Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Image via Hellocomein.com

Ah, lumberjacks. Is there any trend you can't start? First you had everyone wielding tree-demolishing axes. Then it was the log rolling. You were such a beacon of trend setting. Thankfully, your fashion forwardness did not disappoint.

Okay, so maybe lumberjacks weren't necessarily in on the whole ironic grunge wave of fashion, but they certainly did provide a wealth of inspiration. The early-to-mid 90s were an interesting era, fashion-wise. Highly influenced by the mainstream rise of grunge music and subsequent subculture, the 90s saw an inexplicable rise in woodsy, outdoorsy styles. As Seattle was the generally-agreed-upon birthplace of grunge, it was no wonder they had the whole fashion world dressing like Pacific Northwesterners. Minus the functionality, that is.

Flannel became a ubiquitous staple of youth culture identity in the 90s, flaunting a sense of moody, brooding anti-authority that so defined young people in the grunge era. Plaid, functionally warm button-down shirts provided the necessary anti-fashion vibe embodied by the irreverent point of contact between Generation X and Generation Y. Before Generation Y grew up and got all civic-minded and mainstream (and probably considerably less cool), they were still riding the crest of unshakable cynicism with their 70s-born hippie-parent-backlash peers of Generation X.

Before the days of hipster chic, the level of irony in one's clothing was not quite as well-selected. While now you can walk down a trendy urban street and see the exhaustively planned outfits of a bunch of American Apparel catalog rejects, ("See, if I pair this pinstriped fedora with these neon yellow 1970s high school gym shorts...") back in the 90s the anti-fashion was not quite so preconceived. Rather, while the 80s had provided us with ridiculous poppy, mainstream, shiny bright-colored trends, the 90s' answer was to spit in the face of these bubblegum trends and say, "Screw it all. We're wearing flannel."

General unkemptness was a popular side effect of the grunge culture. True to the movement's name, grunge followers were, well, grungy. They had dirty, stringy long hair and tended to have that pleasant unwashed look (and we can only assume, corresponding smell.) Lucky for society the actual grunge movement was pretty centralized, meaning the flannel-clad sullen-faced teens you saw in your own hometowns were likely some class of poseur. Sure, they had the flannel shirts and ripped up jeans, but they were buying the shirts 3 for 1 at Kohl's and purchasing their jeans pre-ripped. Their authenticity and intention was at best questionable. It's probably more that they just really, really liked the Smells Like Teen Spirit video than that they subscribed to any particular brand of anti-authority ideology.

Lucky for the flannel industry (there's a whole flannel commercial infrastructure, right? I assume) it it a highly functional fabric that certainly has its share of constructive uses. Though I'm sure the usefulness of flannel is far more wide-ranging, here are some of the basic functionalities of 1990s flannel-wearing:

1. It kept the heroin chic among us warm

Image via yenmag.net

Forget Twiggy, the 90s brought a whole new wave of painfully thin, strung-out-looking models. Kate Moss was an unsmiling, non-eating supposed inspiration for us all. You have to realize, though, that it gets cold being that skinny. These uninsulated waifs were lucky to have a big burly flannel on hand to fight off the 0% body fat woes.

Still true today:Flannel...now with 100% less pants!

2. The butt-less still reeling from Sir Mix-a-Lot's slurs could use it handily as padding

As seen in Bill and Ted--and yes, I'm aware the original came out in 1989

No one in the 90s would ever wear a flannel shirt on its own. No, it was necessary to pile on as many other cynical concert tees as you could muster in order to fully achieve your 90s grunginess. Sometimes, though, you just needed a break from your heat-producing flannel. Don't have a place to put it down? Use your body as a temporary hanger and tie it around your waist! A foolproof plan. Good for hiding bodily imperfections and stains, too.

3. You are so tired you couldn't possibly wait until you got home and climbed into bed.
Image via amazon.com

Luckily, your flannel doubled as pajamas. Or better yet, you could simply grab your handy seam-ripper and before you know it, you've got a new pair of winter sheets. Talk about multipurpose!

4. You would make a stellar extra on Nickelodeon's Pete and Pete or ABC's My So-Called Life

Both Petes were famous for their signature flannel looks. You'd be hard-pressed to find an episode of MSCL where neither Angela nor Jordan was wearing some manifestation of flannel somewhere on their person. These fine specimens of 90s television were spreading the good word of flannel, one episode at a time.

