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The flannel shirt is probably the most reliable piece of wardrobe in any man’s closet. It’s beyond the fleeting promise of trends. It crosses demographics and subcultures, i.e., a hipster can walk around Williamsburg in it just as a lumberjack can keep it on while on a job. It’s not confined to one occasion, unlike a tuxedo or a shemagh around your neck.
Any man (any woman) can put on a flannel shirt for a night out, a Zoom call with co-workers or to chop wood during winter. Flannel shirts, in a word, are awesome.
What Makes a Shirt Flannel?
If you’re a flannel virgin, you may confuse this type of shirt with any checked top. Not all flannel shirts have a checked pattern, and they are not the same as plaid shirts. Plaid, or tartan in Scotland, is a pattern, like checked is a pattern. The confusion between flannel and plaid could come from the former being heavily associated with Scotland and England, where the latter is very popular.
So what is flannel?
Flannel is a kind of fabric, typically made from wool or cotton. You’ll know you’re holding a flannel shirt when the fabric’s texture is slightly raised, also known as the napping. The nap not only lends this essential piece of fabric its softness but also creates its insulating feature.
And because of both features, designers and manufacturers have been using the fabric to make more than shirts.
You’ll find flannel pants, flannel jackets with hoodies, flannel pajamas and even flannel blankets and sheets. It’s just so darn cozy, you’ll want it on you or near you every day. But that kind of comfort usually comes with a steep price, especially with a flannel shirt or jacket made from good quality wool.
Flannel made from wool or cotton tend to be expensive because they’ll create soft, comfortable products. These things will last.
If you want just the appearance of flannel, you’ll find some pieces made from synthetic or mixed fibers. They may not be the best quality, but they will be more affordable than a flannel shirt or jacket in 100 percent wool or cotton.
What are the Best Flannel Shirts?
The best flannel shirts will depend on your style; what look are you into (e.g., biker, grunge, frontier guy with full-on handlebar mustache look)? And these days, what’s your budget?
We’re going to focus on flannel shirts for men here.
Easy-on-the-Pocket Flannel Shirts
If you want to steer clear of the usual checked flannel shirts, go with another print. Like this sienna brown camo from Lands’ End. It’s 100 percent cotton with a button down collar, adjustable cuffs in a carefully brushed flannel.
When only rugged style will do, this men’s flannel shirt from Legendary Whitetails will answer that call. The collar and cuffs are lined with corduroy, with a chest pocket on the left and double pleated back, and it’s 100 percent cotton. So you may look like you’re roughing it, but your shirt will feel like you’re rocking gently on a swing.
Not roughing it but work days mean getting physical? Timberland PRO’s flannel work shirt is designed to take you through any job site. It’s made from 100 percent brushed cotton and features chambray accents inside the cuffs, center placket and back yoke.
If prints and patterns won’t work with your clandestine graffiti projects, try this plain flannel shirt made from 60 percent cotton and 40 percent polyester. It’s lightweight, soft and comfortable enough to let you furtively move from one wall to another under the cover of darkness.
Flannel Shirts to Splurge On
Patagonia shirts aren’t just built to last — they’re also built with the planet in mind. This navy blue flannel shirt is made from 100 percent virgin cotton that’s been grown organically. It’s comfortable and designed for any situation.
If you like hooded shirts more than the average guy, then you’re gonna want a flannel hoodie. Brixton is a brand rooted in skate culture (and music), so you’re sure to find a stylish piece from its collection. The hooded flannel shirt is a blend of cotton, acrylic and polyester. It features the usual two chest pockets and the not-so usual shirttail hem.
The outdoorsy crowd has at least one Eddie Bauer in their closet. And they’ll likely have this 100 percent cotton flannel shirt in plaid. The 2-ply cotton has been brushed on both sides, so expect super softness when you’ve got this on. It’s not easy on the pocket if you’re really stretching your budget. But because it’s been treated for shrinkage and fading, this flannel shirt is going to last you a good, long while.
For the stylish lad who likes to look as put together but effortless as, say John Wick or John Malkovich, this regular fit flannel shirt should do the job. It’s made from warm flannel woven with cotton (45 percent) and wool (41 percent) threads, and blended with 14 percent polymide. It features a chest patch pocket, side slits and buttoned cuffs. This flannel shirt for men works well over a plain shirt, and the zipper makes it easy to throw on.
BONUS Flannel Shirt: NUTEXROL Men’s Western Slim Fit Cotton Short Sleeve Plaid Flannel Shirt
If long sleeves feel restricting or if you just want to show-off your seriously detailed fantasy art tattoo, a short sleeve flannel shirt is in order. This Western slim fit shirt for men is 100 percent cotton. Go up a size if you’re more muscular than the next guy.
The Flannel Shirt Roots
Like a pair of blue jeans, the flannel shirt will always be a staple in any guy’s wardrobe. Both have humble beginnings, with Welsh farmers wearing flannel shirts as protection against the harsh elements. The use of flannel goes as far back as the 17th century in Wales; the word itself is thought to be of Welsh origin: “gwlanen.” And so many flannel shirts, pants, jackets or sheets in Wales will be made from wool.
In France, they referred to the fabric as “flanelle.”
So how’d it get to the US, this Euro staple?
Flannel was used during the Civil War for the soldiers’ undershirt and coats. How it got to the country and who brought it over is unknown. But it’s popularity can be traced to Hamilton Carhart. Hamilton had a company making working men’s uniforms, and his factory began manufacturing the garment for the working class after he’d done his research among railroad workers.
From the 1930s through the 1950s, flannel was worn by everyone — laborers and businessmen. In the 1960s, the fabric was used for men’s suits and was featured in some of the most stylish movies: “The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit,” “North by Northwest” and “Silk Stockings.”
By 1990s through today, you’ll see flannel fashion for men worn by just about every guy: the grunge rockers, the hipsters, the rugged, the refined . . . it’s a fabric that knows no barriers.
And why not? Who doesn’t like a shirt that can feel like a warm hug and a soft bed on a winter’s night but still be rugged enough to make you feel like you can chop wood without a sweat.