Investigation into Flannel
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My name is Asher and lets begin
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Today we are opening an informal investigation into Flannel
In case you have been isolating super hard and don’t get out much - Let me be the one to tell you flannel season 2020 is here!
As you're getting geared up with your favorite soft, warm, and colorful winter garments
Do you find yourself asking yourself - Self? What, when, how, and why did we all get flannelized!?
Flannel is a soft woven fabric, yep a soft woven fabric, It's really that simple!
Originally it was made from wool but now it's made from wool, cotton, synthetic fiber, and I think you can even get it made out of some kind of vegetation.
So! What makes it so soft?
It is loosely spun
Flannel can be brushed for extra softness. What happens is a fine metal brush scrapes the material raising fine fibers creating a nap - which is just a fancy word for a raised fuzzy surface
What about the pattern? Does it need to be tartan? I know big words. Tartan is that classic pattern seen on flannel shirts with criss crossed horizontal and vertical bands of different colors. The answer to this is no. Flannel is just the soft fuzzy material that is fuzzified using the 2 methods we just mentioned.
But tartans! Common now! Tartans deserve a little side tract here. Tartans have a rich history in Scotland. Each clan was represented by a different tartan pattern. Believe it or not you can officially register your own pattern today no matter where in the world you live, who your ancestors are, or your personal feelings on flannel - that's equal opportunity for ya.
Just go to tartanregister.gov.uk and make it official. It seems you design a weave, then name it, and register it for the meer price of 70 pounds. You should prob check that no one has already registered your tartan or your application can be rejected and you will be chased down by an angry Scotish clan. Of Course, I immediately started sketching out my tartan but tartans are going to have to have their own episode. This is about flannel!
My first exposure to flannel was from Osh Kosh Bigosh before I can even remember. My first memorable flannel experience was in grade school. My mom bought me a wardrobe full of beautiful flannel. It's warm, soft, and colorful - what could go wrong, rite?
Unfortunately my esteemed grade school colleagues did not feel the same way. At that time I suppose flannel was not the coolest thing. I was made fun of a bit and some people called me raymor and flanneligan haha i know. Fortunately, I was always a big dude so there was a limit to how far they were willing to take this. I don’t actually remember caring all that much but it likely made an impression because my next phase was Hawaiian shirts which are so not fuzzy they feel slick. As you can tell I was always the super cool kid.
I was trying to figure out the origin story of flannel but I was not able to find all that much. There is no official book on flannel and when you google it you find vague stories by every company that sells flannel. After reading the same useless information 25 times I gave up and went with what I had.
The party line seems to be flannel is of welsh origin sometime in the 17th century. Makes sense because the welsh had tons of sheep, therefore wool, and the first flannels were wool. Also, they created new ways to process wool such as carding in 1789 which would make production much easier.
Stepping back and thinking of things from the walians perspective - these people were just taking a firm stance against scratchy wool sweaters or even underwear. Imagine wearing scratchy wool underwear every day! I know, try to unthink that one! Your welcome! Also, poofing out material makes it warmer just like poofing up your down coat.
It makes sense that the origin story is a little murky. We are literally trying to figure out where soft fuzzy fabric was invented. This is not the most specific thing in the world.
In 1861 during the US civil war soldiers were commonly seen in flannels
In 1889 Hamilton Carhartt, yep, that carhartt, opened his factory in detroit michigan creating tough flannel garments for the working man.
Flannel quickly became the symbol for the rugged hard working man. Loggers and railroad workers soon adopted this material as their flannelform(i just made that up btw).
The mythical giant paul bunyan garbed in his classic red flannel shirt really drove home the relationship between flannel and manliness. At this point I headed down the paul bunion rabbit hole to discover it goes way too deep for comfort - so let's move on.
Flannel was used in clothing in both world wars. The famous Parsons M1941 field jacket was lined with flannel. Even our white collar friends wanted to get in on this and in the 1950’s mens flannel suits became somewhat popular.
In the 1990’s flannel joined the grunge scene and was worn by nirvana, pearl jam and others. Currently, flannels are as popular as ever. The website “outside online” calls this fashion trend “lumbar-sexual” - like sexy lumbar jack - if you needed that explained.
While researching this episode I came across the Red flannel festival celebrated 82 years this October! I know, we just missed it! Next year we are going to be there! I already added it to my calendar! I really did btw.
The story of this festival begins during the frigid winter of 1936. A New York feature writer was complaining(no surprise there) that there were no red flannels to wear during this freezing winter. It seems a news paper from Cedar Springs Michigan wrote back kindly explaining that just because you don’t see red flannel in the hoyty toyty stores in NY doesn’t mean flannel is not being made around the country - she wrote “who but a New Yorker would conclude that all the world doesn’t because we don’t.” The story was picked up and next thing you know orders were pouring into this small city with a population of 2000.
It seems they mostly sold “dropseaters” which looks to be a one piece flannel long underwear with a butt flap. I’m assuming the flap was to allow the wearer to use the bathroom without having to take all their clothes off and expose themselves to the elements. I guess it can also help with procreation on those cold nights. When you live in a town of 2000 every opportunity counts.
Soon after, a festival day was made to commemorate this big event in the town of Cedar springs. These festivals were pretty serious business! On their website they state that in 1939 the police were arresting anyone not wearing red on festival day. In all seriousness red flannel helped keep this little town of 2000 on the map! I’m hoping to see everyone October 2nd 2021 at the Red Flannel Festival.
As you may have guessed I didn’t let a bunch of haters affect my clothing choice in grade school. I have been going strong with flannel ever since and patiently waited for the world to catch up.
With everything going on in the world I have been trying to support US businesses and thought I would take this opportunity to upgrade my flannels. I came across the Vermont Flannel Company. This is a family owned business in vermont. All of their flannels are made in the USA. Overtime they have created quite the customer base of fanatic flannel followers - thats what they call um. I have bought alot from them and its extremely high quality. They have pretty much flannelized everything. They have shirts, pants, robes, scarves, bags, hats, flanyards - to go around your neck, the flanny pack - flannel waist pouch, and ofcourse their vong - flannel thong not a bong. While recording this episode i’m wearing their luxurious and super loungeable flannel robe. And no i'm not getting paid by them.
Why is flannel so manly? Why is it so fashionable? Why does it transcend age, sex, race?(not really sure where race comes in to this but sure)
Simply, it's comfortable and warm. Wear what works and don’t let any hacks tell you what’s fashionably acceptable. We are currently in the time of the practisexual revolution - being practical is fashionable but only if you're not doing it for that reason!
With that we are going to close this investigation. If you enjoyed this podcast please subscribe to be notified about our upcoming episodes. Also, Check the links in our show notes for the resources discussed in this episode on informalinvestigation.com.