Stories / November 2019

The Flannel Manual

This tactile winter cloth was once a byword for conformity. But in fact, flannel offers countless avenues for self-expression.

(Photo by Kim Lang).

Looking for the perfect balance of toasty cosiness and classic sartorial elan this winter? Then you’re going to want to get comfortable with flannel. Soft and fluffy yet somehow still sharp as a whip, during the cooler months this cloth is the well-dressed man’s best friend.

There are various types of flannel fabric — it’s really a milling technique that can be unleashed on a variety of textiles. However, the dapper chap’s focus is going to fall upon cotton flannel, normally used to make buttery-supple shirts, and woolen (or perhaps wool-cashmere) flannel, employed in suits, odd coats and trousers.

So, what is flannel, exactly? Explains Douglas Cordeaux, MD of British mill synonymous with the fabric, Fox Brothers & Co., “Flannel is a heavily milled cloth that essentially, once woven, is smashed against wood for several hours, which allows the fibres to bust.” Metal brushes may also be used to give the cloth its soft, furry finish, and one or both sides of the material can be mellowed in this manner.

Eminent tailoring commentator James Sherwood wrote in The Rake some years ago that flannel is among the least “obnoxious” of cloths. “Flannel is a soft, opaque, subtle cloth of humble origins made from carded wool with a napped surface where air pockets are trapped between interlocking fibres. Flannel has texture, depth and a richness of tones within the base colour that absorbs rather than reflects light. It lacks ostentation,” Sherwood observed.

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