Monday, June 29, 2009

The Man in the Red Flannel Shirt

Just the other day, some self-annointed guardian of civility and decorum ripped into a friend of mine, pointing an accusatory finger at my friend as a prime example of "your typical backwoodsman" (to use his phrase). Mr. Prig, as we shall call him here, marshaled conclusive evidence – specifically, my friend’s penchant for flannel shirts.


Apparently, Mr. Prig is convinced a man utters a fashion statement by wearing flannel and the statement is an emphatic "I Am Uncouth and Depraved."

What an ass I’ve made of myself all these years, on those many occasions when I have gone out in public wearing a flannel shirt. I had no idea what that revealed about me. Honest!

Determined to rid myself of this embarrassment, I went home and examined the contents of my closet. Reluctantly, I started pulling all my flannel shirts from their hangers and began filling a heavy-duty 40-gallon trash bag. I grew sad and nostalgic, recalling the happy days I spent wearing those shirts. But that was before I knew. Now, older but wiser, there’s no return to my halcyon innocence. I shudder to think that I could be so naïve. No doubt, people were snickering and elbowing one another after I walked past, hissing knowingly, "There…pshuhff…there is your typical…back…woods…man."

I had no idea!

It took both hands for me to heave that sack of shame into the back of my battered pickup truck. I would get around to hauling it to the dump in a day or two. Perhaps, after that final break, I would feel a great sense of propriety about myself.

But I couldn’t leave it alone. Like a tongue probing a broken tooth, my mind kept going back to those flannel shirts. This was something I needed to understand more fully. Maybe, if I could put those shirts into some sort of historical context, it would all make sense.

I took a deep breath and tried to pull up some helpful images from my memory banks.


Flannel shirts…

Flannel shirts…

Oh, yeah. The Brawny Paper Towel Guy. He used to wear a flannel shirt. But I knew that he had gotten a makeover just a couple of years ago. It was a big deal at the time, maybe the biggest transformation of a grocery shelf icon since the day that Aunt Jemima traded in her do-rag for the tastefully stylish corporate career-woman look.

You go girl!

As they say.

But the Brawny Guy. I couldn’t quite picture his current incarnation.

The mullet is gone. Right?

And the mustache. Gone. Right?

And that double-bit axe. He doesn’t strut around with an axe on his shoulder any more. Right?

The flannel shirt must be gone, too. Right? If you’re trying to project the metrosexual image, then a flannel shirt just doesn’t work. It would lead people to believe that you’re a…a…a typical backwoodsman. Discerning shoppers would pass you by and quickly pick up the Quicker Picker Upper. Right?

I started digging through a pile of supermarket circulars, looking for the Brawny Guy. I was sure that he had slipped into another shirt, but I couldn’t remember what kind.

Not finding him in the recycling bin, I went online, where I discovered a message from the Brawny Paper Towel Guy:

Sometimes, when I'm having a hard time, and I need to do something to make me feel better, I saw wood. Come saw some wood with me. Just relax your shoulders and let the saw do the work [a slow methodical back and forth sound of a saw softly cutting through wood is heard] That's it. Yeah. Feel better? I feel better too.

I’m serious. He said that. If you don’t believe me, you can go listen to him yourself, at the NPR website.

Yes, National FREAKIN’ Public Radio. Take that, you skeptics who accuse me of fabricating stories. There’s your evidence.

[All things considered, I would urge straight women and gay men to refrain from clicking on that NPR story. Consider yourself duly WARNED.]



Is that good enough for you?

The Brawny Man has a lot to say, but the medium of radio leaves us in the dark about his choice of shirts these days. I would guess that he didn’t wear a shirt, flannel or otherwise, while achieving stress relief by…”sawing wood.”

Anyhow. I finally found a picture of the NEW Brawny Guy and, sure enough, he has exchanged his flannel shirt for…


This answers absolutely nothing. I can see that I will need to expand my historical horizons in order to fully understand the flap over flannel.

Perhaps going back to a time before plaid cotton degenerated mankind into a state of barbarity would help us to comprehend the significance of the fashion faux pas in a fallen world.

So, I have gone sixteenth century Italy and cruel King Carvolacchio:

There now. Wouldn’t genocide be oh so much easier to stomach when your tormenter is dressed like a man of wealth and taste? Imagine the King, here, in a flannel shirt. But, no, it’s simply not possible.

That was Europe, though. How about life in America? Where does the flannel shirt fit into the history of God’s chosen land?

Roanoke Island.


When he marched into the backwoods to found the Lost Colony, Sir Walter Raleigh wasn’t wearing some uncivilized attire:

No, he was dressed properly for the occasion. Imagine how badly things might have turned out for the colonists if Raleigh and his followers had been wearing flannel shirts.

Somewhere along the line, though, your typical backwoodsman decided it was time to start dressing like your typical backwoodsman.

I think it was around the time of the famous frontiersman Grizzly Adams. At least he was one of the earliest Americans to be filmed wearing a flannel shirt on a regular basis. Granted, he groomed that beard of his meticulously:

But all the whisker-preening in the world wasn’t enough to overcome the social stigma that goes with flannel. It’s no wonder that his only friends were an old coot named Mad Jack, an Indian named Nakoma and a bear named Gentle Ben. Do you seriously believe that you would see a foursome like THAT teeing off for a round of golf or pursuing other equally civilized pursuits?


And speaking of Grizzly Adams, you must agree that flannel is at least partly to blame for this:

It’s the flannel.

Look at Paul Bunyan…

Consider the destructive force of ONE man, albeit one unusually large man, wearing a flannel shirt.

Fast forward to the pinnacle of the Victorian era in America. On July 29, 1879 the New York Times published a review of the Moosehead Lake Lodge in Maine:

It is just this free and easy life, in which you can do as you please, in which you can come to the dinner-table and not be disgraced if you have on a flannel shirt…

And ever since, this country has gone to hell in a handbasket.

Read that passage from the New York Times carefully. It tells you everything you need to know about the decline of America.

“Do as you please…”

“NOT be disgraced if you have on a flannel shirt…”

Look where that has led us.

A Neanderthal puts on a flannel shirt, flails his electric guitar and becomes a rock star.

Another example of “your typical backwoodsman type” puts on a flannel shirt, scratches his butt and becomes a movie star.

This used to be a great nation.

The operative word is “used to be.”

Now I get it.

I see where we went wrong.

I see where I went wrong.

Thank you, Mr. Prig. You are absolutely correct.

Friends don’t let friends wear flannel shirts.

For further study of the cultural significance of the Brawny Paper Towel Guy see:


Anonymous said...

Did not realize the Brawny guy had developed into such a barometer of societal roles until googling it.

Somehow you know the new Brawny guy is as hairless as a ken doll under that shirt.

I had plenty of flannel shirts in my day. Don't have any now, but sometimes...I just want to go to my backwoods cabin, wear flannel shirts (WITHOUT waxing my chest) and hearken back to the day when a man could wear flannel without the stigma of depravity.

Also did not realize that Brawny had used Richard Petty in commercials for a time before they took the metrosexual slant.

Anonymous said...

flannel is the great comfort fabric. wonderful for sleeping, sheets and after it is worn out really feels nice.
this is a lady speaking....I hope whoever made the remark to your friend would sell the second home and move back to the city.
when are you taking your shirts to the dump? please put them in "reuse"....some backwoods woman might like to have them.