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 "flannel."
Don't be one of those people. Learn the difference so you can correct your friends (or, even better, so you can say nothing and just smile with the smug satisfaction of your own knowledge).
The difference is simple.
It's typically made from cotton or wool and brushed to create a "nap." And no, not the "long winter's" kind. A nap is what we in the fabric industry call all the little raised hairs that pop up on a fabric when you brush it. That's what makes flannel feel so cozy (and also why it makes a great lining for men's winter coats).
It's what you get when stripes of different widths cross each other and make squares. Plaid can be on pretty much anything, from Oxford shirts to T-shirts to wrapping paper (the lattermost of which we would not recommend wearing).
So what's 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?"