The days are getting shorter, there’s a nip of cold in the air, and our favorite farmers market is filling up with apples, pumpkins, and squashes. In short, it’s fall, which means here at Lands’ End, it’s time for us to fulfill our annual duty to set some things straight about fall and winter clothing. Men’s winter coats and parkas aren’t the same things. You can totally wear men’s winter boots on casual Fridays, and, most importantly, plaid and flannel are not the same things.
We hear it a lot. Folks say “flannel” when they’re talking about any plaid shirt and also assume that flannel shirts are all plaid. This simply isn’t the case. It’s more of a Venn diagram—remember those? We’re talking two overlapping circles here, one for men’s plaids and the other for men’s flannel shirts. Sure, there’s plenty of overlap, but there’s a lot that only falls under one category or the other.
Maybe it’s best thought of as a syllogism: Not all plaids are flannels. Not all flannels are plaids. Flannels and plaids must be totally different kinds of things. Flannels can be made out of wool, but it’s also quite common for flannel to be made out of cotton. Flannels can be any kind of pattern or solid color.
Flannels aren’t always for wearing either. Just look at our flannel sheets. Blankets or sheets made out of flannel are very common, especially during the wintertime. Whether the flannel is made out of wool or cotton because flannel is such an organic and breathable material, it is also suitable for warmer months like the spring and summer seasons.
What we need to keep in mind here is that plaid refers to a pattern, while flannel refers to a kind of fabric. One is aesthetic, while the other is material. Well, materials have aesthetic properties, but regardless plaid is more of an aesthetic concern, and flannel is a material concern. You can have flannels that are plaid, for sure, but plenty of flannels aren’t plaid—they’re solid or even striped. On the other hand, Plaids can be made of flannel, oxford cloth, poplin—any woven fabric, really.
It’s common for flannel shirts to have a plaid pattern. Just look at any of our girls’ flannel shirts and boys’ flannel shirts, and you’ll see plaid all over. However, not all flannel shirts have plaid patterns. Not all plaid shirts are made out of flannel, either. Plaid isn’t just a pattern for wearing either. Blankets or sheets can also have a plaid design. When you imagine a quintessential Christmas blanket, you might picture a flannel plaid blanket. While the flannel and plaid combination is prevalent, the pattern (plaid) and the material (flannel) can exist independently without the other.
Flannels are plain woven fabrics mostly made from cotton (and sometimes wool). Lands’ End flannels are brushed on both sides to be super soft and are just the right weight for layering or wearing alone. Flannels are known for their fuzzy and warm insulating abilities. The fuzziness—or, as folks in the industry call it, the “nap”—comes from the brushing process, and those fuzzy fibers make you feel extra cozy.
The long and short of it is that cotton is a fiber while flannel is a fabric. Cotton is a fiber made from the cotton plant. When it comes to clothes, you’ll want some of the best cotton that’s out there. That’s why Lands’ End has many shirts that use Supima ® cotton, which is made out of the top 3% of all cotton crops grown in the country. You can even sleep in ultra-soft Supima ® cotton sheets.
Flannel can be made from cotton, but it doesn’t have to be cotton exclusively. It can be wool or another synthetic fiber. Our flannel items are typically made from ultra-soft cotton or cozy wool. Within flannel, you can use all different kinds of materials. There’s baby flannel, a light fabric used for children’s wear. Ceylon flannel is made from a blend of cotton and wool. There’s even a vegetable flannel made from Scots pine fibers instead of wool.
Cotton is a soft staple fiber made from the seeds of cotton plants. You’ll typically see shirts, dresses, underwear, or even diapers made out of cotton. Historians have seen cotton date back to 5000 B.C. Cotton is used to create other fabrics as well, such as corduroy, terry cloth, and denim. Cotton is a breathable fabric that makes a popular choice for warm areas and isn’t typically associated with one single color or pattern. Just take a look at any of our cotton dresses and women’s cotton tank tops. Any of our cotton clothing or bedsheets made out of cotton come in a wide variety of colors and patterns.
Flannel is a soft woven fabric. You’ll generally see flannel sleepwear, bedsheets, and blankets. The most popular pattern you’ll see is plaid. Flannel dates back to the 1600s when the Welsh needed a replacement to their plain wool garb. It suited the typical Welsh wet and windy winter. To this day, flannel clothes are mainly worn in colder climates.
The plaid pattern originated in Scotland. Flannel is a woven fabric. Plaid is simply a pattern. Even though it seems like a very obvious difference because flannel and plaid are so synonymous, there’s still considerable confusion about the difference between them. Plaid is just one of the most popular kinds of flannel. From pajamas to button-down shirts to cozy comforters, you’re likely to see “flannel” and “plaid” in the same product description.
There’s clearly a lot of overlap, but also a lot of distinction here. Just keep in mind: When someone says “flannel” and they’re clearly not wearing anything that looks warm and fuzzy, they’re probably not wearing a flannel. But hey, you don’t have to be that guy who calls them out on it. Just say, “Hey, that’s a cool plaid. I like it!” to give a subtle hint. If that doesn’t work, maybe resort to the Venn diagram approach. Tell them about our syllogism. After all, we all learn differently, and not everyone gets it the first time they hear something. That’s what we’re here for.