Plaid vs. Flannel Shirts: What’s the Difference?

It's really quite simple.

Flannel shirts are everywhere at the moment. And so are plaid shirts. But while often used interchangeably to refer to a type of thick checkered shirt, these two shirt trends are absolutely not the same thing. Here’s all you need to know about the differences between plaid and flannel.

Plaid vs. Flannel = Pattern vs. Material

The simplest way to think of the difference between the two types of shirt is this: plaid is a pattern, while flannel is a material. Plaid is a check pattern where large, often colorful lines intersect. Meanwhile, flannel is a woven fabric made from cotton or wool. It’s super soft and warm, which is why shirts made from flannel are so popular during the colder months.

What this basically means is that a shirt can be both plaid and flannel. The shirt in the image below, which is what most people think of when they think of plaid or flannel shirts, is both plaid and flannel. You’re correct whichever term you use.

Flannel shirt dark jeans
The Brdwlk

But a flannel shirt doesn’t have to be plaid. It can be plain, or striped, or have basically any other pattern you could think of. A quick search on any online shopping mall will find plenty of flannel shirts that aren’t plaid.

Read More: How to Wear a Flannel Shirt in Five Modern Ways

Meanwhile, a plaid shirt can be made from flannel, but it could also be made from other materials. Although plaid shirts made from flannel are incredibly common.

Neither plaid nor flannel is restricted to use in shirts. You’ll find plaid patterns on items such as jackets, t-shirts, linings, and even pants. Burberry is famous for its plaid (or tartan) pattern and the brand uses it on pieces throughout its collection.

Likewise, flannel is used to make clothing including pajamas, blazers, and trousers.

So Plaid is the Same as Check Then?

Well, not quite. The word check refers to any pattern where straight lines intersect to form squares. There are many types of check patterns, plaid is just one of them. Other common check patterns include Gingham, houndstooth, and checkerboard.

Gingham vs Plaid
The Brdwlk

Where Does Tartan Fit into all of This?

The plaid vs. flannel discussion is made more confusing by tartan. When you look at this pattern, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it looks a lot like plaid. Well, that’s because plaid and tartan are the same patterns. In Scotland—the country where the pattern originates—the pattern is known as tartan. But in North America, it is typically known as plaid.

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Duncan Elder

Duncan is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Boardwalk. He's a menswear writer who has spent the last 15 years developing his own sense of style, which lies at the cross-section of mid-noughties indie and Uniqlo-inspired minimalism.

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