I really wasn’t trying to evesdrop, but I couldn’t help overhearing half of a conversation the other day. I was in a long line at the otherwise quiet post office. A woman, right ahead of me, was talking loudly into her mobile phone. She kept going on and on about plaid cloth that she had to buy for her daughter.
Evidently, the daughter’s Girl Scout troop’s “Mad for Plaid” project was to sew an article of clothing made from plaid material. The mother was discussing the weight of flannel that should be used, the size of the squares in the pattern, and the daughter’s prefered color choices. The woman needed to have the fabric before the next day so her girl could finish the project before the end of the month.
Well, it so happens that plaid flannel is one of my favorite materials to wear. It’s truly a comfort cloth. Right now, I’m wearing a reddish-orange “Carhartt” shirt made of heavy weight flannel with a two-inch square pattern. The lines alternate between dark blue and blue-grey with overlayed narrow lines of white thread. I don’t remember how many years ago I bought this shirt, but it’s been a favorite for quite awhile.
Most of us may remember that plaid print got its start back in the 1600s when rebellious Scottish began wearing check patterned, tartan plaid kilts to show their opposition against the British Empire. The pattern was so controversial, that the British placed a ban upon its manufacture. After the nearly 40-year prohibition was lifted, factories in America began making the fabric. By that time the name had been shortened to “plaid”.
The other aspect of plaid fabric, flannel, was developed from carded wool or worsted yarn commonly attributed to Welsh artisans in the late 1500s. The name is thought to be derived from the French term, “flannelle”.
Around 1850, John Rich and Daniel McCormick of Woolrich, Pennsylvania introduced a two-toned “Buffalo Check” wool-flannel shirt from their Woolrich outfitters company. Eventually, woolen flannel began to share the market with cotton varieties.
Some historians credit Hamilton Carhartt of Dearborn, Michigan with spreading the popularity of modern, cotton flannel. Carhartt founded his business by producing sturdy denim garments for railroad workers. He expanded his line of clothing to include a special flannel that could stand up to the rigors of hard working railroaders.
Ever since the late 1800s, plaid flannel of wool or cotton has become a staple of workers, people who enjoy the outdoors, and various subcultures. Of course, plaid flannel is the fabric of choice for pajamas.
My personal obsession for plaid flannel shirts began during my college years, after I bought two second-hand plaid shirts to ward off the chill of cool lecture halls and classrooms. Besides being comfortable, I discovered they never really go out of style.
The Blue Jay of Happiness says that a man’s worst style mistake is trying too hard to look “cool”. If you have a couple pairs of good jeans, a sturdy pair of shoes, and a few cotton flannel shirts, you’ll be OK.