What Is Flannel?
Flannel is a a woven fabric (most commonly a twill but sometimes done in a plain weave) and can be made from wool, cotton, or other synthetic fibers.
As it relates to tailored menswear, flannel is most often made from wool, but more casual garments such as pyjama pants are often made from cotton flannel. It is also used for bed sheets and blankets.
The fineness of flannel varies from garment to garment. It’s nubby and hairy with a distinctive look and feel, but the degree of that nubbiness and hairiness is what varies.
For men, flannel is most often used in suits, sport coats, outerwear, and shirts. It’s also sometimes found as accents on items like shoes and gloves.
History Of The Fabric
The word flannel has an unknown etymology and the origin of the fabric is not known with 100% certainty, but a fabric similar to flannel can be traced back to 16th century Wales, which is regarded as the fabric’s region of origin. The French call it flanelle and the Germans use the word flanell.
Flannel as we know it has been woven and used since the 17th century in Wales. In the early days (well, centuries) of flannel, the character of a given flannel would vary based on its geographical origin. Welsh, Lancashire, Yorkshire, and Irish flannels all had slightly different looks and feels. Originally made from fine, short staple wool (that is, short wool fibers as opposed to longer ones used for worsted wool clothing), cotton and silk mixtures become common in the 20th century. This, combined with technological advancements in weaving, also coincided with the loss, somewhat, of the aforementioned regional distinctions.
Interestingly, flannel clothes were widely used in the sport of cricket through the 1970’s.
Nowadays, flannel is used in menswear for various tailored garments, which we will outline further below.
Worsted Or Woolen?
Flannel comes in both worsted and woolen forms (for more on wool, our wool fabric guide is an extensive resource). Both fabric styles have different characteristics, and whether or not you buy one or the other should be decided by your needs:
Worsted flannel will feature a twill weave (diagonal ribbing) underneath the fuzzy nap. Woven from longer strands of wool, it’s known for durability and warmth, so if you plan to wear these a few times a week to work, look for worsted flannel. Feels less “flannel-y” than woolen flannel, but wears harder.
Woolen flannel, on the other hand, is a plain weave. Woven from short-staple fibers (contrasted with worsted’s long-staple ones), its hand feel is exceptionally soft and fuzzy, but it has a tendency to develop a sheen over time, particularly in high-stress areas like the seat and knees in trousers, elbows or jackets, and the like. Its color depth is superior to a worsted, but it generally won’t last as long.
How & When To Wear Flannel
Though it may seem obvious, flannel should only be worn when it’s cold outside. For most of us, this means autumn and winter. Folks who live in places like the Northern United States or Scandinavia, on the other hand, will likely wear flannel well into spring, as temperatures will take longer to rise in those parts of the world.
The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit with Gregory Peck was released in 1956. Indeed, the fact that a movie title was based on this seminal garment is telling. A flannel suit is the cornerstone of a gentleman’s well-stocked winter wardrobe.
Flannel suits are particularly useful to men who utilize public transit for their work commutes, as the material helps keep you warm as you walk through subway stations and city streets in chilly weather.
In the same vein as the flannel suit, the flannel coat is a key cold-weather item. The beauty of flannel in this regard is that it’s available in nearly any coat style you can imagine, from the pea coat to the Chesterfield and everything in between.
If you’re curious to learn more about outerwear, our overcoat page is a great guide.
Flannel sport jackets are perfect for a man who dresses in a business casual dress code (or works in a business professional office that has casual Fridays) and has to stay warm. Available in a massive array of colors and patterns, keeping three or four flannel sport coats around will get any guy through the chilly seasons with ease and style.
Our page on sport jackets has plenty more information on the subject if you’re interested.
Flannel shows up in other places too: ties, the backsides of gloves, the linings of shoes, and more. In these applications and others, the material serves both aesthetic and utilitarian purposes, which accounts for its widespread popularity.
Popular Patterns & Colors
While any color or pattern can be used on flannels, there are some in menswear that we see much more often than others. We outline them below:
Windowpanes are very much at home on flannel fabric, sport coats in particular. There’s something about the fuzz of flannel that tones down an otherwise bold pattern, so men who would like to venture into windowpanes but feel they have difficulty doing so would be well-advised to buy a windowpane sport jacket, especially in navy or grey.
The chalkiness of chalk stripes syncs exceptionally well with flannel’s fuzziness. Such a pattern is perfect for a three-piece suit, and a double-breasted model will add some serious panache to your ensemble.
To learn more about common menswear patterns, see our pattern guide.
Plaid has an interesting story as it relates to flannel. In the early 1990’s when grunge was a fledgling music scene in America’s Pacific Northwest, plaid flannel shirts were commonly worn among grunge musicians as a way to reject the overdone-ness of the hair metal that preceded them. It also fit in well with the perceived sloppiness of the music, as the shirts were typically worn oversized and unbuttoned.
The issue? The shirts weren’t always flannel, but now there’s a common misconception that all plaids are flannel, which is not the case.
Flannel is available in any color under the sun, as dyeing technology allows us to be able to make it so. Centuries ago, mills would have to mix threads in white, blue, black, and brown in varying quantities and proportions to achieve various colors.
The colors you choose to wear, regardless of fabric or garment, should be based mostly on how they interact with your skin tone. If you don’t know yours, a five-minute read of our guide to skin tones and color will be very helpful for you.
Best Flannel Suits To Buy Online
As mentioned above, we’ve sampled a selection of our favourite made-to-measure flannel suits to buy online. Furthermore, they have been featured in no particular order of preference yet each provide an insight into the fabric’s characteristics.
- Black Lapel Savoy Navy Chalk Stripe Flannel Suit
- Indochino Hayward Olive Flannel Suit
- Hayward Burgundy Flannel Suit by Indochino
- Indochino Hayward Charcoal Flannel Suit
- Indochino Hayward Brown Flannel Suit
You can use the menu above to jump ahead or scroll down to discover them all.