What Is the Difference Between Flannel and Plaid?

Winter is coming, and you know what that means. There'll be snow. There'll be shopping. And there'll almost certainly be confused masses of people calling their plaid shirts "flannels." It’s okay if you’ve been one of them, we’ve all been there, but behold - Lands’ End is here to bring you into the light. But be warned, once you have this knowledge, it will be your job to share the good word of plaid and flannels to people who were like you once and don’t know the difference. You can also sit in smug satisfaction as your friends continue to mix up the words again and again. Who says knowing things isn’t fun?

What is Flannel?

To put it in as simple terms as possible, flannel is a fabric. In fact, you might’ve slept in flannel sheets or pajamas, on a cold winter night. Flannel is typically made from cotton or wool that has been brushed to create ‘nap,’ or all those little raised hairs that pop up on a piece of fabric when you brush it. That’s what makes flannel so cozy and also why it makes a perfect lining for men’s winter coats. Flannel also comes in a non-napped variety, but that doesn’t mean it loses the softness we’ve come to expect from our flannel shirts and blankets. Flannel that is not napped gains its softness through the loosely spun yarn that’s used to make it, so either way, you are guaranteed a warm and comfortable flannel shirt that can almost single-handedly get you through the cold of the winter months.

What is Plaid?

You might be asking, then what is a plaid shirt? Well, whereas flannel is a type of fabric, plaid is a pattern. It’s what you get when stripes of different widths and colors cross each other at right angles to make squares, and it can show up on just about anything. Picnic blankets? Absolutely. Formal Oxford shirts and casual men's tees? Yes and yes. You can even find wrapping paper that features a plaid print, though we don’t recommend wearing that on a daily basis. You may also see plaid be referred to as ‘tartan,’ which is the Scottish word for the fabric. In Scotland, a plaid is a large piece of tartan cloth that was worn as a type of kilt or a large shawl that wraps over the shoulders. Even today, Scottish clans have what’s called a ‘clan tartan,’ which is a unique version of the pattern that belongs to the group and is used to identify which clan a person belongs to. The red, green, and yellow pattern that we commonly see on picnic blankets is the Royal Stewart tartan, or the personal tartan of Queen Elizabeth II. Dark blue and green make up the Black Watch tartan, which is still used by several units in the British Army. How cool is that?

Flannel vs. Plaid

So, what’s the difference between plaid and flannel? Simply put, one is a fabric and one is a pattern. Sometimes, plaid shirts are made out of flannel–so you might not be wrong when you call them a flannel. But, in short, not all plaids are flannels, but flannels can be made in plaids.

How to Wear Flannel

Since flannel is in fact a fabric, when to wear it is more about when it’s cold. Flannel is great for cooler months of the year. And as mentioned above, you might even find flannel shirts in plaid prints! Which is probably why people get them confused so much. Flannel is a super warm fabric, and it can be worn alone or it can be layered under another jacket for more warmth. Since it is really thick fabric, just make sure you don’t wear flannel in the summer. It’s not breathable, and it’ll be way too hot. Flannel can be worn with almost any pants or shoes that match the pattern of your shirt. 

How to Wear Plaid

Plaid printed shirts are some of the most classically patterned shirts on the market. They seem to be an autumn and winter staple in especially men’s wardrobes, and there’s a good reason for that! They pair with almost any kind of pants as well as shoes, and they look great! They also come in all colors and men, women, and children can wear them. So, they’re a very versatile thing to add to your wardrobe. 

The Takeaway

You can wear a men's flannel shirt that's not plaid, just like you can wear a plaid shirt that's not flannel. Now, there are plenty of flannel plaid shirts out there on the market. In fact, the majority of flannel shirts are plaid, so we can see where you might get confused. But flannel fabrics come in solid and heathered colors, too, which are most certainly not plaid. And you can find plaid patterns on pretty much everything under the sun (even coffee mugs, which are definitely — or at least hopefully — not flannel).

So there you have it. The next time someone shows up to your office holiday party in a plaid men's polo shirt asking, "Whaddaya think of my new flannel?" you can smile smugly and say, "It looks great, Dave. Now, where is that cheese plate?"


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