It is most definitely autumn. Leaves lovely colours, check. Miserable, damp air with relentless rain, check. Darkening days, check. Not at all nearly cold enough for the coat + scarf + gloves + sweater + vest you find yourself leaving the house in, check. Autumn is all about layers. Whoever you are, get your layers right and autumn is a positive, exciting, optimistic time. Remember when September signalled the beginning of a new school year; another year older, another year closer to freedom, another new crush, another new pencil case? Remember that excitement and those teenage nerves?
However, now as an adult, get your layers wrong and you spend much of your time between September and November wishing you were down to your bra, inevitably sweating in an M&S food hall/on the tube/in a lift. Now I truly believe that successful autumn dressing is all about the flannel shirt. Not just this autumn, and not just because Hedi said so in the Saint Laurent collection for A/W 2013. No. This is the layer you need because you have always needed it. This is the layer you probably already own but maybe just don’t understand its powers yet. This is layer that allows you to wear your winter coat now, or equally it is the layer that keeps it firmly in the wardrobe until the frosts begin. This is the layer that saves your dignity and your sanity. Switch all of your winter woolly layers for a flannel shirt during autumn and you will be smugly temperate all season long.
Flannel shirts, and their close cousins plaid, check and lumberjack were HUGE for both sexes in my schoolgirl grunge tribe, which stood me in good stead for this golden nugget of life fashion learning information (see Rayanne Graff; who incidentally I feel clearly inspired Mr Slimane’s recent plaid over-bra push/Kurt Cobain). I have always loved an oversized plaid shirt and the versatility of this humble item knows no bounds. Its perfectness first struck me on a Duke of Edinburgh walking expedition in the Dark Peak District in the mid-nineties as a teenager. When cold wear it done up. When warm wear it open. When sweating like a piglet, wear it round the waist. Look cool and grungy and fashionable and great at all temperatures. Even whilst hiking! All still allowed. All still relevant. All still fashionable.
These shirts are the single most versatile and longstanding item I can think to belong in a wardrobe. They are better than a sweater for waist-tying at hot points during this unbalanced season, as they are certainly more flattering with less bulk and more style. They can be worn by children, teenagers, and every single age above that. They can be worn to cover bits you don’t like (bottom, tummy) and to show off bits you do (bottom, tummy or more commonly wrists and collarbones). They are inexpensive, readily available, and unisex. They have been around since their inception for farmers in Wales in the 17th Century and continue to dominate. Hamilton Carhartt built his business around importing flannel to produce clothes for railroad workers in the 1890’s. It was the ideal fabric: hard-wearing and rugged, perfect for men working outside, needing protection from the elements and working class quality. A long-lasting, affordable AND practical fashion trend. Woah.
Style-wise, well, The Olsens love them, Alexa loves them. Matt Dillon worn them in Singles (1992) and Stephen Dorff wore one 18 years later in Somewhere (2010). Marilyn Monroe wore one on her first ever photo shoot in 1946 and Cara Delevingne wears them now. We are frequently told about ‘timeless classics’ by the fashion industry. A £3,000 Chanel 2.55 handbag = a timeless classic. A £23,000 Rolex watch = a timeless classic. Well you know what, it so happens that a £2 charity shop plaid shirt find is also a timeless classic.
What I really love about a check shirt is that they can be so individual, so personal. They don’t change, so you really can just choose what you like; there are no trend rules, no seasonal differences, no age or gender appropriateness – they just are. Feel the fabrics, the weight, look at the colours and just go for something you like the look of and the feel of. Personally I would always tend towards a looser fit as you will find this far more versatile. And I find a soft brushed cotton best on the skin – this style is also easier to tie, and looks great with the sleeves rolled up.
Next step is to pick your check and channel. Channel your inner lumberjack/jill and wear it open over a tee, channel your inner Marilyn and wear it open-necked and tucked into a pair of denims or channel your inner Bridget Fonda and wear it half done up over a grey marl tee when you need that extra layer. When it heats up, channel your inner Alexa and sling it round your waist, your inner Rayanne (and do as Hedi did) and wear it open over lingerie, or even go so far as to channel your inner Daisy Duke and wear it tied in a knot under the bust. Channel all of them each day – as your temperature changes you adapt your look. Just adopt it, wear it and absorb the power of the ultimate autumn layer, the ultimate temperature control, and the ultimate timeless classic.
I love the dark colours and loose fit of Steven Alan’s mens range and most vintage classic red and black checks I can find. I like the classic square check, and the bigger and boxier the better, as these look best over other layers and open, slipping off shoulders. Woolrich always do a blinding range of classic checks in different weights, styles, fits and colours so I really recommend their shirts. As the grunge trend is back again this season, I am loving this daisy overprint for a nineties wink by Minkpink. But if all this seems a bit fashion then get down to your nearest charity shop or on to eBay, and I guarantee you can pick one up for a couple of quid. Timeless.