Flannel shirts have had something of an image problem in recent times and as per usual, it’s the hipsters’ fault. For a few years, this classic type of shirt couldn’t escape the connotations of the artisan coffee-drinking lumbersexuals who wore them everywhere they went.
Fortunately, they’re being re-evaluated again, because this garment is, without doubt, an unsung menswear hero – a hardy wardrobe workhorse and the definition of a winter shirt.
Despite their ubiquity, there’s a common mistake that many people make. “Flannel is often used as a synonym for ‘check’, especially with shirts,” explains Luke McDonald, a stylist at men’s personal shopping service Thread. “Flannel basically refers to wool or cotton that’s been brushed to raise the nap.”
“It means you get something that’s incredibly soft and, because it traps air, is also very warm. It’s very hard-wearing, which is why lumberjacks are fans, as well as grunge bands.”
The origins of flannel can be traced back to 17th century Wales, where farmers wore flannel shirts to protect themselves from the elements. Even the word ‘flannel’ is thought to come from the Welsh word ‘gwlanen’, meaning ‘woollen article.’
Hamilton Carhartt is often credited with popularising the flannel shirt in the US. Founding his eponymous company in 1889, he made clothes for the American working classes, and today that style has been appropriated by trendy and occasionally-bearded millennials.
How To Style Flannel Shirts
The most famous pattern associated with the flannel shirt is the buffalo check. This bold red and black design originated around 1850 and was produced by Woolrich Woolen Mills. This is the classic lumberjack-style shirt which has become synonymous with the forests of North America.
The popularity of check shirts made from flannel rocketed during the 1990s thanks to grunge and bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Today, designer names like Givenchy and Saint Laurent, as well as high-street staples like Urban Outfitters, are using these references to make the checked flannel shirt a timeless item of menswear.
“If you go for checks, they tend to look either workwear or rock ‘n’ roll. If it’s the former you’re after, then slim-fit selvedge jeans and heavy boots are the go-to,” says McDonald.
“If you prefer the Saint Laurent, Nirvana look, [opt for] skinny jeans with the shirt worn open over a white T-shirt or even slung around your waist to hang beneath a hoodie or leather jacket.”
However, it is possible to shun checks altogether, either sticking to block neutral colours like grey and navy or by introducing bolder shades like bottle green, rust or burgundy.
“The fabric is very forgiving,” says McDonald. “Because it’s soft and matte it doesn’t stand out too much, so even colours that might seem hard to pull off are suddenly a lot more wearable, so long as you anchor them with basics in more subtle tones.”
There’s more than one way to wear them, too. Wayne Sørensen, founder of workwear-inspired menswear label Sørensen suggests promoting it from being a mid-layer. “Push them as an overshirt [and wear them with] a contrasting plain T-shirt underneath.
Types Of Flannel Shirts
Plain Flannel Shirts
Think of the plain flannel shirt as the winter replacement for your trusty Oxford shirt. If bought in a classic colour such as white or pale blue it can be worn in virtually the same way. Wear it open over jeans and a T-shirt, or layer it beneath a chore jacket or chunkier outerwear – versatility is key here.
Plaid Flannel Shirts
Perhaps the definitive flannel shirt, plaid and check fabrics have long been associated with the casual staple. The first pattern that comes to mind will likely be the buffalo check, but numerous other plaids and colourways are available today. Many brands, from Saint Laurent to A.P.C. are channelling ’90s grunge with their takes on plaid flannel shirts, so take a leaf out of their book if you want to adopt the style for yourself.
Hooded Flannel Shirts
Far from the garment you’d associate with your confused college self, the hooded flannel shirt can be utilised as part of a contemporary stylish wardrobe today. It’s one part functional outdoorsman, two parts skater, for a cocktail that is both cool, comfortable and warm. Look for oversized examples from Palm Angles or authentic lumberjack attire from LL Bean.
Flannel Shirt Jackets
For all your outerwear needs, the flannel shirt jacket has got your back. Brands such as Filson and Woolrich have basically built entire brands around them, and we can see why. Incredibly warm, practical and easy to wear, a flannel shirt jacket, whether in plaid or plain fabric, will serve you well through winter and beyond.
