Gray flannels that are TRUE replacements for cotton khakis

TimF

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
Here's the issue. During the Ivy heyday, gray flannels were seen about as often as khakis. Given, they are a bit more formal, more likely to be worn with blazers than rugby shirts, but by-and-large they are interchangeable with cotton khakis. Students wore them on campus, playing sports, cavorting on dates...very comfortable to share their messy collegiate lives with a trusty pair of gray flannels (or two).

Today it no longer seems to be the case. A quick perusal of the AAAT WAYW thread shows about a 80-20 split in favor of khakis, with flannels relegated to the most formal outfits, with a blazer or charcoal tweed, usually at work.

I think this is an important issue to address, because the Ivy dressers of today seem to be losing touch with a foundational element of heyday Ivy, versatile across the formality spectrum and around the color chart, high-performance and comfortable at the same time.

Here's my personal diagnosis for the decline of the gray flannel among current Ivy dressers. Other members far more knowledgeable than I are of course welcome to contribute their additions, corrections, and disagreements.
  1. The supply of durable gray flannels has fallen. The tough flannels of heyday were not the 130s, 50% cashmere thin Italian ilk that oversaturate today's flannel market.
  2. Because gray flannels have (sadly) become more niche, dress flannels trousers are much pricier relative to cotton khakis today than in the 50s-60s.
  3. Quality cleaners today are harder to find, and pricier inflation-adjusted.
In short, because today's flannel trousers are more delicate, more expensive, and more difficult to clean and maintain, we (very sensibly) have chosen to wear our flannels less and less.

A damn shame, and I would like to propose a prototype flannel that would break the vicious cycle and solicit input and advice for how forum members might acquire such an item.

My personal wardrobe consists of ~5 pairs of high-quality 100% natural-fiber flannels, some lighter, some heavier, + 1 pair of old Jos Bank gray "stretch" flannel (2-3% elastane). The JAB is on the thin side, near one of the pockets was a hole (I don't know if from moths or wear). Like other members here I only reach for my "good" flannels for the dressy occasions, a little too anxious to put them through the rigors of casual attire. About a month ago I had the JAB pair patched up, handwashed it in cold (it along with some sweaters took ~30 minutes to do), lightly pressed, and began wearing it just like my khakis or cords. That is, not caring if anything bad happened to it.

I discovered that I got more quote-unquote "enjoyment" out of these old, low-quality flannels, as they fulfilled 2 major Ivy principles: 1. decently presentable in a casual setting, 2. not letting clothes limit the things I do. Given that I essentially thrifted these pants from myself, I did not care if they got damaged; given that I can easily hand clean them myself, I did not care if they got soiled. While by no means perfect in fabric or cut, they are sufficiently worn in and soft to take on the character of old, well-loved khakis.

So here are the traits of the ideal flannel trousers that are high-quality yet still able to be worn comfortably and care-free around the house:
  1. Can be had for 1-2x the price of a quality pair of khakis: $50-$125 (can be on sale, but no second-hand, thrifts, Trad exchange, etc.)
  2. Classic dress trouser configuration (not 5-pocket), with tailor-adjustable waistband, and unfinished bottoms for cuffing
  3. Contains 10-20% synthetic (maybe 30% is the maximum tolerable): this allows the pants to be hand- or machine-washable
  4. High rise (this can be suppressed in favor of price, #1)
  5. Heavyweight: 10oz and above (this can be suppressed in favor of price, #1)
The current Jos Bank is https://www.josbank.com/1905-collection-tailored-fit-flat-front-dress-pants-clearance-2AV2C. It has thin-ish fabric, not enough synthetic, and a rise that could be 1-2" higher. But can be had on clearance for around ~$25, so I picked up another pair.

Short of that I discovered a great fabric on Luxire for a cool $100, which checks all my boxes: https://luxire.com/products/grey-wool-flannel?variant=273384086#/. Being MTM, I am waiting for when they hold a trunk show in my city in order to measure me, as I believe measuring myself is a sure road to unwearable disappointments.

Who else would offer flannels in the spirit of what I'm looking for? Thoughts and comments about the usefulness of this particular "quest"?
 
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Patrick06790

Connoisseur
It's a worthy quest. Alas, I don't think you're going to get very far, not in that price range.

