What is Flannel? | Flannel Fabric & Shirts Explained

Man wearing flannel on the phone with a laptop.

Written by Sonia Su

Flannel is a versatile and popular fabric known for its exceptional softness and comfort. Flannel fabric differs from plaid shirts, which is a common pattern for flannel shirts. Flannel fabric is used in various clothing items, home textiles, and accessories, making it a favorite choice for people of all ages.

This article explores the fascinating world of flannel, from its origins to modern use as a soft, moisture-wicking fashion statement. By the end of this article, you'll know everything there is to know about what is flannel, flannel fabric, and more.

Introduction to Flannel

Flannel is a woven fabric made from natural fibers such as cotton, wool, or synthetic materials. Its unique construction involves brushing the fabric's surface to create a fuzzy, soft texture, which sets it apart from other textiles. This process enhances its insulating properties, making flannel an ideal choice for colder climates. If you’re looking for a flannel to keep you warm, Nimble Made offers a collection of flannel shirts and button down shirts.

Nimble Made Black and White Flannel Button Down Shirt | The Script

 

The History of Flannel Fabric

The history of flannel dates back centuries and has evolved through various cultural and industrial influences. The word "flannel" is believed to have originated from the Welsh word "gwlanen," which means "woolen cloth." Here is a brief overview of the history of flannel:

From Early Origins to the Industrial Revolution

Flannel's origins can be traced back to ancient times when it was made from wool and used primarily for clothing. The warm and durable properties of wool flannel made it popular in colder regions.

Wales played a significant role in the early production of flannel. The Welsh countryside, with its abundance of sheep, provided ample wool for the production of flannel fabric. Welsh flannel gained a reputation for its quality and became well-known in the European textile market.

The Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries brought significant advancements in textile manufacturing. With the introduction of mechanized looms and pinning machines, flannel production became more efficient and widespread.

The Rise of Cotton Flannel and 20th Century Flannel Shirts

While wool flannel had been the dominant type, the 19th century saw the emergence of cotton flannel as a more affordable and lightweight alternative. Cotton flannel gained popularity for its softness and comfort, becoming a common fabric for shirts and sleepwear.

Flannel shirts became increasingly popular in the early 20th century, particularly among outdoor workers and lumberjacks in the United States and Canada. The durability and warmth of flannel made it a practical choice for laborers in colder climates.

Man wearing flannel with snow on the ground.

Flannel Fashion in Pop Culture and the 1990s

Flannel shirts became associated with various fashion movements throughout the 20th century. In the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, flannel shirts were adopted by musicians and counterculture groups, contributing to their iconic status.

Flannel shirts experienced a surge in popularity during the 1990s grunge movement. Bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam popularized the grunge fashion, characterized by oversized flannel shirts worn over ripped jeans and with combat boots.

Man wearing blue flannel playing guitar.

Flannel in Modern Use

Flannel today remains a popular fabric for clothing, bedding, and home textiles. It is used in various styles, from classic plaid flannel shirts to trendy flannel dresses and accessories.

Characteristics and Properties of Flannel

Flannel is a soft and versatile fabric known for its distinctive characteristics and properties. Here are some key characteristics and properties of flannel:

Flannel fabric shirt

  • Softness: Flannel is renowned for its exceptional softness. The brushing process used during manufacturing raises the fibers on the fabric's surface, creating a fuzzy and cozy texture that feels gentle against the skin.
  • Warmth: Flannel is an excellent fabric for providing warmth, especially during colder months. Its brushed surface traps air, which acts as an insulator, keeping the body warm in chilly conditions.
  • Breathability: Despite its warmth, flannel remains breathable and moisture-wicking. The woven construction of the fabric allows air circulation, preventing overheating and promoting comfort during varied temperatures.
  • Absorbency: Cotton flannel, in particular, has good absorbent properties. It can wick away moisture, making it an ideal choice for pajamas, sheets, and other bedding materials.
  • Durability: Flannel is generally a durable fabric, especially when made from high-quality fibers. Proper care can prolong its lifespan, ensuring it remains soft and cozy for an extended period.
  • Weight and Thickness: Flannel comes in various weights, ranging from lightweight to heavyweight. The weight determines its thickness and level of warmth, allowing for versatile use in different climates.
  • Easy to Maintain: Flannel is generally easy to care for. Most flannel items are machine washable and can be tumble dried, making them convenient and practical for everyday use.

Types of Flannel Fabrics

Flannel can be made from various materials, with cotton and wool being the most common fabrics. Flannel can also be made from other synthetic fabrics and fibers or a blend of different materials.

