Warm. Comfortable. Durable. Flannel is a favorite among all people. However, not everyone is aware of its fascinating past. The flannel shirt stands out as the most recognizable emblem of Americana, and more especially, of the American outdoorsman. However, the history of flannel actually starts in Wales in the 17th century, not here.


Although it is unknown who first coined the term (the Germans called it flannel, and the French called it flanelle), flannel offered excellent protection against Wales’ punishingly wet and windy winters, and the vast number of sheep in the nation produced enough wool for this soft, woven fabric. To create the distinctive nap and softness adored and recognized in flannel, the fabric was given a nap on one or both sides by rubbing it with a small metal brush to lift the fibers from the loosely spun yarn.

Flannel swiftly gained popularity throughout Europe because to its low cost, warmth, and durability. As a result, wool manufacturers sprang up all over England and France. The proliferation of flannel was further pushed by the Industrial Revolution and the growth of carding mills (where wool is prepared for spinning).


Flannel was first utilized in the United States during the Civil War as an inexpensive, durable fabric for soldiers’ everyday jackets and undershirts. Hamilton “Ham” Carhartt deserves all the credit for the fabric’s sudden popularity, despite the fact that it was readily acknowledged as a working man’s cloth.

With the goal of enhancing the American working man’s uniform, Hamilton Carhartt established his own firm in 1889. He began making strong flannel clothing created specifically for the working class after opening his business in Detroit. Flannel was utilized in the early years to create one-piece long underwear (sometimes known as “union suits”) for railroad and construction workers. Flannel had established itself as the working man’s shirt by the turn of the century, becoming a mainstay in men’s clothes all around the world.


Flannel made a comeback in the military during World War I, being used to make soldiers’ undershirts, bandages, belts, and uniforms. This helped to better familiarize the American public with the dependable and now prevalent cloth.

Enter: the 1930’s and The Great Depression. Men who had donned suits and ties suddenly found themselves sporting the flannel shirts of the working class as class barriers were now dismantled. The “American Dream” concept had begun to take hold in American society by the 1950s. A guy might pull himself up by his bootstraps and work his way up the social ladder by choosing to identify as a working-class man rather than as a cause of shame.

The flannel shirt has become the unmistakable emblem of the rugged American man thanks to American legend – Paul Bunyan. The legendary giant who always had an axe in one hand and an ox by his side, was lauded for his bravery in popular culture. Flannel shirts stood for male independence and dignity, cutting wood and starting fires, self-respect, and a hard day’s labor.


Interestingly, the 1950’s also saw the sophistication of flannel. As the American man began to work himself back up from the bottom, grey flannel suits became the standard for businessmen. Once again, popular culture fanned the flannel flame, featuring grey flannel suits in critically acclaimed novels and films well through the 1960’s. 


Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and the resurrection of the flannel shirt were all products of the 1990s music scene. Flannel shirts, the antithesis of the sharp grey flannel suit, became the iconic representation of “grunge” and nonconformity.


Flannel shirts continue to stand for casual elegance, coziness, and warmth today. Today’s flannel transcends almost all boundaries and is used for work or leisure by CEOs and factory workers, white collar and blue collar.

The history of flannel boasts a remarkable voyage of adapting to the changes while adhering to its roots, much like the rugged men who have always worn it.


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