Lined Flannel Shirts
Warmer still though is the lined flannel shirt. Most often lined with Borg, pile or with wool padded interiors, lined flannel shirts are ideal as outer layers, worn over knitwear or shirting. The lining often means that inside pockets are utilised also, so expect zipped interior pockets perfect for phones or wallets.
The Best Brands For Flannel Shirts
The American workwear brand is one that still sells flannel shirts to actual labourers, who continue to buy them because they’re designed to shield against the elements. Expect thick cottons, generous pockets and triple-stitched seams that are built to endure an outdoor lifestyle, even if you’re not.
As well as practical work shirts and sherpa-lined overshirts, you’ll also find more muted options for the brand’s loyal streetwear following.
Founded over 100 years ago, L.L. Bean is one of the premiere American outdoorswear brands. Perhaps most famous for its duck boots, which enjoyed a renaissance a few years ago, it’s a brand rooted in functionality and purposeful dressing. As such, its flannel shirts offer exceptional warmth, rugged build quality and classic styling.
The high street behemoth was born in Scandinavia, where they know a thing or two about staying warm in practical outdoor clothing.
But it’s not all rugged practicality at this end of the market: fashion-friendly designs, tapered fits and design touches like concealed button-down collars make for a versatile (and affordable) addition to your wardrobe.
If you’re a fan of beautifully made, stripped back clothing, French label A.P.C is for you. Well known for its menswear staples the likes of selvedge denim, workshirts and overcoats, it also does a stellar line in flannel shirting.
Favouring muted colourways and slightly boxy fits, versatility is the order of the day here – expect to buy one shirt and be able to wear it with anything from pale wash denim through to pleated suit trousers.
Created in 2011, AMI quickly rose to the top of the menswear ranks with its laid back approach to quality clothing. From slouchy tailoring through to luxury sportswear, it’s one of the rare brands that will dress you impeccably from head to toe, from the office through to the weekend.
As such, flannel shirting often makes an appearance in its seasonal collections. Opt for a classic plaid number that will see you through autumn in style.
Family-owned business Portuguese Flannel continues to turn out quality menswear staples from the home town of founders, António and Manuel Magalhães, in the northern most tip of the country.
The brand source exclusive fabrics for its shirts, which are put together by master craftsmen. Inspiration comes from the coast and mountains of Portugal, with a range that’s strong on muted colours and simple shapes.
Since 2002, British brand Folk has pioneered contemporary workwear. Its shirts are often cut from 100 per cent cotton flannel and finished with details such as a snap front closures and flap pockets.
Known for its minimalist aesthetic, Folk shirts often feature boxy cuts and are designed to be layered, so leave yours open underneath a heavier bomber jacket on top.
Founded in 2005, contemporary Swedish brand Our Legacy has quickly become a hallmark of masculine Scandinavian style.
Its current collection of flannel shirts are made from 100 per cent cotton in a boxy fit with mother of pearl buttons and offer the considered minimalism expected from this label.
Tom Joule began selling clothes at outdoor events throughout the UK over 25 years ago. Today, Joules offers classic British menswear updated to look contemporary while staying resolutely wearable.
The ‘Barbrook’ classic-fit shirt in navy flannel is a favourite of the countryside crowd, with its button-down Oxford collar and double breast pockets that sit happily under a tweed blazer.
Everybody’s favourite basics store, Uniqlo’s flannel shirts are, as always, affordable, and the choice plentiful.
Plain Oxford styles come in a multitude of colours, including deep grungey checks that channel your inner Cobain. All to be had in 100 per cent cotton with enough change from a note to get a complementary flat white.
Think Superdry, and you probably think bold checked shirts in heavy flannel. And you’d be right.
The brand’s sturdy milled flannel comes in a neutral grey and white check with twin chest pockets, quilted shoulder panels and lumberjack elbow patches. It’s one that looks just as good unbuttoned over a T-shirt as done up with raw denim.
Saint Laurent’s latest head designer, Anthony Vaccarello, is continuing the legacy left by his predecessor Hedi Slimane.
Skinny rock stars with big hats and pointy shoes are the target market and Western flannel shirts in ombré checks in this grungey aesthetic have become a signature for the brand.
Born for the great outdoors, Pennsylvania-based Woolrich knows a thing or two about flannel, with a history of producing outerwear that’s both stylish and practical.
Current options include plain Oxfords, handsome house checks and shirt jackets that typifies the perfect shacket with practical front pockets.