When purchasing flannel products, it's essential to check the fabric composition label to understand the materials used. Each type of flannel has its own characteristics, so choose the one that best suits your preferences and needs based on the specific blend of fibers.

Man wearing brown flannel.

  • Cotton Flannel: Cotton flannel is the most widely used type of flannel. It is made from 100% cotton fibers and is known for its softness, breathability, and comfort. Cotton flannel is popular for shirts, pajamas, bedding, and other cozy garments, with plaid flannel being the most common pattern. 
  • Wool Flannel: Wool flannel is made from 100% wool fibers. It offers excellent insulation and warmth, making it well-suited for colder weather. Wool flannel is often used in suits, trousers, jackets, and other winter garments.
  • Blended Flannel: Flannel can also be made from a blend of fibers, such as a mix of cotton and wool. Blended flannel combines the desirable qualities of both materials, providing a balance of softness, warmth, and durability. These blends of flannels can vary in their composition, offering different levels of warmth and texture.
  • Synthetic Flannel: In some cases, flannel can be made from synthetic fibers like polyester or rayon. Synthetic flannel may mimic the texture and appearance of traditional flannel, but it may not offer the same breathability or natural feel as cotton or wool flannel.

Man wearing red flannel outdoors.

How to Style Flannel Fabric in Fashion

Flannel's versatility extends to various aspects of daily life, including shirts, accessories, and flannel-lined clothing. Flannel has evolved over the years to become a fashion staple with a rich history. Flannel's journey from utilitarian fabric to a fashion must-have has been a fascinating one. It has been embraced by various subcultures, from lumberjacks to grunge enthusiasts.

Flannel is a versatile, lightweight fabric that can be used to create a range of stylish looks. Here are some styling tips with flannel:

Couple embracing wearing flannel with layers.

  • Stick to a Classic Flannel Shirt: The most common use of flannel is in the form of classic flannel shirts. Pair it with jeans or chinos for a casual, everyday look. You can leave it unbuttoned over a plain t-shirt or button it up for a more put-together appearance.
  • Layer Your Flannel: Flannel is an excellent layering piece. Wear it over a basic t-shirt, henley, or even a lightweight sweater for added warmth and style during cooler weather. This creates a cozy, laid-back vibe.blue and white flannel fabric
  • Combine Flannel and Denim: Combine flannel with denim for a timeless and rugged outfit. Whether it's a shirt with jeans or a flannel-lined denim jacket, this pairing is a classic and works well for various casual occasions.
  • Mix Patterns: Flannel often comes in plaid patterns, making it an excellent candidate for pattern mixing. Pair your plaid flannel shirts with other patterns, like stripes or polka dots, for a bold and fashion-forward look. Just ensure the colors complement each other.
  • Combine Flannel with Leather: Create an edgy contrast by pairing your flannel with leather items like a jacket or pants. The softness of flannel and the ruggedness of leather create a unique and stylish combination.
  • Tie Flannel around the Waist: For a relaxed and casual vibe, tie a flannel shirt around your waist. This works well with a plain t-shirt and jeans or shorts, adding a pop of color and style to your look.
  • Try a Monochrome Flannel Outfit: Opt for a monochromatic flannel look by choosing a flannel shirt—such as Nimble Made's Black and White Flannel Button Down Shirt—that features different shades of the same color. Combine it with matching pants or skirt for a coordinated and fashion-forward ensemble.
  • Dress up with Accessories: You can dress up a flannel shirt by pairing it with more refined accessories. Consider adding a statement necklace, a blazer, or a stylish watch to elevate your outfit for semi-casual events.

For more style tips, check out our other guide on how to wear flannel. For more guides on fabric, check out what is fleece, what is polyester fabric, what is linen fabric, polyester vs cotton, what is rayon fabric, and what is tweed fabric.

Frequently Asked Questions about Flannel Fabric

What makes a shirt flannel?

A shirt is considered flannel based on the type of fabric it is made from. Flannel is a soft, woven fabric that is typically made from cotton, wool, or a blend of both fibers. The defining characteristic of flannel is its raised surface, which creates a fuzzy or napped texture. This texture is achieved through a process called "brushing."

Is all flannel 100% cotton or just cotton?

No, flannel can be made from different materials, not limited to just cotton fabric; it can also be made from wool or synthetic fibers.

What is flannel used for?

Flannel's versatility and comfort make it a cherished fabric for various clothing, bedding, and household items, offering warmth and coziness in different aspects of daily life.

Couple embracing wearing flannel.

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