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Few fabrics besides Tweed are as synonymous with fall as flannel. Men across the globe have come to love this fabric for its soft feel and melange of mottled colors. But what exactly is flannel, and how does it fit into a modern gentleman’s wardrobe? That’s what we’ll discuss in today’s Ultimate Flannel Guide.

What is Flannel?

In order to understand what makes flannel so special, it is important to understand a few basics.

Fabric is woven from yarn, and there are two different kinds of yarns:

  • Combed Yarns
  • Combed yarns for menswear suitings are made of wool by rotating metal combs that align the long wool fibers while discarding the short staple ones.
    What’s left is a strong, smooth yarn with a somewhat glossy finish.
  • Carded Yarns
  • On the other hand, carded yarns are brushed in a way that retains the long wool fibers as well as the short ones.
    As a consequence, the yarn is weaker than a combed one, hairy and matte.

Carded Flannel vs. Combed Flannel

Genuine flannel is always made of carded yarns, but you can also find flannels made of combed yarns.  In order to give a worsted cloth with combed yarns the hairy surface of a true carded flannel cloth, the surface must be roughed up in a special way.

Blue Woollen Carded Flannel with Windowpanes

Blue Woollen Carded Flannel with Windowpanes

Just as combed yarns are generally stronger and more resistant to rubbing, a carded flannel is weaker than a combed flannel. It is not advisable to wear carded flannel trousers for daily wear, because they will wear out faster in high friction areas.

However, for general wear, carded flannel is perfect during the colder months of the year because it is heavy, cozy and soft. When you wear it, the comfortable, warm feel have you wishing for a nice armchair, a crackling fire, and a nice Scotch or Brandy to enjoy with a good book.

Lightweight Worsted Flannel From Combed Yarn

Lightweight Worsted Flannel From Combed Yarn

On the other hand, combed flannel is usually thinner and lighter than its carded sibling and also a bit glossier. As such, it is better suited to informal evening affairs and morning events. The cashmere stripe trousers for a stroller suit or morning coat are often made of this material or fine twill.

Traditionally, flannel was always made of wool, but today you can also find flannel made of cotton or artificial yarns. For jackets, suits and pants, 100% wool flannel is the best choice because it is comfortable, durable and drapes nicely.

The Melange Color & The Secret of Vigoureux Printing

The vast majority of authentic flannel is woven as a twill, but that doesn’t mean that all flannel is created equal. The difference lies in the inputs and how they are manufactured. In the case of flannel, it depends on the quality of the wool used and the finishing applied to it.

Gianni Agnellis Gray Flannel Made By Vitale Barberis Canonico Is Still Available Today

Gianni Agnelli‘s Gray Flannel Made By Vitale Barberis Canonico Is Still Available Today

A hallmark of quality flannels is the ‘melange’ color. This effect is achieved before the yarn is actually spun!

Normally, fabrics are yarn dyed, which gives the woven fabric a uniform color. With flannel, it is different: the unspun wool, the so-called woolen silver, is printed with the desired colors. The melange printing method is named after its french inventor Vigoureux. Once the woolen silver is printed, the wool is then spun into yarn with a mixed color. Once this yarn is woven, one receives the beautiful mottled melange color effect as seen above.

However, from a distance the fabric looks like a solid color. The Vigoureux printing process creates a certain color depth that you will not find in a plain solid fabric. Connoisseurs love this melange effect of their flannel, which gives it a slightly less formal and nonchalant touch.

The History of Flannel

As with many things in menswear, it’s not clear where flannel originates from. Some claim it has origins in Wales from as early as the 16th century. The French described it as flanelle towards the end of the 17th century, and in Germany it is spelled Flanell to this day, although it has been in use since the early 18th century. In the past, cloth finishing was not as advanced as it is today, and flannel was much heavier and coarser. As such, today’s flannel is superior to anything you could acquire back then.

