Plaid shirts, an American style icon

The flannel shirt is an all-American look, worn not only to go and chop wood but also for a simple walk in the open air, versatility its main feature. As cosy as your favourite flannel pyjamas, this perfect blend of comfort and cool brings with it a symbol of Scottish rebellion, the look of 1950s American workers and the roots of grunge culture. The plaid shirt is an iconic piece of clothing with a tradition dating back hundreds of years. It was in the 1600s that Welsh textile workers created a new type of sheep's wool fabric, suitable for battling the country's wet and windy weather. Very soft, but at the same time extremely hard wearing, it was made through a process called carding. The wool threads were carefully sewn into a thinner, softer fabric that retained the warmth of thick wool.

The manufacturing process was so quick and cheap that it soon spread to Welsh textile factories. Flannel shirts became the uniform of farmers and later of the entire working class. Businessmen and textile traders subsequently exported the garment to England, France and the United States.

Credit for the surge in popularity of flannel in the U.S.A. is attributable to the American Hamilton Carhartt. In 1889 in Detroit, Carhartt opened a factory producing tough flannel garments especially for the working class. In later years, men who usually wore suits and ties would also adopt the flannel shirt worn by construction workers, woodcutters and frontier men, and which had become a symbol of self-respect and pride in the popular imagination. During both world wars, flannel shirts were provided by the United States Army as an additional layer to be worn under uniforms. Soldiers would later use them mainly as casual off-duty clothing, precisely because the fabric was so comfortable. The popularity of the flannel shirt continued to increase among middle-class, hikers and war veterans, until in the 1990s it became the manifesto of the non-conformist style of the grunge movement.

Ever since Kurt Cobain appeared in on stage in flannel shirts, teens and young adults began to emulate him in support of the music and counterculture they identified with. So the purpose of the fabric shifted from pure utility to personal expression.
Flannel also entered mainstream culture via television, particularly David Lynch's T.V. series, Twin Peaks, Pearl Jam's Even Flow and Ice Cube’s It Was a Good Day music videos, and Claire Danes in My So-Called Life.
During the early 2000s, the smooth, tailored flannel shirt became a must-have part of an American look-centric wardrobe, along with rugged denim, leather lace-up boots and thick wool cardigans. It is from this style that the associations between the plaid shirt and hipster culture begin to take shape, inspired as much by traditional American workwear as by the unconventional rock culture of the 90s.