Deciding to write this blog was more than just a passing whim-of-a-thought, rather, it holds a very absurd yet purposeful meaning in my life – especially my life at present. Yes, we all know that flannels have been around for eons, but what hasn’t been in my life as long as these wily woodsman weaves is my boyfriend, who shall remain anonymous. “T” as we shall refer to him hails from the “northern” part of the country and although he can rock a two piece suit, RayBan’s and fedora like no ones business in the very professional sector that he works in, he is absolutely obsessed with the “concept” of bringing the back the flannel: any time of the week …any time of day…anywhere in the world.
As someone who feels reasonably comfortable calling herself a fashionista, however narcissistically prophetic that term might sound, I felt somewhat timorous as to how I would approach “T” about his perchance for flannels without, (let me make this clear), ABSOLUTELY not wanting to change him at all, but rather simply trying to expand his mind to the beauty of the oh-so-many other types of “comfy” shirts that exist and may, JUST MAY, perhaps bring the big city out of the boy with out compromising what I love about my boy outside the big city.
When I reluctantly decided to broach the conversation, (not to mention with the hovering of a slightly broken heart for the pandora’s box of truth I was about to unlatch) I did my best to explain to him that although wearing flannels in Chicago may feel somewhat unique, the truth of the matter is that the hipsters of Brooklyn and neo-expressionists of downtown LA and Silver Lake have been on top of this trend for years.
To push my point further, but to also give credence to his, we talked about the worthwhile fact that some of the greatest artists of all time were flannel-wearing men themselves (Kurt Cobain, Terry Richardson, Jared Leto, Eddie Vedder). So although I was initially pained to entertain the idea of doing a blog on something that’s novelty has pretty much been on an ever-circulating “trendy” spin and dry washing machine cycle since the evolution of 90s rock, I decided that in the spirit of my love for “T,” but even more so for my general discontent to adhere to writing anything in a blasé matter adhering to social conformities, I decided this topic in particular was worth shining new light on the old. With an equitable approach, I am decidedly hellbent on taking you through the framework of flannel, near and far, from the fishermen of Fargo to the fashion flambeau’s of Florence. Fall in love. I know I have.
Although flannel is technically considered a “plaid,” what is unique about this pattern worn by lumberjacks and garage bands alike, is it’s versatility stems back to the 19th century. It’s popularity has the unique ability to transcend social gaps and gender, fashion and practicality. Before the days of Sienna Miller wearing $350 Alexander Wang flannels outside of Cipriani, Karlie Kloss riding her bike through the streets of Paris with the all-too-easy-to-spot “no one’s looking at me, are they?” Or my beloved Cara Delevingne posing in thousand dollar Burberry flannels trenches for international glossies, what had been lost through all this fashion jargon is the true purpose of the fabric, which was to provide one thing and one thing alone: warmth!
Along with it’s warmth, the durability and affordability of flannel quickly became popular across Europe. During the 19th century, wool factories in England and France blossomed thanks to the more efficient mechanical processes, which were in turn utilized by mills all over Britain during the Industrial Revolution. In 1889 American entrepreneur Hamilton Carhartt, seeing the need to improve the working man’s uniform in the United States, opened his factory in Detroit, MI and started producing tough flannel garments, a first for the US.
During America’s transitional period throughout the 19th century, specifically in the later parts, flannels played an important role in the factories and railroads that were seemingly under never endless construction. Flannel, already utilized during the Civil War as a cheap, tough material for soldiers’ undershirts and simple four-button coats, easily found a place as the ideal fabric for workmen.
At the turn of the 20th century, perhaps because of its association with construction and frontiersmen, the flannel shirt became a symbol for rugged men, as (in many parts of the country/world) it still continues to epitomize today. Flannel’s first acknowledgment in the world of “designer” fashion came in 1975 when legendary designer Geoffrey Beene developed the scent “Grey Flannel”, one of the first ever designer-made colognes.
Not just any flannel – but grey flannel – became a hallmark in menswear (and eventually womenswear). The 50’s epitomized the popularity grey plaid suits (*to make a distinction, although often confused with plaid, plaid is merely a pattern of woven flannel whereas true flannel is not just a pattern, but a fabric idiomatic with the warmth in which it provides).
Generations later, through the ever-growing rebellion against the war and the voice of a generation that stood for liberation, flannel resurged with a vengeance the early ’90s as part of the grunge music scene. The shirts that had united America’s working class in the 1950s became a symbol of the anti-conformity zeitgeist. Pacific northwestern bands like Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam were garbed in messy plaid flannels that were both cheap and built strictly for comfort — the polar opposite of the neat gray flannel suit of the ’50s.
Today we see flannel worn just as much by men as we do by women. And the one thing that hasn’t changed – flannel continues to suspend social classes, religious preferences, racial barriers, and so much more. With that said, I’ll get off my podium and relinquish my dissertation to show you some of the real goods; a few of my favorite flannel pieces, and some of my favorite way WOMEN who are wearing them.
THE “I’M WALKING DOWN THE STREET AND I DON’T CARE BUT I TOTALLY DO”-FLANNEL
- Mixing prints
- Bold accessories
- Leopard and leather
- Playing with proportions (tight skirt, loose top)
- ONE piece of flannel at a time!
- Let your hair look natural and free
THE “I TOTALLY DON’T GIVE A F*** BUT I’M GOING OUT AND I’M NOT COMING HOME ALONE TONIGHT” -FLANNEL
- Black boots/heels
- Always gold (accessories)
- Playoff on Rockabilly 2015
- Leather Skirts
- “Distress-ive but Impressive” vibe
- Play with proportions (skinny pants, boxy jackets)
- Well Taken Care of Hair!
- When in doubt, red, black and/or blue
- Draw attention to the legs
- Don’t be afraid to accessorize
- Keep the handbag small
- Don’t obsess about buttoning the right button or letting your layers do just that: layer!
Ready to go out on your own plaid pursuit? Below I have chosen some of my favorite plaid/flannel items all available for purchase on the internet. When it comes to your wardrobe, don’t just plead the fifth…plaid it!