I've been lucky at thrifts and eBay, finding old grey flannels with some heft to them.

P.G. Wodehouse makes references to old, beat-up flannel trousers. The writer Boko Fittleworth sports a pair, patched at the knee, in one of the Bertie Wooster books.
 

August West

Senior Member
H

The current Jos Bank is https://www.josbank.com/1905-collection-tailored-fit-flat-front-dress-pants-clearance-2AV2C. It has thin-ish fabric, not enough synthetic, and a rise that could be 1-2" higher. But can be had on clearance for around ~$25, so I picked up another pair.

Thanks for that very well thought out post. I too am a flannel enthusiast. I rotate 7-8 pair of heavier weight flannels during the colder months and often wear them sans tie and without a sport coat. I have one pair of lighter weight J Press, with the rest being from O'Connell's. They aren't in the price range you're after, but they wear like iron while still being very comfortable, and I suspect will last me a very long time. J Press flannels go on sale often and can be had for less than $200 from time to time from what I've seen. The best you are going to do with O'C's is 15% off in my experience.

Those J Banks you linked sure look like ball huggers to me, and my guess is you'd be lucky to get more than a season out of them. I think Lands End and Bean offer flannels more in the price range you're looking for, but I have no personal experience with them. Best of luck in your quest.
 

TimF

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
Case in point: https://askandyaboutclothes.com/community/threads/grey-flannels-as-winter-chinos.68809/

On page 2 it mentioned an LL Bean model: 80% wool, 13-14 oz, washable. If only we can turn back the clock...maybe enough customer feedback can get them to change their mind?

Thanks to Patrick and Mr. West for the insights. I think I will try one pair of the O'Connell's just to feel for myself what the big hubbub is.

Mr West: the JAB are not as bad as you think. I do tend to wear my pants a size larger than what I can probably get away with, for comfort reasons. So the ball-hugger issue is less with me, YMMV. The rise though, could be an inch higher or two. Durability wise, we'll have to see; the old pair lasted 2-3 years before a small hole developed on the side (this could be from improper storage).

Some posts here say the LE flannels are thin and disappointing, some even say they are worse than JAB. What is the community's thoughts on this years offering:

As for LL Bean, there is no wool flannel trousers on the website. I think I'll have a chance to swing by Freeport ME next month, and I'll ask in person.
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
Dittoing August West - thank you for your thoughtful post.

I, too, lament that grey flannels are much less common and no longer really worn in casual day-to-day situations.

I even went so far as to buy a pair of Woolrich wool flannel pants as their's have a more casual vibe (and, on sale and from memory, were sub $100), but found that even with those, I was regularly getting comments about being "dressed up." (Sadly, during a move and renovation project, they got destroyed in a storage facility fire - you can't make this stuff up.)

While I'm a reasonably confident person, I don't want my clothes to actively call attention to me, so I found the comments discouraging. Even away from the comments, I felt a bit dressed up when wearing them - I just couldn't capture a "I'm wearing chinos" nonchalance vibe. I just felt too dressed up in them to simply hand around the apartment wearing them.

I love the old pictures of college kids playing catch football in OCBDs, grey flannels and weejuns, but it's hard to capture that casual comfortableness as an outsider to what everyone else is doing. Sadly, my flannels stay on their hangers except for "nicer" occasions.
 

TimF

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
Dittoing August West - thank you for your thoughtful post.

I, too, lament that grey flannels are much less common and no longer really worn in casual day-to-day situations.

I even went so far as to buy a pair of Woolrich wool flannel pants as their's have a more casual vibe (and, on sale and from memory, were sub $100), but found that even with those, I was regularly getting comments about being "dressed up." (Sadly, during a move and renovation project, they got destroyed in a storage facility fire - you can't make this stuff up.)

While I'm a reasonably confident person, I don't want my clothes to actively call attention to me, so I found the comments discouraging. Even away from the comments, I felt a bit dressed up when wearing them - I just couldn't capture a "I'm wearing chinos" nonchalance vibe. I just felt too dressed up in them to simply hand around the apartment wearing them.

I love the old pictures of college kids playing catch football in OCBDs, grey flannels and weejuns, but it's hard to capture that casual comfortableness as an outsider to what everyone else is doing. Sadly, my flannels stay on their hangers except for "nicer" occasions.

