The cool weather is obviously having an effect on my clothing preferences of late. We are actually experiencing a bit of winter in our normally balmy Northern California, so my mind turns to warmer clothes.
And what could be warmer or more comforting than flannel?
Flannel comes in two basic varieties: wool and cotton.
Wool flannel is the stuff of your best dress suits, trousers and blazers. It is also what the best Pendleton™ shirts are made of. There is much to recommend wool flannel shirts – most notably, if a young gentleman spends a good deal of time out of doors in the cold months, wool will keep him warm when sodden wet. Additionally, good quality wool will keep its crisp appearance through much hard wear. No matter how well worn your wool flannel Pendleton gets, however, it will never be something that you want to rub your face against – it is not "comfort" clothing.
Cotton flannel is what I really want to discuss here. It comes in various weights from quite light, suitable for mild Californian autumns and springs, to thick "chamois cloth" weights, which make good layers in mid-winter. It is used to line jeans and khakis and to make shirts. These are not business shirts. No, these are shirts that warm the flesh and the soul. A well washed and thick cotton flannel shirt is like wearing the softest blanket from your bassinet. Like Linus, you will take your security blanket with you everywhere. The heaviest cotton flannels will never offer the same degree of insulation as wool flannels, but they are far more suitable for indoor wear and for layering over tee-shirts and turtlenecks. A well cut flannel shirt can go under a tweed or corduroy sport coat, it can go under any sort of parka, or it may be worn as a medium-weight outer layer on its own.
The best cut flannel shirts offer two breast pockets, often pleated, but not always. Knife pleats on each side of the back are best, but they may have no pleats at all – the additional volume afforded by pleats makes layering over heavy undergarments somewhat easier. Look for good long tails as they serve not only to keep the shirt tucked in whilst you are cutting wood or driving the sleigh, but they also offer welcome insulation to your bum.
Where to find them? The old stand-by, L. L. Bean still carries them, as does their west-coast counterpart, Eddie Bauer, but in recent years I have found the offerings at Cabela's to be of better quality. Also, Cabela's offers them in a wider selection of colors and they offer embroidery to personalize the shirts a bit.
I am taking something of a departure here. The weather in our balmy Northern California climes has taken a turn for the cool. Tomorrow the weatherman is predicting sleet. Sleet! In Northern California!
This is one of the rare times when I wish I still had a pair of Malone Pants. Malone Pants are one of the less-than-basic alternatives that it behooves a gentleman to own. The fabric is a tremendously thick woolen flannel. And it is not refined flannel. Think lumberjacks, jacking lumber in the forests of the Yukon. These pants are heavy. But, like so many articles of men's clothing that were developed in the nineteenth century, they are also dashing. Traditionally they are in a dark Oxford grey color with a faint red and green windowpane check. Because they are woolen, they will not only keep you warm after fording a river to get to grandmama's house, but they will continue to look dashing once they dry. And, if on the sleigh-ride home with Miss Fanny Bright you happen to get caught in a drifted bank, you will be able to loan the only blanket in the vehicle to her whilst you dig your way out in relative comfort.
In truth, Malone Pants, though we only wear them a few times a year in this region, are invaluable wardrobe additions. Woolrich makes a fine example, and L.L. Bean carries them under their own label too, but they call them Main Guide Wool Pants. With a Pendleton wool shirt, you are ready to go Christmas tree hunting in these babies, and throw on a blue blazer and you are ready for Midnight Mass. In the winter these are truly not replaceable by any other garment that I know of.