The Flannel Suit

Up to recently Flannel was referred to as old fashioned, something your grandfather would wear.  At this moment we see a complete revival of this full bodied cloth. The classic grey and blues for the business occasions and classic jacket and the more dashing designs for waistcoats and suits for winter weddings

Though the shrinking demand for winter-weight wools has diminished the appeal of this icon of male refinement, the classic flannel suit remains a paragon of cool weather stylishness. Ever since the famous 1950s novel The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit immortalized this cloth as a symbol of corporate rectitude, collegians, ad executives and Madison Avenue clothiers have regarded it as an important part of the wardrobe staple.


What is Flannel?

Don't be mistaken!
Flanel with one N is a type textile that is made loosely woven yarns, usually one or two sided hard wearing cotton. This is often used for pyjama's and shirts. Today we will discuss Flannel, with a double N. This is a famously supple, loosely woven suiting cloth which is brushed to create extra softness. In order to understand what kind of fabric flannel really is, let us first get back to the basics. Fabric is woven from yarns and there are two types of yarn. There are both carded (woollen) and worsted flannels made of fine Merino wool. The brushing process uses a fine metal brush, which rubs the fabric to create fine fibres from the loosely spun yarns.

Flannel suiting fabric samples available at De Oost, from the Holland & Sherry Classic Flannel Collection HS 1375.

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 after this process, 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.

Which one is better and for what occasion?

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.

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. This type of Flannel should not be worn continuously over long periods, but allow time to rest. It also tends to peel under heavy friction. Therefore it is advisable to have two pairs of trousers for every matching jacket.

However, for general wear, carded flannel is perfect during the colder months of the year because it is heavy, cozy and soft. 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. Flannel is soft rather than stiff. With just a pinch of texture, the best gray flannel eschews any hint of sharpness or newness, exuding that slightly worn-in, old-money associated with genteel taste. Owing to advanced textile technology. England’s and Italy’s top weavers now turn out lighter-weight worsted flannels with the authentic “English flannel” look. Still one should know that Flannel should not be worn continuously over long periods, but allow time to rest. It also tends to peel under heavy friction. Therefore it is advisable to have two pairs of trousers for every matching jacket.


HOW TO RECOGNIZE HIGH QUALITY FLANNEL?

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. 

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.


History of FlaNnel

The word Flannel is thought to have a Welsh origin. The French term ‘flanelle’ began to be used in the late 17th century, and the German ‘flanell’ was first seen in the early 18th century. In the 19th century, flannel was made in the Welsh towns of Newtown, Montgomeryshire, Hay on Wye and Llanidloes. The expansion of its production is closely associated with the spread of carding mills, which prepared the wool for spinning. At one point, Welsh, Yorkshire, Lancashire and Irish flannels differed slightly in character due largely to the grade of raw wool used in each area: some being softer and finer than others. Originally developed as a military cloth to avoid snagging, flannel developed into a luxury fabric as milling became more refined over the last one hundred years. Nowadays, the colour of flannel is produced by dyes – originally this was achieved through mixing different coloured wools in varying quantities.


The Effect of a 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. 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. There are many style icons that can inspire us how to wear a gray flannel suit. 

Gianni Agnelli, Ambassador of Flannel 

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. 

Like the charcoal worsted, the medium gray flannel is the perfect foil for accessories of all backgrounds. Whether a soft-spoken button-down or a starchy spread-collar, dress shirts and neckwear of every description are welcomed by gray flannel’s sumptuous repose. Imbuing its wearer with a relaxed elegance, the well-cut gray flannel grows more flattering with wear. For regular office wear, a dark gray or charcoal flannel suit is probably the best bet.

Technically, a gray flannel suit can be single breasted with notched lapels, peaked lapels, two buttons, three buttons or any number of combinations. 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.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.

Other Articles about Flannel we advice: 
Parisian Gentleman
Sartorial Notes

About Huddersfield; A history of British Wool and Cloth

The West Yorkshire town of Huddersfield is situated at the convergence of the rivers Colne and Holme. Inhabitants of these river valleys discovered that the water – which flows from the Millstone Grit Pennine hills – gave excellent results for the washing of raw wool.

And so the wool textile industry was born. The industry was traditionally cottage based, with spinning and weaving often taking place in the same dwelling. Many of the workers operated from smallholdings, supplementing their income with the manufacturing of wool textiles. The finished cloth they produced was then sold through merchants who regularly attended the town’s Cloth Hall. But then came the industrial revolution of the 19th Century, bringing with it great change and unrest to these valleys as the wool textile industry became mill based and mechanised.

 Market Place Huddersfield

Market Place Huddersfield

This led to troubled times as large-scale mill production took over and, due to the scale of industrialisation, virtually all the valleys’ inhabitants were left with little option but to take their skills into the mills. They undertook the processes of scouring, carding, spinning, weaving, dyeing and finishing as many of the mills were totally vertical and carried out all processes.

