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A brief history of buffalo check

A brief history of buffalo check

You’d be hard pressed to find a log cabin that doesn’t contain at least a trace of buffalo check. That’s because the pattern best associated with lumberjacks and trick roping cowboys feels right at home amongst cedarwood-scented candles and giant moose heads. And to whom do we owe this rugged reputation? Well, depends on who you ask.

Like the origin stories of so many iconic styles, this one is disputed. Many credit the Scottish, or more specifically one Scottishman, Jock McCluskey, who was known for trading buffalo check blankets on the frontiers of North America in the 19th century.

Others attribute buffalo check to Woolrich Woolen Mills. The Pennsylvania-based mill introduced its signature version of the pattern in 1850, and it was quickly embraced by workers and outdoorsmen. It wasn’t long after that fictional and real icons alike, Paul Bunyon and Roy Rogers among them, began sporting the pattern. Regardless of its exact roots, an all-American staple was born. 

Today, buffalo check maintains its rugged, ranch-ready sensibility, albeit one often donned by city-dwellers too. In the 19th century, it was even embraced by anti-establishment groups, who gave it an edge by wearing it with ripped-and-repaired black jeans and moto-inspired boots. Proof that even if you’re not an axe-throwing enthusiast who’s house hunting in the Adirondacks, there’s a way to make the buffalo check your own. 

Because the graphic pattern so often appears on cold-weather fabrics, like wool and flannel, it’s become a wardrobe fixture from early autumn to spring, meaning it's prime time to welcome it into your wardrobe. And luckily, you have a lot of options to choose from. Buffalo check can be found on a range of items, from button downs and shirt jackets to accessories, like hats and scarves.

What makes it so versatile is that it packs punch without being polarising, like so many other bold patterns out there. The red and black colour combo may be the most common, but there are plenty of others to choose from: blue and black, green and black, and black and grey. 

And while we’re fans of classic buffalo check pairings – think selvedge jeans and a pair of rugged boots – we also love using the pattern to defy expectation, as stylist Freddie Kemp has done in the above images. Styled with casual chinos, a pair of trainers, a sweatshirt, and beanie, a buffalo check shirt adopts a sensibility that feels at home in an urban high-rise apartment as it does in that cabin in the woods. Turns out the cedarwood-scented candle works in both, too.

Words: Allison Pavlick
Photography: Angus Williams
Styling: Freddie Kemp