Flannel and plaid are not exactly the same. It gets confusing when they sometimes, and often are, bundled up as this general style of "flannels." For reference, check out this comfort inducing plaid flannel tunic. It's both flannel and plaid, where many of us go ahead and think, "Oh, that's a red flannel, okay." It's like when Mom calls you every other name except for yours, even the dog's. It's not uncommon and it's a universally accepted phenomenon to still respond despite not being called the right name. She may have even called you Flannel once — that's okay.
The difference between flannel and plaid is that flannel is the fabric and plaid is the pattern or print. The confusion comes from the fact that, oftentimes, shirts made with flannel fabric have a plaid pattern. They are often found paired together, but they are not the same.
Check the descriptions of the shirt you're looking to buy. If it's made up of cotton, it's how it's threaded that makes it a true flannel. Typically cotton, a modern flannel is threaded to retain heat. If it's a mix of different materials and plaid patterned, you may not have flannel on your hands, but you may have this awesome Tuxedo Bib Shirt Dress or even this scarf for the chilly days ahead.
That interview may not call for the same comforts as a hike in the woods, but the tailored comfort of a brushed twill dress shirt will get you a call to show up next week for that new job, nay, new career.
Plaid is a pattern or print that you see on fabric. You can recognize it from the crisscross pattern formed by vertical and horizontal bands of colors. The bands can be made with different colors and the print can be used on different fabrics, one of which is flannel.
Let's say you're about to buy these flannel sheets and they don't have that "flannel look." You may be confused and ask why this flannel is not you know, that checkered flannel plaid type. After a tense argument with a patient customer service rep, you may find yourself going, "I'm so sorry...why wasn't I taught this in high school? I thought flannel and plaid were the same thing!" Totally fine, we mess it up all the time. Here's why:
Years ago in 16th century Scotland, the battle for the throne in the Tartan kingdom led the rough and tough Plaid warriors up against the Flannelled enforcers. Their rivalry was unparalleled, but alas! In the midst of some escalating battle, out came the treasured and legendary garment that would combine the two forces: flannel pajamas. What seemed like a divided country became one with a sharp style that held both the Plaid pattern within the comforts of a Flannel texture. There existed a new bond, one that would carry on for years and years to come.
Actually, that's not true. But feel free to use that for bedtime story-time.
Much of the confusion comes from the popularity of plaid and its loving marriage with flannel. They have been together for hundreds of years. They've seen the best views, gone to every country, they even saw Nirvana once. Yet again we're in this fresh flannel revival, finding flannel and plaid to work best for a range of the better things in life: that Monday interview or Friday's folk concert.
Flannel is the fabric that makes up your favorite shirts and sheets, and plaid is that lovely pattern that looks great in every occasion. Now go into the world with your new knowledge about one of the warmest things in your wardrobe and wear that pattern with pride!