The flannel guys

It starts with a photo that came up in a slideshow of things from Elizabeth Daingerfeld Zwicky’s image trove: Steven Levine and me, both in flannel shirts, in a time and a place and on an occasion that neither of us could identify — and EDZ wasn’t any help.

(#1) The flannel guys

Steven put it at roughly 20 years ago, because the shirt he’s wearing is one that he wore lovingly to death some years ago (cue Donovan singing “I Love My Shirt”). I still have my shirt, however, because it was one of a set of 5 or so L.L.Bean flannel shirts I bought late in the last century and have been carefully rotating over the intervening years, to make them last through as many winters as possible (I do love those shirts; among other things, they are lined).

Ned Deily then cracked the case. First, he extracted a date stamp from the file: 2004-02-15. Then, in his own words:

I was momentarily at a loss to place it when I saw it but quickly realized it must have been at a Bay Area shape note singing. [Both Steven and I are shapenote singers.] Consulting my calendar archive, I see it was indeed: at Carolyn Deacy’s house in San Francisco [in the Glen Park neighborhood]. I think Steven was likely serendipitously in the area on business: from the calendar he was in town for at least 10 days. And earlier that same Sunday, there was a certain baby shower held at the home of Diana Smetters.

The shower would have been for the forthcoming Eliot Ozaki, now a junior in high school. Diana was a school friend of Elizabeth’s, and then as an Ohio State undergraduate took mathematical linguistics from me. We all still keep in touch: the information about Eliot I got from this year’s Christmas card from Diana and her husband Yoshi (They now live in San Carlos CA, not far from me and EDZ.).

Adventures in Flannel Land. Flannel shirts are both warm and durable, so they serve as excellent workshirts, associated stereotypically with (among others) lumberjacks and cowboys —   the macho working class of fantasy.

(These associations with masculinity have led to flannel shirts being viewed as characteristic clothing — a kind of uniform — for dykes.)

They are also very often made in plaid patterns (see Steven and me, above), sometimes associated with the tartans of Scotland and designed in gorgeous colors, so that the shirts can also be fashion objects. And that makes them available for flagrantly way-gay apparel, as in this “gay guy flannel levis jeans white socks” figure (with a big mix of gay signifiers, including a pecs/nipples display made possible by the severely cut-back open-torso shirt) available in many places on the net:

(#2) Beat this, bitch!

And, this somewhat less flagrant, but still way-gay, bear flannel:

(#3) Just an ordinary flannel shirt, but fully open for a torso display

(You can now find on Twitter plaintive cries about how hard it is to distinguish lumberjack/cowboy/country flannel from gay flannel — from straight guys trying to protect their flannel fantasies from the faggy stuff.)

Now, back to #1. It happens that Steven and I are both gay, but that doesn’t have much, if anything, to do with our attractions to flannel shirts. On the other hand, any man, gay or straight, might take pleasure from the routine associations of these shirts with masculinity — just feeling comfortable in your skin when you’re wearing one of these shirts. (Every so often, I have to remind people that I might be a fag, but I’m also a guy, and that both of those things are important to me.)

Bonus: Flannel Underground. Yes, a band — think Velvet Underground — and they do indeed perform in flannel shirts. From their Facebook page:

Playing (mostly) 90’s rock by bands such as Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, STP, Rage, RHCP, Smashing Pumpkins, Alice In Chains, Weezer, Bush and many more.

Then there’s their logo, which suggests that the band’s name might have been carefully chosen for its in-you-face values:


Nice plaid.

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