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What Is a Flannel Shirt and Why is it An Essential?

If we’d have to choose one shirt for the colder seasons, it’d have to be the flannel shirt. What primarily sets itself apart from other shirts is the emblematic fuzziness and warmth the fabric lends; no other shirt comes close in terms of softness. Since the fabric’s inception during the 1600s, its popularity never stopped growing and eventually became the undisputed menswear staple that it is today. With a fabric that effortlessly interacts with a variety of textures, the versatility of a flannel shirt remains hard to match.

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The origin of the word “flannel” remains unclear, but a fabric similar to it can be traced back to Wales, where it was widely used already during the 16th century. Back then, the fabric was called “welsh cotton”, despite being made of wool. It was a coarse material that gave a similar fuzzy texture to modern flannel. There was a need for a fabric that was comfortable, warm and moisture-wicking to counter the Welsh climate, typically cold and cloudy. So, advantage was taken of the surplus wool they had access to and they became a go-to for farmers and many others among the working class.

Later, flannel arrived in both England and France, where more sophisticated mills were employed to produce them on a larger scale for workers during the Industrial Revolution. Flannel eventually saw use during WW1; the uniforms of US soldiers included an extra layer of the fabric to provide extra warmth. However, they were mostly used off-duty for casual purposes, mainly because of the comfort it provided. When the war was over, they returned home with their trusty flannel shirts and they quickly entered American sartorial consciousness. The pocketed shirt was not just viable on the battlefield; nature lovers and manual workers alike saw the benefits of its features.

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The Fabric

Flannel is a plain or twill woven fabric and has a characteristic softness and fuzziness to the touch. This texture is typically the result of brushing, a process of mechanically raising the fibers from the yarn. Though yielding superior softness and warmth, brushing has the tendency to increase the likelihood of pilling to occur. However, given the looseness of the yarns that typical flannel weaves are made of, brushing isn’t a necessity to give it its characteristic texture. The fabric is typically made from either wool, cotton or synthetics. Flannel is often conflated with a fabric woven into a plaid or tartan pattern. Flannel, however, simply refers to the structure and physical properties of the fabric.

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Style Icons

It wasn’t until the 90s when the flannel shirt became the sartorial icon that it is today. And this can mainly be the result of one person: Kurt Cobain, the author of not just a completely new sound, but also the trailblazer of a way of dressing that came with it. The flannel shirt played a major role in both his transgressive wardrobe and the rebellious yet nonchalant stage presence he exuded. And it was only a matter of time before millions of fans latched on.

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Flannel shirts come in a variety of styles, from the aforementioned plaid and tartan to plain ones, and from boxy to narrow and long cuts. Despite the variety, even a stripped down flannel shirt is going to be more casual than a poplin shirt, and arguably even an oxford shirt. It can easily be worn with a pair of chinos or jeans, buttoned or unbuttoned and is typically layered over a t-shirt. For an even more laidback look, you can even consider sizing up on the flannel shirt. Flannel shirts are as viable for the modern office as they are for the walk in the park on a breezy afternoon. That said, for any occasion that strays into the formal end of the spectrum, or that may demand a suit, we’d stay clear of the flannel, and opt for a poplin shirt instead.

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Flannel shirts often have a pattern. Ours, however, doesn’t. And this is by design. Our iteration is underpinned by an uncompromising reach for versatility and longevity. Fabric, cut and details, from buttons to collar dimensions are prioritized. It’s cut from a 173g/sqm 2-play twill weave made from 100% organic cotton and is finished with mother of pearl buttons. The weave has been custom-developed to achieve the same level of softness but simultaneously minimizing a risk for pilling.