Every small town has a story …
But not every town’s story is quite as
as this one:
The Red Flannel Story of Cedar Springs, Michigan.
Population 3,543 (give or take).
Rumor has it, the Cedar Springs red flannel saga began during the winter of 1936.
And, yes, it was “the worst winter in years.”
Big snow, temps well below—you get the idea.
Granted, the country was mired in the midst of the Great Depression, and winters then must have felt colder than ever.
It is said that a writer from the New York Sun newspaper set out on a quest to find a traditional flannel union suit to help him weather the weather. His search stretched from the Atlantic coast to Cleveland, but no flannel underthings could be found. (I slept in a cotton red flannel suit complete with drop-seat every night when I lived in a wall tent during the dead of winter while working for the Forest Service in the ’70s.)
“Here we are in the midst of an old-fashioned winter,” he groused, “and there are no red flannels in the USA to go with it.”
We’ll see about that.
When the Clipper Girls read the reporter’s rant, their blood ran hot …
Grace Hamilton and Nina Babcock, editors of the Cedar Springs Clipper (hence, the Clipper Girls), were incensed that a New Yorker would declare flannel obsolete.
It just wasn’t true.
In fact, red flannel underwear was a wardrobe staple in Cedar Springs, a town built by lumberjacks in the 1800s.
Grace and Nina headed to the local dry goods store and posed the question to proprietor Jack Pollock.
Were there any flannel suits in stock?
“What size?” was his reply.
With a steady stream of flannel fans, mostly farmers and hunters, Pollock was prepared.
Vindicated, the Clipper Girls took up their typewriters and sent out a sizzling reply to the nearsighted fellow from the New York Sun:
“Who but a Gothamite would expect that there are no Red Flannels just because Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord and Taylor, and Bergdorf Goodman don’t wrap ’em up for their clients? Wait, don’t write off us lumberjacks yet; we’ve got plenty of Red Flannels in Cedar Springs.”
Wouldn’t you know it? The Associated Press wire service picked up the Clipper story and spread it like wildfire across the nation. In no time, orders for red flannel poured into Jack Pollock’s store from every cold corner of the countryside.
Naturally, this unexpected upswing in Cedar Springs’ economy was cause for celebration, and in the fall of 1939, the Red Flannel Festival was founded.
According to the Grand Rapids Press, “Lurid lingerie adorned the limbs of nearly every citizen.”
Hmmm … see the flannel-clad fête for yourself in photos taken by Life magazine in 1949.
“This all may sound a bit corny,” admits Jack Pollock’s son, Bill, “but after ten years of the great depression, this Red Flannel thing helped put a little spring back into everyone’s step. It has helped ever since to keep a small town of 2,000 residents on the map when many towns like it were fading away.”
So, the question is …
Would you like to flaunt your own set of certified Cedar Springs’ red flannel long johns this winter?
If so, order the genuine article from the Red Flannel Factory, which offers flannels for the whole family. They even make “dropseaters” for dogs!