Tuesday, December 29, 2009


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.

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