Something happened. A tear in the universe. Suddenly, the red and black buffalo check has taken over. From Madison Avenue to the mall, from the High Street to the high school hallways, the check has become so common, all things from tweeny scarves and Sperry Top-Siders to duct tape and skate decks have become, well, decked out in the pattern once only reserved for Paul Bunyan and the Brawny paper towel guy.
pullover, circa 1921
Growing up, I owned one or two flannel shirts but never a buffalo check. I do recall a smart-looking hunter and navy wool pattern getting lots of wear in my formative years. The buffalo check is “too woodsman,” my father said, which is funny because he relishes the moniker “woodsman” when bestowed upon him by friends or, say, an emulatory son. Neither here nor there, when I was little, my mother made me wear the heavy jacket-like shirt over an oxford cloth to keep it from getting dirty while we raked leaves in the backyard, our Lambau of a touch football field. Then, Seattle happened, and my flannel turned the Friday night mixer into a headbanger’s ball. In high school, I discovered two things I thought would keep me warmer than any flannel: the Synchilla Snap-T and Girls.
Then, something happened.
Having outgrown the flannels of my childhood, I asked for a buffalo check flannel for Christmas, 2006.
“Really?” my mom asked, looking sternly at my Christmas List — still a requirement in our household. “Really, not another Patagonia?”
“I just want something classic, please.”
Last winter, as The New York Times, The LA Times, Newsweek, and all the men’s magazines declared the rise of Lumberjack Luxe, I’d receive clippings from my mother with Post-It notes attached, “You were right.” Right or wrong, I truly just preferred the standard-bearer for a change. Now, I own two of the black and red buffalo check shirts, the one my parents gave me and a vintage Madewell guide shirt, a real hairy mother, given to me by my girlfriend at the time.
color representation of the plaid
I asked Jim Hauptman, L.L. Bean’s director of product design, and Owen Kelly in their design department for their take on the rise in popularity of the buffalo check. They offered the following:
We have been keeping a watchful eye on the buffalo plaid trend in the market — it’s been on the menswear runways for the past few seasons and has even shown up, interestingly interpreted, in the women’s market, from Marc Jacobs to Ralph Lauren…. For us, the buffalo plaid has never been out of style. Our “Maine Guide Shirt,” first featured in our 1921 catalog, remains an integral part of our line. This fall, our Allagash Khakis are available with a buffalo plaid lining, as are our Katahdin Iron Works Sweatshirts.
cruiser, circa 1928. high-quality buttons.
circa 1940s. Note the elbow patches.
The folks at L.L. Bean were kind enough to send a slew of photos from Ruth Porter’s archive and clippings from catalogs past documenting the subtle changes to the Maine Guide Shirt since its 1921 debut.
As summer turns to fall, as we welcome a whoosh of cold air, I will continue to layer my heavy wool buffalo check over my OCBDs; it’s less a matter of remaining on-trend, more so one of mere necessity. The thing works. It’s breathable, warm, and naturally water-resistant. As my old roommates discovered last fall, once you try a Maine Guide Shirt, you may find that polyester fleece, much like ex-girlfriends, becomes merely a fond memory.