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Flannel vs Plaid - What's The Difference? | Lands' End

What Is the Difference Between Flannel and Plaid?

Winter is coming, and you know what that means. There'll be snow. There'll be shopping. And there'll almost certainly be confused masses of people calling their plaid shirts "flannel." It’s okay if you’ve been one of them, we’ve all been there, but behold - Lands’ End is here to bring you into the light. But be warned, once you have this knowledge, it will be your job to share the good word of plaid and flannels to people who were like you once and don’t know the difference. You can also sit in smug satisfaction as your friends continue to mix up the words again and again. Who says knowing things isn’t fun?

What is Flannel?

To put it in as simple terms as possible, flannel is a fabric. It’s typically made from cotton or wool that has been brushed to create ‘nap.’ or all those little raised hairs that pop up on a piece of fabric when you brush it. That’s what makes flannel so cozy and also why it makes a perfect lining for men’s winter coats. Flannel also comes in a non-napped variety, but that doesn’t mean it loses the softness we’ve come to expect from our flannel shirts and blankets. Flannel that is not napped gains its softness through the loosely spun yarn that’s used to make it, so either way, you are guaranteed a warm and comfortable flannel shirt that can almost single-handedly get you through the cold of the winter months.

What is Plaid?

Whereas flannel is a type of fabric, plaid is a pattern. It’s what you get when stripes of different widths and colors cross each other at right angles to make squares, and it can show up on just about anything. Picnic blankets? Absolutely. Formal Oxford shirts and casual men's tees? Yes and yes. You can even find wrapping paper that features a plaid print, though we don’t recommend wearing that on a daily basis. You may also see plaid be referred to as ‘tartan,’ which is the Scottish word for the fabric. In Scotland, a plaid is a large piece of tartan cloth that was worn as a type of kilt or a large shawl that wraps over the shoulders. Even today, Scottish clans have what’s called a ‘clan tartan,’ which is a unique version of the pattern that belongs to the group and is used to identify which clan a person belongs to. The red, green, and yellow pattern that we commonly see on picnic blankets is the Royal Stewart tartan, or the personal tartan of Queen Elizabeth II. Dark blue and green make up the Black Watch tartan, which is still used by several units in the British Army. How cool is that?

The Takeaway

You can wear a men's flannel shirt that's not plaid, just like you can wear a plaid shirt that's not flannel. Now, there are plenty of flannel plaid shirts out there on the market. In fact, the majority of flannel shirts are plaid, so we can see where you might get confused. But flannel fabrics come in solid and heathered colors, too, which are most certainly not plaid. And you can find plaid patterns on pretty much everything under the sun (even coffee mugs, which are definitely — or at least hopefully — not flannel).

So there you have it. The next time someone shows up to your office holiday party in a plaid men's polo shirt asking, "Whaddaya think of my new flannel?" you can smile smugly and say, "It looks great, Dave. Now, where is that cheese plate?"

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