Manufacture of these fine fabrics demanded a high level of expertise and Huddersfield quickly became synonymous with fine woollen and later, fine worsted cloth manufacture. The name ‘Made in Huddersfield, England’ became a highly revered global brand, which appeared on the selvedges of many fabrics worldwide. These high quality fabrics were the choice of Kings and Princes alike. The woollen industry has profoundly influenced the course of English history since the 14th century. Today – with all the results of technological achievement throughout the world influencing our lives, woollen and worsted cloth is still regarded as the ideal clothing by most people living in moderate and cool countries.

 Textile Mill 1920's

Textile Mill 1920's

Today, as in years past, the British, ade in Huddersfield label is linked with the best in woollen and worsted cloth, and carries a cachet which is indisputable. The provision of woollen coverings, firstly in the form of raw wool and later in clothes, has been a trade of great importance in England for more than 600 years. Even today the Lord Chancellor of England sits in the House of Lords on a woolsack- a reminder of the fact it was wool which first bought prosperity to England in the Middle Ages. Magnificent churches and gracious houses can be seen in many parts of England, even in quiet small villages, which owe their existence to the wool and cloth trade.

The cloth manufacturers are also responsible for many of the names by which Englishmen are known, for instance, Weaver, Walker, Fuller and Dyer. An unmarried woman is still known as a spinster. Although the methods of converting raw wool into cloth have changed vastly over the years, with the introduction of new forms of power and new types of machinery, it still remains an industry in which the individual craftsman is of great importance. It is also an industry mainly in the hands of long established companies with years of experience and tradition behind them. Fine woollen and worsted manufacture became a Huddersfield tradition, with skills and expertise handed down from generation-to-generation. Often the same families were employed in the same mills for three generations.

 The Lord Chancellor

The Lord Chancellor

The boom period for textiles, in the late 19th and early 20th Century, made many industrialists very wealthy, which can be seen in some of the grand architecture of both the town and its mills. The inhabitants of Huddersfield prospered. Unfortunately, with the decline of business in the early-mid 20th Century, many of the mills, which once clothed the world, now stand silent or have lent themselves to new uses. Those which remain are specialised niche businesses, still continuing the traditions of textile manufacture in a very demanding marketplace. In fact many people now want to know and understand the early skills of woollen manufacture, and how to work with and use wool.

A guide to dress shirts: the fit

With the exception of the Italians, who border on the fetishistic relative to the fit of their dress shirts, most men wear theirs too tight in the neck, too short in the sleeve, and too full around the wrist. The explanation for this is relatively simple: successive washings shrink the collar size and sleeve length, while most manufacturers allow enough cuff width for a large Rolex-sized watch to drive through.

The collar

Unless its collar fits comfortably, the best dress shirt is useless. With the top button closed, two fingers should be able to slide comfortably between the neck and the collar of a new shirt. Most fine shirt makes add an extra half-inch to the stated collar size to allow for shrink age during the first several washings. Should the collar of a new dress shirt fit to perfection when first tried on, return it or risk being strangled before too long.

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The torso

As the torso’s second skin, the shirt should fit comfortably. At a minimum, it should be cut full enough to allow the wearer to sit without concern of whether its front will gape open. Even normal shrinkage or weight gain should not create tension across the chest or waist.

When a necktie is worn, the collar’s points ought to be able to remain in touch with a shirt’s body, no matter how the wearer turns his head. Semi- spread to cutaway collars should have no tie space above the tie’s knot, with points long enough to be covered by the jacket’s neckline. And finally, no part of the collar’s neckband should peek out over the tie’s knot.

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The shirt length

The shirt length should end a few inches below the beltline. This way the shirt stays tucked in when you raise your arms. When untucked, it should be long enough to cover your belt.

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The shoulder

The shirt’s shoulder point should fall perfectly at the edge of your shoulders. When this is not the case, it will make your upper body look bigger or it will make the shoulder points stand up and move towards the neck when raising your arms.

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The sleeve

The length of the sleeve should be so that it comes down to the large wrist bones. This way the shirt covers a watch when you choose to wear one. When you are wearing a jacket, about ½ to 1 inch of shirt cuff should be visible beyond the end of the jacket sleeve. Next to the length of the sleeve, the width of the sleeve is important. There should be some looseness when the arms are hanging and should be slightly wider at the upper arm.

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The cuff

Whether barrel or French cuff, the shirt must fit snugly around the wrist so that the additional length required to keep the cuff from pulling back when the arm is extended does not force it down the hand. Shirt cuff and hand should move as one. If the hand can slide through the cuff opening without first unfastening it, the cuff’s circumference is too large.

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