Sorry to hear about the fire. Hopefully someone's insurance covered it.

Would removing the center crease make flannels roughly on par, formality-wise, with chinos? I would think that to an uninformed person, it could look like you're wearing gray fleece sweatpants. :devil:

I don't often find myself on the receiving end of sartorial barbs. My approach is to double down and turn it around on the snippy individual, i.e. about how he is under-dressed. Not in so many words of course.

Emphasis that is one of my approaches. I started this thread to talk about pants, not how to win friends and influence people.:)
 

Charles Dana

Honors Member
I, too, lament that grey flannels are much less common and no longer really worn in casual day-to-day situations.

While I'm a reasonably confident person, I don't want my clothes to actively call attention to me, so I found the comments discouraging. Even away from the comments, I felt a bit dressed up when wearing them - I just couldn't capture a "I'm wearing chinos" nonchalance vibe. I just felt too dressed up in them to simply hand around the apartment wearing them.

I love the old pictures of college kids playing catch football in OCBDs, grey flannels and weejuns, but it's hard to capture that casual comfortableness as an outsider to what everyone else is doing. Sadly, my flannels stay on their hangers except for "nicer" occasions.

My friend, I understand your conflicted views about wearing your flannels.

In my younger days I had the same mental hang-up about the better clothes that were hanging up in my closet. Then I asked myself, “What am I waiting for? Am I waiting for ‘someday’? I’m not getting any younger; what if ‘someday’ never comes for me? Either I enjoy these clothes in this life, or I don’t enjoy them at all. I have a choice: I can wear them, or I can keep them in pristine condition for the stranger who finds them in a thrift shop after I’m a pile of ashes. I vote for me. Upon my death, I want the clothes in my closet to be worn-out.”

Time’s a-wastin’. Wear the flannels and learn to love the old-world vibe. Don’t overdo it, of course; keep the chinos in rotation. But now and then, make a point of padding around in the flannel trousers...just because.

(You’ll find that as you age, “just because” becomes a good enough reason for doing more and more things.)
 

TimF

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
My friend, I understand your conflicted views about wearing your flannels.

In my younger days I had the same mental hang-up about the better clothes that were hanging up in my closet. Then I asked myself, “What am I waiting for? Am I waiting for ‘someday’? I’m not getting any younger; what if ‘someday’ never comes for me? Either I enjoy these clothes in this life, or I don’t enjoy them at all. I have a choice: I can wear them, or I can keep them in pristine condition for the stranger who finds them in a thrift shop after I’m a pile of ashes. I vote for me. Upon my death, I want the clothes in my closet to be worn-out.”

Time’s a-wastin’. Wear the flannels and learn to love the old-world vibe. Don’t overdo it, of course; keep the chinos in rotation. But now and then, make a point of padding around in the flannel trousers...just because.

(You’ll find that as you age, “just because” becomes a good enough reason for doing more and more things.)

I am a 100% subscriber to the view that "Clothes are made to be worn, and that good clothes wear best". However I posit that wearing fine flannels we subconsciously feel different and more encumbered. Since we embrace the concept of worn-in khakis, we can do virtually anything in them, and feel authentically ourselves. (Within reason, of course; so don't tell me you've ruined your pair of Bill's changing your motor oil!)

Now my thesis should apply to any serious clotheshorse, no matter his income, class, profession, or age. Wearing a pair of pants that you subconsciously designate as "dressy" places you in a psychological straitjacket, you move around more carefully lest you distort the blade edge crease, you refrain from certain activities you'd naturally do lest the pants become stained or ruined, and you lose that devil-may-care attitude that is at the essence of Ivy. So my OP was driving towards finding a pair of flannels that we can, in our minds, treat the same as cotton khakis.

Short of finding a good candidate RTW, I think we are down to
  1. Old, worn pairs that are no longer presentable in formal situations
  2. 2nd hand: eBay, thrifts
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
Sorry to hear about the fire. Hopefully someone's insurance covered it.

Would removing the center crease make flannels roughly on par, formality-wise, with chinos? I would think that to an uninformed person, it could look like you're wearing gray fleece sweatpants. :devil:

I don't often find myself on the receiving end of sartorial barbs. My approach is to double down and turn it around on the snippy individual, i.e. about how he is under-dressed. Not in so many words of course.

