I love flannel. If you look in my closet, you will find way more flannel than any person who isn’t a lumberjack should own. There is just something so incredibly cozy about a good flannel shirt, or soft flannel sheets. But I bet you don’t realize the incredible history behind flannel, or why it was developed in the first place. Lets dive into this a little…
According to the Wikipedia entry on flannel (yes, there is a Wikipedia entry on flannel…) :
Flannel is a soft woven fabric, of various fineness. Flannel was originally made from carded wool or worsted yarn, but is now often made from wool, cotton, or synthetic fiber. Vegetable flannel is made from Scots pine fiber. Flannel may be brushed to create extra softness or remain un-brushed.
Historically, flannel, or flannel like material, can be traced back to 16th century Wales. While flannel now comes in a huge array of colours thanks to modern synthetic dyes, the colour of flannel use to be correlated to the colour of wool used to make it. If you wanted black flannel, better go find yourself a black sheep.
Flannel has not always been a fashion statement: originally, flannel was developed for its capacity to keep people warm. Being made from wool, it was a great insulator, warm when wet and densely woven to keep the wind out. The large quantity of sheep in Wales (and Europe in general) made production of this fabric affordable. While it was originally made from hand-carded wool, the Industrial Revolution made this woven fabric more accessible to people of all economic standings.
Flannel came to be manufactured in North America in 1889, starting in Detroit, when Hamilton Carhartt (I bet you recognize that last name!) wanted to make better work clothes for men. Prior to this, flannel was being imported from Europe. Loved by railway workers, frontiersmen, construction workers, and of course loggers, flannel came to be known as a shirt for ‘rugged men.’ Flannel was also used for uniforms, undergarments and patches for soldiers during World War I & II.
In the 1950’s, the grey flannel suit became a staple for businessmen, making flannel stylish, as opposed to just practical. After the 50’s, the popularity of flannel seemed to die off for a bit, before the grunge look of the 1990’s brought it back, but now flannel was mostly being made out of a cotton blend. Flannel has been mainstream for quite awhile now, but with the rise of the Lumbersexual movement, flannel is now more popular than ever.
It seems like every store in the mall now has flannel of some sort. But not all flannel is created equal. Things to consider when buying flannel:
Quality stitching: look at the seams. Will this shirt hold up for how you are going to wear it? I wouldn’t go to the Gap to buy a flannel shirt that I planned to wear hiking.
Thickness: Men rarely have a problem finding nice, thick flannel. But most women’s flannel is (excuse my language) bullshit. It’s thin and doesn’t hold up for more than a season.
Softness: You can find thick flannel that is still soft. You don’t want a shirt so stiff that it can stand up on its own, and you don’t want a shirt that’s going to make your skin itch (more of a concern with wool flannels).
So now that you have an idea of what to look for in good flannel, lets take a look at some of the best (in my humble opinion) flannel shirts on the market right now:
This one is for the guys. This thick, luxurious flannel comes in a variety of traditional patterns. Fits a tad on the slim side, so women can get away with wearing it as well.
This shirt is perfect for the flannel purist. It is made out of wool, but is still soft enough to wear next-to-skin.
Patagonia has really nailed it with this shirt. Both the mens and ladies shirts have a great cut, traditional but still flattering. This cotton flannel is super soft and thick, making it the shirt you want to pull on when the mornings are chilly.
Inspired by the rugged wilderness of Algonquin park and the incredible history of logging and bushcraft, this shirt pays homage to its namesake. This flannel is thick, but soft and the twill and faux suede details set it apart.
Christine, or ‘Stine’, was Eddie’s wife and an incredible woman all on her own. As a sporting woman, she helped influence the women’s’ line of clothing at Eddie Bauer. Much like the woman it’s named after, these flannel shirts are classy, yet adventurous. I personally own the heathered grey with white polka dots, because not all flannel needs to be plaid 😉
Technical flannel? You bet. Say hello to Flannel 3.0. This material is a blend of synthetics that feel almost as soft as cotton flannel, but the choice of material helps this shirt to give extra insulation, and wick moisture away from the body. This is available for both men and women. I gave this flannel a try back in the fall and was pleasantly surprised by how much I love it, despite it being a synthetic.
Seriously, that’s what it’s called. Ladies only for this shirt! The fact that I fell in love with a shirt at American Eagle was a bit of a surprise, but this is seriously my favorite flannel shirt of 2016. The material is the softest I have ever felt, it is as smooth as butter on your skin.
So now that you know a bit more about flannel, and some of the amazing flannels out on the market right now, I want to share with you the best way to take care of your flannel:
Flannel shrinks. Badly. You can lose up to an inch in length and ½ an inch in width on a flannel shirt if you wash it wrong. Wash your flannel with gentle detergent in cool water (my washer has a ‘tap cold’ setting that I use) and hang it up to dry. I will toss my shirts in the dryer for a few minutes on tumble dry – low to fluff them up before wearing them, but if you dry your flannel on high heat, you are going to find your shirt significantly smaller than when you put it in the wash.