Material Used in Boys' Clothing: Flannel


Figure 1.--

Flannel is a soft, slightly napped fabric made of wool or wool blends. It is used for trousers, jackets, shirts, underwear, and other garments. While normally associated with wool, cotton was also used, normally cotton blends with wool. Cotton flannel is a lighter version napped on one side is commonly used for sleepwear and sheets. Flannel became a popular material for men's blazers and trousers in the late 19th Century. British school boys by the 1920s commonly dressed in flannel blazers and short pants. American boys would commonly have a blue blazer and grey slacks in there wardobe in the 1950s, younger boys might wear shorts instead of long pants with their blue blazers. Flannel trousers and shorts declined in popularity in the 1950s as polyester belends that did not require ironing to keep a crease became increasingly popular. They have not, however, completely disappeared.

Terminology

The word flannel is of ancient orgins. Some see it as a coruption of the Welsh word "gwalnen" which meant simply woolen cloth. The British also use flannel as a small cloth like a wash cloth.

Weave

Flannel was woven as a heavy, comfortable, soft cloth. Flannel is normally woven with little or no nap.

Chronology

The term appears in the English language sometime in the early 14th century as flaunneol. The wool trade was an important part of the medieval European economy. England in medieval Europe because of its lush pastures and climate was known as sourcecof wool. Much of the wealth of the country came from exporting raw wool to the Continent, especially Flemish towns where weaving industries developed. One of the centers of the wool industry was the Cotswolds in southwest England. Symbolic of this the the Lord Chancellor presides over Parliament sitting on a wool-sack symbolizing the importance of wool in English history. Gradually England devoped its own weaving industry. Production was primarily high quality broadcloth made from fine woollen-spun yarns. These west of England cloths ranged from en flannel to cavalry twill. Despite the differences, they share the same soft, sleek handle and wonderful drape. This was quite different from the more loosely-woven 'hairy' Northern tweeds and flat worsted cloths. Flannel became a popular material for men's blazers and trousers in the late 19th Century. Flannel might be called the most popular fabric of the early 20th century. British school boys by the 1920s commonly dressed in flannel blazers and short pants. American boys would commonly have a blue blazer and grey slacks in there wardobe in the 1950s, younger boys might wear shorts instead of long pants with their blue blazers. Flannel trousers and shorts declined in popularity in the 1950s as polyester belends that did not require ironing to keep a crease became increasingly popular. They have not, however, completely disappeared.

Material

While normally associated with wool, cotton was also used, normally cotton blends with wool. Cotton flannel is a lighter version napped on one side. The cloth versions of flannel was sometimes called flanalette or other similar term. There were also cotton and wool blends. One such blend was Domet flannel. This blend was named for Josiah Domett, a cotton manufacturer in England. This material was first introduced in the late 1820s. It is plain woven on a cotton warp with woolen filling and finished with a nap slightly raised. Examples or Domet flannel blouses and waists offered by Sears in 1902.

Uses

Flannel is used for trousers, jackets, shirts, underwear, and other garments. The use of flannel depended somewhat on the material used. Cotton flannel is commonly used for sleepwear and sheets. Flannel blends were oiften used for shirts while woold flannel was commomly used for blazers and pants (trousers). Flannel was not only a fabric used for dressy clothes. There was also work clothes made in flannel. Welsh weavers began weaving cooton flannel garments for men working in the coal mines wher the temperature was a cool 55. They used cotton yarns to weavec a simple twill fabric. They commonly napped the cloth on one or both sides to look like wool flannel. The cloth was made into warm shirts.

Colors

Gray was the most popular color for flannel. I am not sure just why this was. At any rate most pants or trousers were done in gray. Gray flannel trousers became known as "grayers". Flannel trousers were also done in white, beige and stripes.

Seasonality

Flannel trousers in the 19th and early 20th cenntury worn in warm weather. This seems strange to us today, but remember at the time swimsuits were made in wool.

School Uniform

A HBC reader in England reports in 2001 that "You are almost right in saying that flannel is seldom used in the manufacturing of school uniforms. I can confirm, however, that it is still used even now at a few preparatory schools in Scotland, Surrey, Manchester, and others scattered about the country. These schools still insist on grey flannel shorts and blazers for boys. In my view, I would much rather prefer flannel to worsted as flannel is warmer and heavier and would certainly protect one against the cold."






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Created: March 21, 2001
Last updated: 12:24 AM 8/30/2004