Pendleton Board Shirt, Reviewed: The Legendary Flannel Is the Ideal Hybrid Layer
As far as I know, there’s only a few musical acts named after things you can wear, and over half a century ago, the Beach Boys were nearly one of them. Before the floppy-haired quintet decided on the moniker we know them as, they went by the Pendletones—and they really dressed the part. On the cover of their 1963 album Surfer Girl, the California crooners sported matching Pendleton board shirts in fetching gray and blue plaids that only looked slightly out of place against the sandy backdrop. Which actually makes a lot of sense: Brian Wilson and co. might’ve helped enshrine the silhouette in the menswear canon, but the shirt was trending up and down the California coast long before they made it their signature.
The Pet Sounds bunch eventually moved on from their Pendleton obsession, but the brand’s flagship button-up has remained a staple of classic American style, outlasting plenty of here today, gone tomorrow names in the process. (If you think living up to that legacy is tough, imagine calling your band the Plain White T’s.) By now, you’re probably aware of the board shirt’s winning qualities—its timeless look, its made-in-the-USA pedigree—but no amount of nifty menswear arcana can substitute for trying one on yourself. So, in an attempt to suss out whether it still has the juice to make it onto an album cover, that’s exactly what I did. Here's what I thought.
How Does It Feel?
Unlike the flannels you’re used to, Pendleton’s board shirt isn’t made of cotton; instead, the storied American brand crafts its hero product from 100% virgin wool woven in its mill in Oregon. I’ll be honest: It’s not the smoothest wool out there…but it’s far from the scratchiest, either—and that nubby texture is part of its charm. As a guy who’s lived his entire life with sensitive, eczema-prone skin, I don't have major beef with it, which is saying a lot; just don’t expect it to feel like vicuña fresh out of the box. The mid-weight fabric, however, is a real winner. It’s about as heavy as most of its cotton counterparts, but the open weave gives it an airy feel that perfectly balances the wool's warmth.
How Does It Fit?
For a silhouette that’s literally a septuagenarian, the cut is surprisingly unfrumpy. That spot-on fit largely derives from a mix of savvy pattern cutting and the hardy wool fabric, which drapes elegantly like a primo pair of trousers or a quality suit jacket. The body is classic and straight—neither slim nor baggy—giving you leeway to size up or down depending on your preferences. (Which also means it's roomy enough to layer over a casual button-up or a light sweater.) My only qualm is one I anticipated from the outset: it’s just a bit too long for my liking. According to my doctor I’m 5'9", which isn’t exactly petite, but this is a not-infrequent issue. Short kings beware—and size down accordingly.
How Does It Look?
Pendleton’s board shirt comes equipped with a camp collar and a neat little collar loop, a design detail popularized in the ‘50s. As you might expect, it oozes retro charm, a vibe that gels nicely with high-waisted chinos and loafers a la Leave It to Beaver—but you could just as easily lean into its beach-adjacent origins and wear it with swishy swim trunks and a pair of Vans. (You could tuck it in, too, but the flat hem lets you know that it's more of a hang loose situation.) It comes in a wide range of patterns and colors—all pretty classic, sadly—but the best of the bunch are the shadow plaid joints, which tend to command staggeringly high prices on the bustling vintage aftermarket.
What Should You Wear It With?
The real magic of Pendleton’s board shirt—the source of its reputation as a menswear icon—is its versatility. It can pull double-duty as a light overshirt layered over a thin sweater or under a trucker jacket, and keep you protected from the spring breeze with nothing but a threadbare tee beneath. Naturally, it'll keep you plenty toasty when you're en route to the taqueria to grab a quick bite after a long surf sesh. But there's few contexts it won't look totally righteous in—lace up your grippiest hiking shoes and tie it around your waist before hitting the trails; slip on your freakiest mules and throw it over the band tee you slept in on an early-morning bodega run; pair it with baggy jeans and black derbies on a crisp May evening. That jack-of-all-trades nature is what endeared it so many preternaturally chill SoCal fellas decades ago, and over the years, it hasn't lost an ounce of its initial luster. (Obviously, it looks pretty damn perfect with retro-y corduroy shorts and slides, too).
Is It Really Worth It?
It's probably the wrong layer to wear in the summer, but Pendleton's board shirt is uniquely suited to handle spring’s temperamental nature—and will slot neatly into your wardrobe for the remaining two seasons. (Three out of four ain't bad, right?) The colors and patterns skew tame, which is kind of a toss-up: one on hand, its no-frills nature helps conserve what little fashion brain power I have by making it easy to style, but on the other, I kind of wish there were wavier versions to choose from. Nit-picking aside, though, the Pendleton board shirt has remained a legend for almost 70 years for a reason: It’s good. The Beach Boys might not have stuck with it, but on my charts, it’s still a bona fide hit.
$230.00, Mr Porter
Originally Appeared on GQ
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