AKA: flanno (Australia), flannelette shirt (Europe), plaid shirt (USA)
How to say it: flan-l
- regular folded or convertible collar
- button-up front
- made from checked flannel fabric
- long sleeves with cuff
- can have bust pockets
…of the style: The flannel shirt as we know it today is the result of railroads, long johns and the entrepreneurial spirit.
The history of the style begins in Wales in the 17th century when the iconic flannel fabric was first made from carded wool. The warm, lightweight fabric was excellent for the cold damp climates of the British winter and the popularity of the fabric quickly spread as it was made into bedding, blankets and warm underwear. The onset of the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century saw the introduction of machine-made flannel on commercial scale; flannel was still the warm, hardy fabric it had always been, but now there was a lot more of it and it was cheap. The fabric spread throughout the world.
In 1869 the Union suit was invented in New York. It was a all-in-one long-johns undergarment, that was initially made for women but soon became popular with men, and properly introduced the American market to the wonders of flannel. In 1889 the flannel shirt was born.
Introduction of the flannel shirt is accredited to Mr. Hamilton Carhartt. Carhartt was a business man who saw a gap in the workwear market created by the rapid expansion of railroads across the United States. He spoke to the railroad workers who worked long, hard hours in all sorts of conditions and set out to manufacture tough, reliable clothing that would suit their trade. One of these pieces of clothing was the flannel shirt; it was warm, hardy and lightweight, allowing the men to have ease of movement but also keep warm. And if the weather got to hot they could roll up the sleeves and undo a couple of buttons.
By the beginning of the 20th century the flannel shirt had become the standard attire for the working man but crossed the class barriers during the Great Depression, as men who were used to office jobs in fine suits were forced to partake in more hands-on occupations and therefore dress appropriately.
This blurring of class dress codes continued into the 1950s, helped along by the American folklore character Paul Bunyan, who embodied the true lumberjack persona and gave the flannel shirt a rugged, outdoorsy reputation. It was the shirt that made a man feel like a man.
The flannel remained in the realm of lumberjacks and outdoorsman until the 1980s when the Grunge movement pulled the shirt out of the woods and into mainstream fashion. The flannel shirt was the perfect garment for the damp climate of Seattle which was the birthplace of Grunge, and as bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam donned the iconic checked shirts, so too did their adoring masses. The flannel shirt, either tied around the waist or worn open over a singlet or t-shirt became a sort of uniform of the Grunge movement and was worn by men and women alike.
Since the days of Grunge the flannel shirt has maintained a steady presence in the fashion landscape, although it is now more commonly made from cotton rather than wool. It has crossed over into preppy wardrobes thanks to the likes of Ralph Lauren and J.Crew, and has appeared in more than one designer runway show over the years (Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, Saint Laurent just to name a few). And now that we are far enough away from the 80s and 90s for the trends of the decades to start cycling back around, the flannel shirt is no doubt due for a revival any day now.
…of the name: It is a shirt made from flannel fabric. Therefore it is a flannel shirt
- by the time of the Industrial Revolution, flannel fabric was so popular that it was the first fabric to be manufactured in the new British mills.
- the Carhartt company begun in 1889 is still doing business today, manufacturing tough, rugged workwear, as well as higher-end street wear clothing.
21st Century Flannel Shirts
While Grunge styling is set to make a come back the new round of flannel shirts seem to have a more elegant feel to them – the cut is more flattering (although still true to the loose, oversized styling of Grunge), the fabrics are prettier and they no longer come with a side of unkempt hair and angst.
Free People, Band of Outsiders