Fabrics - Flannel Adds Function

Fabric Dates Back To 17th-Century Wales

FlannelFlannel has been used to make everything from blankets and bed sheets to sleepwear and casual shirts. This fabric's soft hand belies a more rugged application: Flannel is a useful layering option for workwear programs in cold environments.

The fabric dates back to 17th-century Wales, where flannel was developed out of a need for a warm, durable fabric that could be worn during harsh winter months. Originally made of fine wool, flannel became a favored textile for farmers and lumberjacks. As time went on, blue-collar workers embraced the fabric, and even sportsmen from baseball to cricket players donned flannel as part of their uniforms.

By the 20th century, cotton and polyester versions broadened flannel's use and the fabric became a fashion statement thanks to its distinctive plaid pattern. Remember the "grunge” look of the 1990s? Flannel shirts were the calling card of the slacker culture. And, that look is becoming popular again.

Today's workers, however, aren't concerned with looking rugged, but rather, with gaining functionality. Fred Haws, president of Haws USA (asi/43861), notes the practical application of the fabric. "Flannel provides a level of warmth without the bulk,” he says, explaining how flannel made of ringspun cotton adds softness and breathability, making it ideal to pitch as workwear for clients outfitting outdoor workers.

"Flannel-lined shirt jackets are extremely popular in the work environment, providing a middle layer between a T-shirt underlay and heavier jacket," he says.

When evaluating the quality of flannel, Haws looks to the fabric's weight and density of weave. Flannel typically comes in 4-, 6- and 9-oz. weights. The heavier weights, of course, provide more warmth and durability. Consider climate and type of use when making a selection.

One note of caution when determining the best clients to pitch flannel items to: Avoid using flannel in industries with fire hazards, such as electrical or oil/gas. The fabric is highly flammable and wouldn't be appropriate for workers in those markets.