My Grandfather’s Flannels

I’ve always modeled my own personal style on the dichotomy between the two most influential men in my life, my father and grandfather. While my father has always been a spread collar, Windsor knot wearing man, my grandfather’s style is the antithesis of that look. He was an outdoorsy, handy, renaissance man who only wore a suit when needed. I’ve grown to be just as comfortable wearing a 3-piece to a wedding as I am wearing jeans, boots and a hoody to the corner bar. If my father was the inspiration for my dressed up look, my grandfather was certainly the inspiration for my casual style, particularly casual button-down shirts.

Where my father introduced me to tailored suits and pocket squares, my grandfather showed me flannel work shirts, buffalo check and brushed plaid patterns, and denim jackets. He made the everyman look cool for me, usually because he was always constructing something with his bare hands or reading a book outside–he was a voracious reader–with a cigar in his mouth. Maybe I didn’t inherit his handyman skills, but I like to think I got some of his intellectual curiosity.

My grandfather would wear flannel shirts while working in his garage or while helping my mother tear wallpaper off the walls in her new house or while putting together toys for me on Christmas morning when I was a kid. He would unwind and sit on the bench outside of his Philadelphia rowhome with a cigar and a glass of vodka while wearing a flannel in the fall months.

He never particularly cared about fashion, nor spent a second putting together an actual outfit, and he didn’t have to. His style was rooted in authenticity, just as it was authentic for my dad to wear suits and coats and loafers. My grandfather wore work shirts and boots and actually worked in them. Instead of a peacoat in the fall, he wore a vintage satin Flyers jacket from the 70s with his name embroidered on the chest–the only heirloom of his I insisted on having when he passed. On Christmas and Easter when the family tended to dress up a bit, he wore the same check-patterned flannels. Then while everyone else was extending dinner with small talk, he would exit to the backyard or front porch, where he would hold court over a drink and a smoke.

I’ve incorporated flannels with plaid and check patterns into my button-down shirt wardrobe in recent years, partially as tribute to him and partially because I’ve just grown to enjoy the versatility. I like that I can wear them on a brisk fall walk to get coffee with my fiancé or for a night at a dive bar with friends. I enjoy the wild color schemes and bold patterns. I appreciate that it’s a common style bond between us.

On the day my grandfather passed away, I wore my red and black flannel and went to my mother’s house with the rest of my family. I sat in his favorite spot by the fire pit in the backyard and drank wine and recalled old stories, trying to carry on if just a shred of his legend. The last picture I have with him where he’s able to stand, we’re in that same yard, both wearing red flannels—our favorite color.

It made sense that he wouldn’t wear a shirt and tie in his casket. He wore his blue blazer, which my grandmother loves and he always wore at dressier events, and a turtleneck. The shirt and tie just wasn’t authentic.

As the season changes over and the chill finally starts to creep in, I’ll undoubtedly break out more and more flannels. I’ll take walks for coffee and go out with friends, the holidays will come and go, but every time I throw on a flannel or a brushed plaid button down shirt, I’ll think of my grandfather, who unbeknownst to him, was always one of my fashion inspirations.

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