5. In a frequently temperature-shifting setting, it offered top-notch ventilation

Perfecting your flannel-based outfit was contingent on layering. Luckily, the open-flannel-over-t-shirt-or-thermal look allowed for intermittent breezes and important underarm and back ventilation.

6. Great for absorbing greasy hair!

How else would the members of Nirvana or Pearl Jam lay down to sleep at night without sliding off the pillow? Chalk it up to the ever-absorbent power of flannel. Go days without washing with full grease-drip protection!

7. You can pose as a Brawny Paper Towels spokesimage model, no problem

Again, that lumberjack image. When paired with your work jeans and some Doc Martens or Timberlands, you were pretty much ready for whatever challenge (or spill) nature threw at you.

To all you former Niravana-wannabes, embrace your once-burgeoning early 90s grunginess. You don't even need too be overly nostalgic to begin this inner hug, as flannel has (for better or worse) made a comeback in a big way. So go out there and wear it proudly. Just please don't tie it around your waist this time around.


Alyssa said...


Anonymous said...

I miss my flannel shirts so much. And my ripped jeans (ripped naturally, thank you very much!) and my dirty hair and my bandanas andy pretty much everything from my early nineties wardrobe.

for the love of pictures said...

I will admit that I wore my fair share of flannel shirts back in the day - and I still love my flannel pjs :)

Couture Carrie said...

Witty and thorough post, as usual! I love the 90s and Nirvana, but I am NOT for a rebirth of grunge!


Sadako said...

I remember Little Pete's flannel hat! So lumberjacky.

courtney said...

I never wore flannel in the 90s...perhaps because I was wearing clothes from Limited Too and the American Girl Doll collection right up until middle school.

the flannel wearers mocked me.

Anonymous said...

Haha! Flannel! So warm... oh, and in flannel you could also be an employee of (and save!) the failing Empire Records store!

A said...

*sighs* My mom used to dress me in oversized flannel shirts and black leggings when I was a kid.

Laila P said...


Nessa said...

Ahhh, i used to hate it...and now, ..things have changed! lol

nikki said...

Seriously I fucking loved the shit out of flannel shirts. That is one trend that is welcome to come back.

I went to college in the COLD COLD appalachains...I needed all the flannel I could get.

WarriorHeartGypsySoul said...

Growing up in Wisconsin, the flannel was definintely a wardrobe staple!

ashley-cita said...

Oh em gee! Pete & Pete. ::sigh:: the flashbacks your blog induces.

jen - tsk said...

So, (a little admission) I may have just skim-read the post....but I have a valid reason) ANYTHING with a picture of Jordan Catilano draws me attention! Remember...pictures speak louder than words (also remember I have ADD and so I'm easily distracted!!) x

Moonjava said...

Lol, flannel could look somewhat more amenable on someone hot! Like Tom Welling! ;)

Needs Help said...

Great post!! I remeber in middle school when they excluded flannel from the dress code at my prissy all girls school, haha

Andhari said...

Even when it's back in trend now, I don't have the heart to wear it lol I just CANT.:P

Optimistic Pessimist said...

I used to pretend I was Alicia Silverstone from the Areosmith video when I wore my flannel.

Little Ms Blogger said...

I kept my flannel to a minimum: night shirt and some in-between spring/winter jacket thingy.

I admit that there was a HUGE need to end the preppy clothes of the 80's, but flannel, not so sure that was the answer.

Aline said...

I blame Nirvana! ...at least that was my inspiration!

Anonymous said...

I wore lots of flannel shirts in JR high back in the mid 90s. I was considered a "geek" supposedly because I wore thrift store stuff all the time, (including flannels)...well I got the last laugh because that means I was cool after all! No one could appreciate the "grunge-girl", but I was cooler than I thought! I still lean towards grunge in my clothing choices. Flannels are oh so functional anyway.

twenty_two14 said...

Several years ago I discovered flannel shirts, and I never looked back. My sister, a few friends, and I used to have "Flannel Fridays" at school, and amazingly it caught on (we were unpopular "losers," so I'm shocked). Then, I started seeing all sorts of people wearing them, and it sort of cheapened the appeal of flannel for me. Still, it's possibly my favorite material, and plaid is still my favorite "color," so today I own several flannel shirts. They truly are both incredibly comfortable and amazingly warm.

Kyle said...

Flannel is making a comeback FTW!

The Whiz Kid Forte said...

You gave me a great Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party costume idea here! I'm bringing out the grunge shirt and paring it with ripped jeans. I'm completing the ensemble with a black Lion King hat and sneakers. Cool, isn't it?

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