Emphasis that is one of my approaches. I started this thread to talk about pants, not how to win friends and influence people.:)

Thank you and, yes, for one of the few times in my life, insurance word as it is supposed to: I paid a premium for years, an event happened, the insurance company covered it (simple, but amazing how rarely it works that way - kudos to Chubb).

The flannels from Woolrich all but didn't have a crease which did, IMHO, increase their informality, but they didn't look sweatpants like (which I'm glad for). But I think this gets to the crux of the issue in that we (or, maybe, just I) are trying to circle a square.

Grey flannels might have been on par with chinos in Ivy's heyday (although, I wonder if that isn't a bit of an exaggeration), but they simply won't be today. They will be seen as dress pants unless they are so scruffy that they no longer really look like Ivy flannels. Which is the square that won't circle: I want the flannels to look like flannels but be accepted like chinos are today.

Good on you for your approach - I sincerely respect your confidence.
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
My friend, I understand your conflicted views about wearing your flannels.

In my younger days I had the same mental hang-up about the better clothes that were hanging up in my closet. Then I asked myself, “What am I waiting for? Am I waiting for ‘someday’? I’m not getting any younger; what if ‘someday’ never comes for me? Either I enjoy these clothes in this life, or I don’t enjoy them at all. I have a choice: I can wear them, or I can keep them in pristine condition for the stranger who finds them in a thrift shop after I’m a pile of ashes. I vote for me. Upon my death, I want the clothes in my closet to be worn-out.”

Time’s a-wastin’. Wear the flannels and learn to love the old-world vibe. Don’t overdo it, of course; keep the chinos in rotation. But now and then, make a point of padding around in the flannel trousers...just because.

(You’ll find that as you age, “just because” becomes a good enough reason for doing more and more things.)

Good advice and I've moved in that direction over the years as I no longer "save" clothes for some Elysian Fields of sartorial need that will never arrive in my life.

So, I now wear my everyday clothes, well, everyday (not saving the "better" everyday clothes for a "special" everyday) and my "good" clothes at every opportunity.

The nuance (or excuse I'm making) here is that I don't enjoy wearing clothes that are far-outside the norms and garner regular comments. Also, I get no enjoyment from "dressing up" to sit around my apartment (I know some here do and I applaud that - it just doesn't work for me).

So, for me, it's a balance. I aggressively wear my clothes at every (to me) reasonable opportunity, (I got plenty of use from my O'Connell's Shetland and North Sea Diver sweaters this year - my nicest sweaters - in "regular" day wear, something I wouldn't have done years ago), I just can't stretch the envelope past a certain personal comfort level.
 

Charles Dana

Honors Member
Wearing a pair of pants that you subconsciously designate as "dressy" places you in a psychological straitjacket, you move around more carefully lest you distort the blade edge crease, you refrain from certain activities you'd naturally do lest the pants become stained or ruined, and you lose that devil-may-care attitude that is at the essence of Ivy. So my OP was driving towards finding a pair of flannels that we can, in our minds, treat the same as cotton khakis.

But then aren’t you implying that, once we’ve found ourselves in a “psychological straitjacket,” our only choice is to keep wearing it and then find something that we can use/enjoy as best we can while so encumbered?

What about finding a way to slip out of and discard the straitjacket altogether?

We can be ruled by what is “in our minds,” or we can change our minds. Break through that mental barrier that’s holding us back.

P.S. I’ve been loving your posts, by the way. I don’t want this one point of disagreement to obscure that fact.
 

TimF

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
The flannels from Woolrich all but didn't have a crease which did, IMHO, increase their informality, but they didn't look sweatpants like (which I'm glad for). But I think this gets to the crux of the issue in that we (or, maybe, just I) are trying to circle a square.

Grey flannels might have been on par with chinos in Ivy's heyday (although, I wonder if that isn't a bit of an exaggeration), but they simply won't be today. They will be seen as dress pants unless they are so scruffy that they no longer really look like Ivy flannels. Which is the square that won't circle: I want the flannels to look like flannels but be accepted like chinos are today.

Good on you for your approach - I sincerely respect your confidence.

I think in Ivy's heyday flannels were seen as a touch more formal than chinos. Nevertheless students had no qualms about playing football in them.

