Let’s get one thing straight, flannel and plaid are not the same things. Flannel is a fabric crafted by weaving wool or cotton yarn while Plaid is a pattern of checkered prints. Since 17th century plaid was added to give the flannel a more appealing look, so it's no surprise the word flannel is used interchangeably with plaid as their existence seems amalgamated. We look deeper at the fabric that has roots in Wales and Scotland.
In the late 1600s, Welsh textile mill created flannel with surplus wool from their sheep through a process called carding. It disentangles the wool fibers so they lay more parallel to one another, to create the softness. These yarns were then spun and woven to form flannel. The fabric was then napped to expose the ends of the fibers, this process raise the fine ends of fibers to trap air for added warmth and even softer hand feel as well as increases moisture wicking.
Farmers immediately adopted the flannel for its warmth, softness and durability. It had protected themselves from harsh weather of the region and allow them to carry out their hard-hitting activities without the worry of their shirt ripping. Soon after the working class began to embrace this warm fabric.
The spread and popularity of flannel came during the Industrial Revolution, spreading through Europe in 18th century before making it’s way across the ocean to United states mid 19th century where flannel was used to make thermal underwear and a staple fabric for bedding and other household uses.
At the turn of the twentieth century, flannel shirt and pants were commonly worn due to global crisis from the World Wars, Great Depression and its aftermath. It forced men to trade in their suits and women to start wearing a more durable blue-collar workwear that stand up to hard labour while providing warmth, with the ability to move around freely.
Over the decades, flannel expand towards everyday outdoors activities. One of the best things about flannel is that it will get softer as it gets older, a low-maintenance fabric that doesn’t require ironing or dry cleaning. It doesn’t hold on to odor even after days of wear, making it even easier to care for.
The warm fabric has come a long way since its humble beginnings, the flannel shirt is a timeless clothing piece rich in history that has successfully retained its timelessness and adaptability in our everyday life - a true staple for colder days.
W'menswear shot by Eric Kvatek
Words by Buranee Soh