, so beautifully, about this subject so I will just say that I am not so sad for my own fading. It happens to all of us. My dad used to say, “the alternative is worse.” Meaning, would you rather be dead? And that is true. Still, when I pull up old photos, I want to pinch and pet the old me. Again, faded, yes; better, no. 

But CHAMBRAY. That will truly get better forever. Not that it isn’t great from the get-go. It is! Though fair warning: because it is TRUE indigo (the reason it will fade in such a wonderful way) it will BLUE you a bit from the start. A quick wash will take most of that away. Our chambray shirts actually have special tags that warn you of this… it can be alarming to peel off your shirt and find yourself a different color at the end of the day.

Of all my chambray shirts, the most faded is the classic Icon style — one of the first things we made when I started the line. Pink label from 2010. I often wear it when I show up for Made-to-Order trunk shows to try and persuade women to get things made in it because it is so special. And so different from how it appears on the swatch ring. The fabric starts much darker out of the gate, but keeps fading until it becomes something completely new. My Boyfriend style is nearly as old and worn-in. But new to me this season is a shirtdress we have done for years in other fabrics. I love it brand-new but will have a lighter version to look forward to for the spring.

There is a song in my head that I do not know from the radio, although it was a one-hit wonder in 1969. Spiral Staircase. Sid has put it on so many playlists over the years. “I love you more today than yesterday.  But not as much as tomorrow.” For me, that is chambray. You need it, I promise.

From Ann

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