How to Wear Flannel Without Looking Like a Lumberjack

A plaid flannel shirt is a warm layer that almost every guy wears at least occasionally in the winter. But sometimes it’s difficult to figure out how to wear a flannel shirt without looking like a lumberjack, farmer, or particularly proud hipster (especially if you’re sporting a cold-weather beard.) But you can wear flannel without looking like you work at a lumberyard or spend all your time outdoors. Check out our tips for making a flannel shirt work, whether you’re going to the office or hanging out at your best friend’s cabin for the weekend.

Pay attention to the fit and fabric

Brooks Brothers Red Fleece plaid flannel shirt


To make it easier on yourself to style a shirt that wouldn’t look out of place on the farm or in the forest, make sure that you get the fit and fabric right. Choose a trim, flattering cut, not one with lots of extra fabric around the torso or in the sleeves. And if you’re worried about making the shirt look modern, choose a shirt made of fabric that falls on the thinner side of the spectrum. It’s a lot easier to make a plaid shirt look great with a leather jacket or a blazer if it isn’t made of a stiff, bulky flannel, but instead, a lighter or mid-weight fabric that will be easier and more comfortable to wear.

For a trim fit and fabrics that you won’t sweat through the moment you walk inside, try a flannel from Brooks Brothers’ modern Red Fleece line, like a classic red buffalo check, a unique black and white plaid, or a great navy pattern for all of you who favor blue. Pro tip? You can often catch Brooks Brothers shirts on a two for $99 special, which makes it especially easy to stock up for the winter.

Realize that you don’t have to go with red

Gitman Vintage plaid flannel shirt at Mr. Porter


When you picture a lumberjack, you probably think of a guy wearing a plaid shirt with a little, or a lot, of red in the pattern. But you don’t have to go with red to wear a flannel shirt, especially if you’re trying to avoid the lumberjack look. You can choose a pattern with only a minimal amount of red, like Gitman Vintage’s navy and brown style, or opt for another classic color way that doesn’t feature red at all, like the black watch used for J. Crew’s cotton-flannel shirt.

Other great options include the modern combination of grey and blue in Alex Mill’s flannel shirt or the grey buffalo check of J. Crew’s shirt. Or, consider a flannel shirt in a solid color, like a military-classc olive green, burgundy, a rich grey, or even ivory.

Take advantage of flannel’s layering potential

RRL checked workshirt


Wearing a flannel shirt out in the snow without a coat on top is a great way to look like a lumberjack. But if that’s what you want to avoid, then get smart about pairing your plaid shirt with other layers. You can wear a flannel shirt with classic pieces of outerwear, like a navy peacoat, for a refined look on a particularly cold day, or even under a cotton field jacket on warm afternoons.

Muted colors, like those of RRL’s checked workshirt — which isn’t technically flannel, but gets a pass from us — make for easy layering, especially if you don’t like wearing too many colors in a single outfit. For even more layering potential, consider expanding your repertoire beyond the flannel shirt with other items, like Ralph Lauren’s flannel vest, which you can layer over most of your winter-ready button-front shirts, or even a wool flannel suit, which gets you about as far away from the lumberjack look as possible.

Take the focus off the flannel

Pendleton black watch flannel shirt


In the same vein as other layering techniques, wearing a flannel shirt under a crewneck sweater can move the plaid off centerstage. That’s ideal if you want the warmth of a flannel, but favor a preppier aesthetic instead of the hipster-lumberjack look. A dark sweater, like Nordstrom’s cashmere crewneck, will look great with a plaid shirt whose dominant color is red, like Howe’s flannel shirt.

Or, if you prefer a cardigan to a crewneck, wear a trim, dark flannel, like rag & bone’s grey flannel, with a textured sweater like Original Penguin’s speckled shawl-collar cardigan. Finally, if you favor heavyweight sweaters in the winter months, pair a sweater like Schott’s cable knit crewneck with a fitted shirt like Pendleton’s black watch flannel.

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