This is going to veer off-topic, but if I'm allowed my philosophic musing for the day, I think the ethos of Ivy in today's casual world is to stand out, not to stick out. Meaning, you unavoidably would be seen as well-dressed (and usually the best-dressed of the group), but you won't be seen as inappropriately dressed (such as, being over stuffy). My feeling is that wanting to dress Ivy and still blend in sartorially does constitute the proverbial squaring of the circle. Because face it, you do stand out wearing blue OCBD, surcingle belt, khakis, and penny loafers in anywhere but an office building or fancy restaurant. I honestly don't see how swapping flannels for khakis in the above get-up moves the needle an appreciable amount in terms of formality or appropriateness. Perhaps it's a matter of acclimating oneself and one's social circle to the idea of casual wool trousers?

On a larger point, a line needs to be drawn in the sand by Ivy dressers in terms of the concessions they make to today's casual culture. I would expect this line to be highly personal in nature. I draw it at historical context. To illustrate, I would not wear GTH items out in public, because historically they were meant for the country club or frat house. I would not wear seersucker or madras outside their historically-ordained boundaries in the calendar. My only concession is I wear ties and tailored jackets (blazers and tweed) in far fewer occasions than would be appropriate for the 50s-60s. So short of that my approach to flannels and casual wool is wear them whenever I feel like, and let the chips fall where they may. (Of course, to support this habit, I personally want to find wool that I can launder myself. This is important to me as I launder my shirts, khakis, linens myself, and find dealing with professional cleaners a hassle. But certain members regularly send their laundry out, and they probably won't share my concern.)

As always, YMMV.
 

TimF

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
But then aren’t you implying that, once we’ve found ourselves in a “psychological straitjacket,” our only choice is to keep wearing it and then find something that we can use/enjoy as best we can while so encumbered?

What about finding a way to slip out of and discard the straitjacket altogether?

We can be ruled by what is “in our minds,” or we can change our minds. Break through that mental barrier that’s holding us back.

P.S. I’ve been loving your posts, by the way. I don’t want this one point of disagreement to obscure that fact.

Thank you CD for the encouragement. Coming from you I know it means a lot.

I agree that much is how we condition our own minds to treat the various pieces in our closets. My contention is that no matter what we tell ourselves on a cerebral level, the subconscious level exists, where we put labels on which is fancy and which is knockabout. And it's easier rowing downstream than upstream.

To illustrate, are we as (mentally) comfortable walking in our black captoes as in our boat shoes? Say walking from the office building to our car. The straight line would involve cutting through some grass, mulch, dirt, low shrubs... what have you. Are you more likely to take that straight line in boat shoes or black captoes? Speaking only for myself, I know I'm not at that place yet, "psychologically" speaking.

I know, these are edge cases, but I hope they can explain a little better what I'm talking about. I'm not sure we'll ever get to a place where we are equally carefree and comfortable in a $500 loro piana cashmere sweater than a hearty Shetland. Even though I full heartedly agree on an intellectual level that clothes can only be enjoyed in the wearing, not on a pedestal to be worshipped.
 

August West

Senior Member
I know, these are edge cases, but I hope they can explain a little better what I'm talking about. I'm not sure we'll ever get to a place where we are equally carefree and comfortable in a $500 loro piana cashmere sweater than a hearty Shetland. Even though I full heartedly agree on an intellectual level that clothes can only be enjoyed in the wearing, not on a pedestal to be worshipped.

I know that you are using this as a hypothetical example, but a $500 cashmere sweater ventures into precious territory, the antithesis of Ivy style. I think the ideal is to always be comfortable in your clothes.
I'd never consider myself the ideal anything... ever, but I don't think I let what I'm wearing affect my behavior. If I happened upon a neighborhood wiffle ball game on my way home from work (wishful thinking), I wouldn't let the fact that I was wearing my flannels stop me should the kids happen to need a middle aged, left handed pinch hitter (bats left throws right).
 

winghus

Super Member
Perhaps a cavalry twill instead of flannel? It's tough enough for most duty. I treat my chinos as well as my flannels and wear work pants if I intend to do something physically demanding. I have one pair of tan cavalry twill wool pants and they seem just as versatile as chinos without wrinkling nearly as easily. The sad reality of current dress in the USA is that anything above jeans and polo shirt is considered dressing up.
 
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