Keeping Warm In Winter Clothing: Choosing A Flannel Shirt

How to shop for a flannel shirt to layer for winter warmth, with tips on fabric content, weight, fit, washability and style considerations.

One secret to staying warm no matter how cold it gets is to master the art of layering your clothing. You can fine tune your comfort level by taking layers off if the thermometer rises. All kinds of garments can be used as layers - sweaters, scarves, undershirts and turtlenecks, but one of the most useful layering garments is a flannel shirt.

A good flannel shirt is an essential part of any woman's wardrobe. This garment came from the old time workman's wardrobe, but it works just as well for modern women and men. Flannel is warm, soft and absorbent. During early and late winter the thick weave of heavy flannel makes it a good outer layer over a sweater or fleece garment, where it can block the wind. During the bitterest cold it layers over a turtleneck under a coat where it adds warmth and is easy to remove if things warm up. In spring and fall you can wear it as a jacket during those cool mornings and evenings. It can even do extra duty as an extra warm pajama top in a cold room.

It's important to select the right shirt and the right size. Flannel comes in a variety of thickness and quality. Make sure that your garment is 100% cotton. Get the heaviest, most tightly woven flannel you can find. It will soften with washing and it lasts for a long time. Very soft flannel shirts are often too light in weight to wear well. They are thin and wear out quickly.

One especially high quality type of cotton flannel is called chamois cloth. Heavyweight 100% cotton chamois is described as 9 oz. per square yard. At more than half a pound pre square yard, this fabric is indeed heavy. Chamois cloth is so densely woven that it is somewhat stiff at first, but it will soften and fluff up with washing. Flannel from Portugal is usually good quality, but may be a bit lighter in weight than chamois cloth.

Flannel shirts traditionally come in both solid colors and a variety of plaids. The solid colors tend to be intense, dark shades, but some manufacturers also make softer colors for women. Many of the plaids are traditional Scottish tartans, which may give them extra meaning to those with a Scottish heritage. But whether you are Scottish or not, the plaids are beautiful, and useful for hiding stains. A loud plaid can come in handy in the woods, as you will be less likely to be mistaken for a deer. For serious hunting wear a nice bright orange is an even better color choice.

Fashion prints such as toiles are also showing up on flannel now, so if you want a more feminine, citified look, don't be shy. There are lots of choices available and lots of sizes. The price range is also wide. Outdoor clothing manufacturers sometimes make several lines of flannel shirts, with the heavy chamois cloth garments priced higher, and the light weight garments cheaper.

Now that you know what you are looking for, the next question to consider is fit. We women come in a wide range of sizes, and it's important that your flannel shirt fit you well with some extra room for layering. Buy it big. Buy it very big.

You are going to want to wash it in the washer and dry it in the dryer so you may want to go as much as two sizes larger than your usual size to get extra layering room and allow for probable shrinkage. This is not a garment you're going to send to the dry cleaners every time it gets dirty.

You know your body, and you know where things get tight on you. If you need a little extra for your bust, tummy or hips, make your size choice accordingly. There's no shame in choosing plus, tall, or men's sizes to get a nice roomy fit. After all you will not be wearing this shirt to the Academy Awards.

You will find yourself wearing it almost everywhere else. Hopping out of bed to walk the dog on a chilly morning, grabbing an extra layer to pick up the mail or drive the kids to school - your friendly flannel shirt will come in handy for all these chores and more. Take your time shopping for it so you get a garment you truly enjoy.

You have lots of choices. Pick one that you think will fit, and if it doesn't, don't be shy. Send it back and try again until you find the one that fits just right. You want this garment to be your best friend and to serve you for a long and comfortable life.

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