Flannel Shirts 101

For the colder seasons, flannel really is the Swiss Army Knife of fabrics.  Warm, lightweight, and quick to dry, flannel has been riding the style wave since its inception in the 1600s.  Moving well past its history as workwear to just, well, “wear” today’s modern flannels aren’t just for taking down trees with an ax in a misty forest.  They’ve become a casual winter staple and can even take to more formal styling if you do it just right.

A common mistake is designating any soft plaid shirt as a flannel shirt.  But that’s not really accurate, flannel is a particular type of wool or cotton weave.  It's material vs. pattern, feel me?  Patterns are cool, and we’ll definitely get into that, but if you want to start simple, just go with a solid flannel shirt in a neutral color.  A charcoal grey or olive flannel is great to start with and works with virtually any type of pant.  Depending on the season, it can be layered up or even double as a light layer when it gets cool at night.  The neutral hues are a snap to wear because they complement pretty much anything, and as it shows its wear, the fading will look more purposeful.  

Branching out to plaid patterns, we can't big up buffalo enough.  Buffalo plaid was incepted in the good ole USA and is generally associated with being masculine AF.  Think Paul Bunyan, the Brawny man, and, notably shouted out in his fire track “Juicy”, Biggie Smalls.  It's categorized by a large, oversized red and black checkered layout and like Chuck Taylors, it transcends being the property of any particular subgroup of style.  Buffalo isn't defined only by black and red though, so long as there are only two colors on the shirt, it can be tossed into the same category.


During the winter, tartan plaid is the move.  Originally these multi-colored plaids evolved from traditional Scottish kilts with each family having its own distinct plaid and color combination.  Now it’s readily identifiable around the holidays and winter time but its design is a little harder to define than buffalo.  The best way we can describe it is that the horizontal and vertical striping on the pattern is proportional to each other and creates boxes of the same size on the fabric. Certain well-known combinations like Black Watch tartan (navy and dark green) or Highland tartan (incorporates red) have become prominent, but any mix of larger scale colors and boxes can be a tartan, especially when it’s primary colors are red, green, navy, and gold. During the winter, tartan plaid is the move.  Originally these multi-colored plaids evolved from traditional Scottish kilts with each family having its own distinct plaid and color combination.  

Now it’s readily identifiable around the holidays and winter time but its design is a little harder to define than buffalo.  The best way we can describe it is that the horizontal and vertical striping on the pattern is proportional to each other and creates boxes of the same size on the fabric. Certain well-known combinations like Black Watch tartan (navy and dark green) or Highland tartan (incorporates red) have become prominent, but any mix of larger scale colors and boxes can be a tartan, especially when it’s primary colors are red, green, navy, and gold. 

Beyond tartan, buffalo, and even gingham (think a much smaller version of Buffalo), there's hundreds or even thousands of plaid flannel shirts to choose from.  Just keep in mind that the smaller the pattern, the more conservative and dressy it can be.  So if you want to roll with a tuck or even add a knit or textured tie to the mix, stick with small-scale patterns.  Also, if you're rocking a flannel unbuttoned as a light outer layer, try to avoid any graphics on the shirts you're wearing anything underneath.  Short of something with a cool vintage vibe, an outfit that's too busy will end up being more of an eyesore than anything, plus you risk looking like a teenager who’s just trying to hard.  Start slow first.  Think Benny The Jet from the Sandlot, and rock with the flannel shirt, quality denim and work boots or a clean pair of sneakers, and expand outwards from there.  And when in doubt, always refer to a tailor.  They'll get you right in terms of fit so you don't look like you're dressed up as a throwback grunge band member.