Whether we like it or not, what we wear says something about us and reveals insight into our personality, our taste, and possibly our attitudes. Just think baggy jeans with underwear sticking out, skinny jeans, a business suit, a low cut, slinky dress, wranglers, or a ball cap worn sideways, to name just a few. As you think about them, images come to mind with conjoined judgment.
Over the years fashions have changed only to come back around decades later. Clothing trends popular one year die and give way to new trends the next, but some items remain classic. There is an enduring quality to them that makes them adaptable to the progression of time and loved by one generation to the next. One of those items is the flannel shirt, and whether you agree with me or not, I think a flannel says, “Cool, laid back, unpretentious.”
When I see someone in a flannel, any number of things may come to mind depending on how they wear it, but overall I usually think, “My people.” The greatest thing I have seen recently in regard to flannel is that it seems to transcend not just time, but class as well. Gone are the days when only lumberjacks, miners, or fishermen wore flannels – everyone is, from doctors to surfers, hunters to pop stars, from hipsters and gangsters, to metrosexuals. It’s not just for grunge music, nor just for men. These time tested shirts are everywhere and on everyone and are made by companies from Carhartt to Victoria’s Secret.
So what is the allure to these time tested shirts? I think it is what they represent. They represent the humble, the hardworking, the hard scrabble, the rebel rousers, the adventurous, and more generally, ‘the common man.’ They are practical and simple, and I think it is the simplicity that draws people and social groups to them decade after decade.
They also tend to generally be worn by those in the outdoors community, whether ranchers or climbers, and no wonder, they got their beginning by the Welsh who needed clothing that would keep them warm from the elements – something that is always necessary for those who spend a lot of time outside. And let’s not forget plaid, the synonymous pattern associated with flannel shirts, which got its start in, where else but Scotland. As for America, we all know the legendary Paul Bunyan and his black and red flannel which may have contributed to the myth and lore surrounding the shirt, but they were largely popularized by Hamilton Carhatt who made clothing specifically for the blue collar working class, including flannels, in the late 1880s.
So whatever your take on flannels, they’ve been around a long damn time, and for good reason. They are warm, casual, colorful, and are typically reasonably priced. I like getting mine from local thrift stores and often find real gems with brand names like Pendleton, Woolworth, and Patagonia, for a few bucks at the most. They are kind of like an aged wine, the older they get, the better they look – and feel.
So in homage to the flannel, we have our annual non-Christmas, Christmas flannel party every December. Everyone is required to wear a flannel and must bring food and drink to attend. In other words, it’s the antithesis to a serious religious ceremony to mark the birth of Christ or a rated G family holiday party. I guess in retrospect, it’s kind of a Krampus party in that it’s more in the spirit old Saint Nick’s holiday devil sidekick than the jolly old man himself.
I’d be willing to bet the German originated Alpine Christmas devil wore flannel – or perhaps didn’t play tricks on those who did. Either way, between today ringing in the first day of winter, Christmas around the corner, and the cold weather to boot, flannel is king this time of year – though as stated already, it has a steady showing all year long.