Thousands of women looking to buy classic flannel shirts this season are in consignment shops and vintage clothing stores. They’ve been driven there by retailers who got some weird idea in their heads that women would like their flannel shirts in pale turquoise, pink and lavender plaids. Sorry, I have no desire to look like I’m from Clan McBarbie.
Classic plaid flannel shirts are based on tartan-weave fabrics, which date back thousands of years to early Celtic tribes in Europe. As early as the 1500s, tartans were used in Scotland to identify wearers by region or by clan.
This GiltMANual blog post has a lovely visual guide to some of the classic plaids in fashion: Royal Stewart, Black Watch, MacDonald, McQueen, MacLeod, MacGregor, MacArthur, and Wallace. Wallace is my own personal favorite, being thick and thin black stripes on a field of scarlet red. These plaids are characterized by rich reds, blues, greens, or yellows and plenty of black stripes.
The Pendleton wool mills brought plaids onto the fashion scene in the 1950s with wool shirts and shirt jackets. These went through a huge revival as an essential element of grunge fashion in the 1990s, and Pendleton plaid shirts are still in high demand in vintage clothing stores.
Outfitters like L.L. Bean, Eddie Bauer, and Orvis, along with outdoor clothiers like Woolrich and Cabela’s, translated the Pendleton wool plaid shirts into less-expensive cotton flannel. (Expensive New York and London clothiers also make pricey viyella shirts in classic plaids. But I digress.)
Back to the basic plaid flannel shirt. If you’re male, flannel shirts in classic plaids are available just about anywhere that sells men’s sportswear. But if you’re looking for a women’s flannel shirt (especially in a petite size) this season, good luck. L.L. Bean was sold out of five of six colors of its women’s classic-colored Scotch Plaid flannel shirts by December 4 (Gee, I wonder why?). Woolrich has a few classic plaids left (I quickly bought two of the red Pembertons), but most of what they and other stores have in stock this year in the women’s plaid flannel department are your choice of pastels or (even more ghastly) fluorescent pastels: