My Fall Look: Maine Guide Shirt by L.L. Bean

Current Maine Guide ShirtSomething 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.
1921 Guide Shirt001pullover, 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.

1925 ME Guide Shirt001circa 1925

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.”

Picture 2circa 1928

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.

Picture 4color 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.

Picture 6cruiser, circa 1928. high-quality buttons.

ME Guide Shirt 1940scirca 1940s. Note the elbow patches.

ME Guide Shirt 1950scirca 1950s.

ME Guide Shirt 1970scirca 1970s

ME Guide Shirt 1990scirca 1990s

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.


  1. jfox
    September 18, 2009

    off the handle max. awesome. i love how the same image is used in the catalog for almost a decade. the woven rather than printed check… that is key. bought a straight red woolen shirt a few years back, does a similar job but damn it is a lot of red to wear hahaha. bullet proof etc.

  2. jeremy
    September 18, 2009

    great post, i’m still waiting for the norwegian sweater too! i’ll def add this to my list.

  3. Brandon
    September 18, 2009

    Max, great article. You hit nearly every classic figure and stereotype of both of our favorite outerwear piece.

    Speaking of High Life…we need drinks soon!

  4. Dan
    September 19, 2009

    Max, this is terrific. Really good mixing of the personal with things we can all relate with. You put a lot of thought into this one, thanks.

    Noticed that BB Peal & Co shoes this season have a tartan tongue. Not quite buffalo check, but I guess it’s worth noting too.

  5. M. Wastler
    September 19, 2009

    Fellas, thanks so much for your kind words.

    JF, red was a high school color, and I still can’t get enough. Wear it with pride. Go Devils!

    Jeremy, as fall approaches, this, or something like it, could become a go-to. The Norwegian is heavy-duty. Saving it for a much colder turn.

    Brandon, it’s on. As soon as humanly possible.

    Dan, great find! A clever subversion, and an interesting step in a certain direction for Brooks.

  6. Nick
    September 19, 2009

    Max, I think your fall look is the same as your winter look. Though, worn well, plaid never wears out. Hope you’re well.

  7. M. Wastler
    September 19, 2009

    Nick, you know me so well. Have fun in Germany.

  8. Riahanna
    September 21, 2009

    Owen Kelly is a genius!

  9. Graham
    September 23, 2009

    There are many times, I have wanted to find my classic vintage style shirt, and seeing Max lay out these images for a kind of trip down memory lane. Thanks for the historical info too!

  10. Francesco
    September 26, 2009

    Well, I don’t want to spoil the party here, but this is at least a 1 year old news.
    Check shirts, styled after those used by wood men/hunters, were being sold at UNIQLO last year and when it gets there it means it’s already being around for a while. I admit I never stopped wearing check shirts and got my first black and red at 14 (I’m 36 now) but in September 2009 this is no news. I love the site though.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *