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Plaid Purification: Coming Around to Portland’s Flannel Frenzy

Updated: Jul 30, 2019




The plaid flannel shirt – quintessential Pacific North West style staple, worshiped by mothers, hipsters, and hipster-esque mothers alike.


My relationship with flannel, on the other hand, is a bit more contentious. Let me tell you a story of plaid, posers, and ranch dressing.


Curt Kobain ruined plaid flannel for me.


He serenaded an entire generation with his subversive lullabies while his tousled mop of unwashed head cheese for hair sunk over his guitar strings.


He screamed, he despaired and most importantly, he frightened me.


Clad in flannel and singing about something that smelled like teen spirit, he belonged to the MTV underworld of angst and overgrown hair - a world my 8 year-old self could not yet comprehend.


I lived in the contemporary world of VH1, where pop stars were groomed and Whitney Houston taught me invaluable life lessons like discerning “How will I know if he really loves me?” I believed in the healing powers of freeze tag, and the only time I could relate to Kurt’s angst centered around ranch dressing famines in the cafeteria. In my bubble-gummy fantastical world, it always smelled a lot more like Hot Pockets than anything close to teen spirit, and I preferred it that way.


Whether he liked it or not, Kurt Cobain and his flannel-touting bandmates transformed the landscape of mid 90’s style.


Suddenly, my 8-year-old elementary school contemporaries didn’t wash their hair and traded their high tops and neon track suits for neutral toned flannel. Freeze tag ceased on the playground, and pods of sullen and despairing third graders began to appear. Why was everyone so angry? I checked the cafeteria pantry and there was more than enough ranch dressing to go around. But even ranch dressing could not rectify this. The third-grade style aesthetic quickly began to change and align with the angsty, flannel-peddling enemy. But I held my ground. I was too young to be sullen and too jovial to wear anything other than endless neon track suits. Even if I tried, I could not pretend to be someone I was not.


Fast forward to my 30’s and somehow plaid flannel is still triggering. The mere sight of its soft lines and plaid grid on a hipster-esque mother at Whole Foods sets me on edge. Until recently, flannel still represented to me the cornerstone of irony - conforming to nonconformity, the sin of sins. That is, until I did a little bit of pop culture research and discovered that Kurt Cobain did not in fact have the corner on plaid flannel. Far from it. Plaid flannel has its origins in the far-off land of Scotland as it was once banned by their British overlords as a flagrant display of anti-British sentiment. And it was also popularized by pop icons like Marilyn Monroe and the Beach boys as a fun and comfortable style staple that offset the style formalities of past decades.


Now if rebelling Scots, Marilyn Monroe, and Brian Wilson can all wear flannel in their own right, I realized that perhaps I could let go of my previous “trauma” with flannel and discover it anew for myself. A plaid purification, if you will.

With new eyes, I gazed out into Whole Foods and saw mother after mother wearing flannel with jeans. While this typical ensemble works, we can do so much more with this style staple. Let’s check out three inventive styling ensembles that will reinvigorate and expand your plaid options while ensuring comfort and ease of style along the way.


Style Option 1: Tied Up And Paired With A Dress


Pairing the plaid flannel with a skater dress is the perfect middle ground of the masculine and feminine style worlds. For this look, I like to keep the last two buttons of the flannel top unbuttoned and tie two knots with the loose fabric. This gives the dress some visual intrigue while the ties simultaneously work to highlight the narrowest part of your waist line. Pairing flannel with a skater dress or any dress that hits just above the knees instantly transforms this look into something more casual and wearable for day to day mothering needs.


Style Option 2: Pairing Plaid Flannel With A Blazer


When you are looking to add a bit of polish to your everyday flannel, there is nothing that will fit the bill like a fitted blazer. For this look, I have chosen a black and white plaid flannel top and paired it with a neutral blue blazer. I like to button the top all the way to the collar as it will add instant structure and a tailored collar to the look. A collar that is buttoned up all the way and folded over onto itself brings an air of refinement and polish that still feels edgy. To complete this look, I tuck the shirt into a pair of black skinny jeans. Partnering a fitted blazer with a flannel top brings balance and refinement to this casual iconic style staple. This look is ideal for mommy brunch dates where neither style or comfort are compromised.


Style Option 3: Opened With A Little Black Dress


There is nothing in your wardrobe that your little black dress cannot befriend. When you pair the little black dress with a plaid flannel top, you are instantly transitioning night time wear to something that is appropriate for the day. For this look, I like to wear the top unbuttoned with the sleeves cuffed and rolled to the elbows. The cuffed sleeves bring a sense of structure and strength while the curved hugging black dress will help soften the look. This is a great option when you are wanting to walk the line between the feminine and masculine. Complete the look with a pair of booties and you are set to chase your little human around for hours.


Rebel In Your Own Way


Regardless of what originally lured you to wear plaid flannel, one thing is certain: it will always carry with it a certain rebellious edge. Whether grocery shopping for the week or planting kale with your little one in your community garden, sporting plaid will give instant comfort with unintended but effortless edge. Whatever your version of rebellion may be, these three looks will always assist you in your rebellion against an uninspired wardrobe of plaid.


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