The Best Flannel Shirts for Channeling Every Style, from Grunge to Cool Lumber Jack

best flannel shirts


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When you think of flannel, the humble plaid shirt usually comes to mind. The word “flannel” though, refers to the soft wool or cotton fabric designed in a range of prints and patterns (not just plaid) — and these days, the popular checked button-down is one of the most versatile pieces out there.

Just like the cardigan, the plaid garment’s story begins centuries ago in Europe. The material originated in Wales, where it was spun from the sheep-rich country’s plentiful supply of wool, and rubbed with a fine metal brush to create a texture that was soft and warm enough to wear in the winter. Mass production during the Industrial Revolution brought the already affordable silhouette to even more people, and it eventually hopped across the pond to America’s chilliest west coast states.

Over in the Pacific Northwest, British weaver Thomas Kay landed in Oregon, where his grandsons would eventually establish Pendleton Woolen Mills in the early 1900s. The company’s wool shirting debuted in the early Twenties and transformed from a working-class wardrobe essential to an outdoorsman staple and symbol of American leisure.

It wasn’t until the Sixties that the blue collar piece was associated with rock music. The Majorettes name-checked Pendleton in their 1963 hit, “White Levis,” and soon after, a burgeoning surf-rock band called the Pendletones would pair the heritage company’s plaid button-downs with tees and khaki shorts. (The band changed their name of course, to The Beach Boys.)

Flannel shirts continued to enjoy regular rotation among the citizens of Seattle and Portland, home to seminal grunge bands like Nirvana, Hole, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden. Thrift-store chic was synonymous with Nineties, and the era ushered in a new way to sport the checked shirts, as seen on concert stages and fashionrunways alike.

Though it’s often associated with grunge, the workwear garment also transcended music genres. Alongside rock icons like Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, Eddie Vedder, and Chris Cornell, flannel was also a hit in hop hop, as seen on the members of N.W.A., TLC’s T-Boz, Aaliyah, and Missy Elliott, to name a few. And let’s not forget Nashville: You’d be hard-pressed to find a country musician who hasn’t suited up in a cozy flannel shirt.

Today, the classic cold-weather button-down has universal appeal — it looks good regardless of your own personal style, and you don’t have to be a chart-topping musician to pull off the look. Of course, there’s no shortage of flannel-wearing stars to look to for sartorial inspiration, including Kanye West, A$AP Rocky, Justin Bieber, and John Mayer to just name a few.

What Are the Best Flannel Shirts?

The best flannel shirts depend on the look you’re going for. They can easily channel grunge nonchalance when worn with ripped denim and sneakers, or take you from basic Paul Bunyan to effortless PNW-cool with black jeans and boots. The trusted button-down also translates well in professional settings, depending on the pattern and silhouette. We’ve rounded up some of the coolest plaid flannel shirts no matter where you’re headed — check out our top picks below.

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