Flannel cloth is one of our favourite autumn and winter fabrics because of its soft brushed nap that lends it texture and warmth in abundance. Flannel is most commonly seen in shirting, and we've produced a number of cotton flannel styles this season. But where flannel really excels is when it is constructed from wool yarns and made into a suit. In the smarter, tailored domain, flannel lends a less formal finish to a suit thanks to the brushed nap. It works particularly well in grey, as you will see with many a cinematic icon sporting a grey flannel suit.
So what is flannel, exactly?
Good question, since the term "Flannel" is used to describe a variety of fibres hence it can become somewhat confusing, but in short, a flannel cloth is a textile that has been brushed, or in the case of wool, 'milled' on one or both sides to create a raise, furry nap. Think of the difference between a cotton dress shirt and a cotton flannel shirt for instance. Same fabric, but completely different handle, the former being smooth and crisp, while the latter is soft and textural.
Flannel cloth-making originated in Wales in the 17th century. Back then, it was predominantly made from thick coarse wool because it was worn by farmers and labourers who required clothing to keep out the unforgiving climate in the valleys. It caught on in the US, where Hamilton Carhartt, founder of the eponymous brand, created flannel undergarments for railroad workers in 1889, then soon after came the cotton flannel shirt. But in the UK, flannel was still the preserve of wool.
The Oliver Spencer Grey Flannel Suit
This season, we've used pure new wool flannel to create our Mansfield suit in a beautifully rich charcoal tone. As ever, our suit jackets are unstructured, allowing for a lightweight and natural drape. Typically, worsted flannel cloth is heavier than typical wool cloths, but we've used a lighter flannel on this occasion to allow for a more relaxed shape and greater versatility in how you can wear it.
Whether you want to style it as a suit, or break it up and wear the jacket and trousers as separates is completely up to you, but either way will provide you with casually elegant options in your everyday wardrobe. As a work option, it's fantastic if your office leans on a more casual aesthetic since the grey flannel suit is a way to dress up without really dressing up. Style it with white sneakers and a white cotton tee, or swap that with a fine-gauge rollneck on colder days and you have a look that will carry you from the office to the bar without a hitch. Alternatively, wear it with a plaid Oxford cloth button-down and loafers for a preppy take.
Up until the 1950s, flannel was seen as a very working class cloth, but that all changed when suit makers started using it in both woollen and worsted cloths. From there, it found its way onto the big screen, first on the shoulders of Gregory Peck in the film The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit, and then courtesy of James Bond. While Ian Fleming's choice of Bond suit in the books tended to favour navy tropical worsted, throughout the film series no less than 12 grey flannel suits are worn by the British secret agent, with Sean Connery shouldering the majority.
But why grey? Well, grey has a mélange look, thanks to many different shades coming together in the flannel cloth. This has the effect of accentuating the texture, and making the suit seem much more dimensional, rather than flat, something that was required on film back then.
While Bond wore the grey flannel suit in a formal, businesslike manner, we've created our Mansfield suit in a much more versatile style, stripping away all the formal structure so that it drapes naturally, and honestly feels closer to a soft lounge jacket than one half of a suit. Drop into one of the stores and try it on for yourself - if you don't fall in love with flannel after that, then you probably never will.