Gianni Agnelli in grey flannel suit by Caraceni with cloth from Vitale Barberis Canonico, Brooks Brothers button down shirt and coarse wool tie

Gianni Agnelli in grey flannel suit by Caraceni with cloth from Vitale Barberis Canonico, Brooks Brothers button down shirt and coarse wool tie

Agnelli – The Ambassador of Flannel

The great Gianni Agnelli was so enamored with flannel that he can be considered one of the best-known ambassadors of the fabric. He owned many flannel suits in various shades of gray and loved flannel neckties. However, he was particularly fond of one mid-dark gray shade of flannel, which became the Agnelli flannel. It was originally woven by Vitale Barberis Canonico and due to its popularity, they still make it today.

He had learned all the rules for classic men’s style and then broke them in many ways, thus creating his unique hallmark style. You can read all about him here in our article about his style.

Fine Jacquard Weave Micropattern Tie with grey flannel suit, white shirt & pocket square

Fine Jacquard Weave Micropattern Tie with grey flannel suit, white shirt & pocket square

The Gray Flannel Suit

Flannel is a wonderful fabric and if you live in colder parts of the world, there are at least two dozens ways of making flannels into great garments — just take a look at this brown glencheck flannel. However, the most well-known flannel garment is undoubtedly the gray flannel suit. Although it was well-known in the 1930’s, the 1956 movie The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit helped to make it a wardrobe staple across the U.S. and the world.

Technically, a gray flannel suit can be single breasted with notched lapels, peaked lapels, two buttons, three buttons or any number of combinations. However, my personal favorite is definitely the 6×2 double-breasted gray flannel suit with peaked lapels, side vents, jetted or flapped pockets and pleated trousers with turn-ups / cuffs. If you prefer a belt over suspenders, just like the Duke of Windsor did, then you can even have a matching gray flannel belt made up to go with the suit.

Apart from solid gray flannel suits, it looks particularly handsome as a chalk-stripe suit or windowpane suit.

Men who have developed their own sense of style often wear lighter gray flannel suits and while that may look dashing, it is definitely a more advanced look.

Dr. Churchwell in Light Gray Flannel Suit

Dr. Churchwell in Light Gray Flannel Suit

For regular office wear, a dark gray or charcoal flannel suit is probably the best bet. If you want, you can even get the Agnelli flannel from Vitale Barberis Canonico today!

Of course, you can also combine your gray flannel trousers with a blazer or a checked sportcoat, making it a very versatile suit that should be part of every well-dressed man’s wardrobe.

Gray Windowpane Flannel Suit Bow Tie, Edelweiss and Pocket Square all Fort Belvedere

Gray Windowpane Flannel Suit Bow Tie, Edelweiss and Pocket Square all Fort Belvedere

Flannel & Vitale Barberis Canonico

Vitale Barberis Canonico has been in the fabric business for more than 15 generations, and flannel is a staple of their collection. They offer the carded yarn flannel but also the lighter weight worsted flannel which is made of combed yarn. I have been wearing their flannels for years, and when I recently visited their factory near Biella in Northern Italy, I left in awe of their state-of-the-art finishing processes. The flannel they produce is among the best in the world and they offer a large selection of colors and patterns, particularly in gray. I only wish they would also carry a regular off-white or ivory flannel so more men could have it tailored into off-white slacks.

If you buy a flannel suit today, chances are the fabric is made by Vitale Barberis Canonico, because they provide excellent quality that is also a great value. You might wonder how that’s possible, but the company is vertically integrated to control everything from the wool production (think sheep shearing, yarn spinning, and dyeing) to weaving, finishing and selling the fabric. Take a look at how they make their fabric – quite impressive!

How do you incorporate flannel in your wardrobe?

FLANNEL - The Original Woolen Fall Fabric
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FLANNEL - The Original Woolen Fall Fabric
The ultimate guide to FLANNEL, this wonderful woolen fall fabric that is popular with men around the world. Including worsted & gray flannel
Gentleman's Gazette
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