Let’s start with a confession: I have far more flannel shirts than any one person would ever need. And when I say flannel, I broadly mean any soft, long-sleeve, button-up plaid shirt. You see, I use the term “flannel” loosely. I understand that flannel is a type of fabric rather than a pattern, and that flannel shirts do not need to be plaid, but in my world, a flannel is any plaid, long-sleeve shirt, meant to be worn over a T-shirt.
I grew up calling them shammy shirts, which I’ve been telling people for years is a Duluth term for plaid flannel shirts but I have not heard in practice since moving back. I wasn’t disappointed by much when I moved back to my hometown, but this one stung. I know it’s an inaccurate name, but it’s fun and quirky in a way Duluthians often are, and on top that is just plain fun to say. Try it: Shammy shirt.
Perhaps it was just a term my family used and not a regionalism, as I’d thought. We loved our flannels, and we called them shammy shirts.
A quick walk out in public leads me to believe that not many Northlanders need convincing on the benefits of wearing flannel. It’s everywhere. If we had to come up with a standard uniform for our fair city, a flannel would most undoubtedly be involved. They are the epitome of stylish comfort. The only other article of clothing that accomplishes the same level of comfort as a flannel are sweatpants, which obviously don’t have the same “I’ll make you look good no matter what” vibe. Sweatpants lack style, whereas flannel shirts grace the pages of every fall fashion magazine.
Everyone looks good in a flannel shirt. Think about it: Hipsters wear flannels, grandparents wear flannels, cowboys wear flannels. None of these groups have much in common with each other, but they all agree that they look good in a flannel. It’s the great Minnesota equalizer.
Of course, living in the great north, where the fall air turns crisp and cool by early September and stubbornly sticks around through June, we have more need for the warmth a flannel shirt brings. It is understandable that the popularity of the humble flannel shirt has permeated more deeply into our culture. Quite simply, our weather gives us more opportunity to bundle.
Back to school season is our collective signal that the first flannel morning will be occurring shortly, if it hadn’t already. Let’s be honest: even August mornings can occasionally be crisp. I have a mid-August birthday, and this year, Facebook memories showed me a birthday from a few years ago where I was already dressed in a flannel shirt.
This year, our first flannel morning occurred almost immediately upon turning the calendar over to September. Did you feel it? I stepped outside with the dogs, took in a deep breath, and was delighted to catch a whiff of crisp. Did you know air temperature changes have a scent? Of course you did, you’re a Minnesotan. We understand the season’s first breath of crisp air as intimately as the back of our hands.
And so our flannels, so patiently waiting in our closets, slung over that chair in the entryway, and crumpled in the back seat of our car, can be put back into use. I have to admit, mine never went far. Even at the height of summer, smack-dab in the middle of July (or the beginning of August - we never know when those two weeks will land, do we?) my flannels stayed within reach.
When I pull on one of my many, many flannel shirts, no matter how new it might be, I feel as though it’s known me for a lifetime. It just gets me. Hello, my old friend, my flannel, my shammy shirt. Welcome to autumn.
Kathleen Murphy is a freelance writer who lives and works in Duluth. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.