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What is Flannel?

By C. Ausbrooks
Updated May 21, 2024
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Flannel is a soft, light woven fabric, typically made out of wool, and sometimes combined with cotton or synthetic fibers. It is used to make clothing, particularly sleepwear, and bed sheets. Flannel has been made since the 17th century, when it was a popular fabric in Wales. Eventually, its use spread across the globe, and is now common all over the world for making lightweight, warm clothing.

In North America, flannel is often associated with lumberjacks, farmers, and woodsmen. This is probably due to its popularity amongst middle class workers who spend large amounts of time outdoors, and use clothing made of this fabric to keep in warmth in cold environments. It is also commonly used for making winter pajamas for children and adults.

Flannel became an accepted fabric in American pop culture in the early 1990s, thanks to the rise of grunge music. Grunge bands in Seattle, Washington, in the United States, and Vancouver, British Columbia, in Canada, wore clothing made from this fabric to combat the extreme cold of their environments. This caused the fabric to become a trendy fashion item for several years across North America.

In Australia and New Zealand, flannel has a slightly less savory reputation. It is associated with low class citizens, also known as bogans. This stereotype applies to people who are uneducated, and of an uncultured background. Flannel shirts worn by bogans are usually referred to as a flanny or flanno.

Contrary to popular belief, flannel can be made in a variety of colors and patterns. Plaid is a traditional pattern shirts and pajamas, but solid colors are also used. Baseball road uniforms, for example, are traditionally made out of gray flannel, and are sometimes known as road grays.

Flannel does not have a nap, which makes it different from most other woolen fabrics. A nap is the raised, fuzzy surface on fabric. When woolen fabric is woven, the surface is not smooth; this rough surface is sheared away to create a smooth, soft surface. Flannel is made of loosely woven yard which gives it softness instead of a nap.

Cotton flannel, also known as Canton flannel, is a type of the fabric that is napped on one side, and is made with cotton fibers. This fabric is stouter than that made of wool, and is known for its increased warmth. Flannelette is also commonly sold as flannel in the United States, but is really made of napped cotton, and only imitates the texture of the other fabric. In the United Kingdom, it is illegal to sell flannelette as real flannel.

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Discussion Comments

By anon961899 — On Jul 20, 2014

Being a 'bogan' doesn't mean you're lower class. Flannelette clothing is very common in Australia whether you're 'bogan' or not.

By backdraft — On Dec 11, 2012

Everyone thinks of flannel shirts but is there such a thing as flannel pants?

I am not sure I would ever wear them, but I like the idea.

By clippers — On Dec 11, 2012

I really like to sleep in flannel pajamas. They are so warm and soft and substantial compared to a lot of the pajamas they sell in stores. I really feel like they help me get a better nights sleep.

By Perdido — On Dec 10, 2012

I always seem to get flannel sleepwear for Christmas. I end up wearing it all day on days when I'm not working or going out anywhere.

There are so many flannel sleepwear sets on sale during the holidays. It's like everyone either put them on their wish list or they are a last resort for people who have no idea what to get someone.

I don't know any adult that would be upset with getting this gift. Little kids might be bummed that they didn't get a toy instead, but even they enjoy wearing flannel around the house.

By JackWhack — On Dec 10, 2012
Flannel material is so comfy! I like wearing plaid flannel shirts when I'm working around the yard in the fall.

I stay warm without overheating. The material feels really good against my skin. It's almost like wearing pajamas.

By feasting — On Dec 09, 2012

@healthy4life – I have both fleece and flannel sheets, and there are some key differences between them. Fleece is polyester, and flannel is cotton, and that is the main difference.

Fleece appears fuzzy and will shed pills when washed and dried. Flannel generally stays smooth.

Fleece sheets are great for the dead of winter, but they will make you burn up if the weather is nice. I can use my flannel sheets year round and remain comfortable.

By healthy4life — On Dec 08, 2012

What is the difference between fleece and flannel? It seems to me that both types of pajamas are really soft.

By anon67771 — On Feb 26, 2010

In Australia, we call flannel 'flannelette'.

By anon67643 — On Feb 25, 2010

Australians in general are referred to as 'bogans.' your grasp on our slang is quite limited and misinformed.

By anon67641 — On Feb 25, 2010

fyi, in australia, flannel is called flannelette and a bogan is not a lower class citizen, but refers to the typical aussie.

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