Warm, fuzzy, soft, comfortable, rumpled, cosy and timeless. It’s no wonder that flannel is now highly sought after by the new generation of ‘iGents’, those men with a passionate interest in relatively clothes who’ve developed their taste and knowledge using blogs and forums, rather than the glossy men’s fashion magazines.
That the role models for these ‘iGents’ – the dapper exhibitors at Florence’s Pitti Uomo, the bi-annual menswear tradeshow where the exhibitors wear more interesting clothes than they sell – wear flannel represents something of a turnaround for the cloth. In 1955 the American author Sloan Wilson wrote a book about the frustration and conformity of post-war suburban life, and called it The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit. The idea that the average commuter might wear a flannel suit is now outlandish, given the decline in standards of dress and because the fabric’s wonderful warmth might be more a vice than a virtue in most modern offices.
However, if you are able to control the temperature of your working environment, and so enjoy the warmth of a flannel suit, a happy world of sartorial possibility is open to you. Real flannel is superbly tactile, and has a wonderful depth to its colour. As well as the classic grey suit the fabric is just as good when it bears a chalk stripe, a check or a pattern.
This winter Fox Brothers, a fabric mill that’s been producing flannel in Somerset since 1772, is offering a particularly rich set of patterns, which were revived through a design partnership between the mill and Michael Alden of the web forum The London Lounge. A suit made in any of the fabrics would have an unrivalled depth of colour, an incomparable drape thanks to the 500g weight of the cloth, and a tactile quality that has to be touched to be believed. Any man keen to channel the kind of timeless male elegance exuded by icons like Fred Astaire, the Duke of Windsor, Gary Cooper and Humphrey Bogart really needs some flannel in his wardrobe.