Buffalo Plaid

When I was a boy, buffalo plaid was all around in the form of wool coats worn by my father and many others, mostly men. These were utilitarian garments worn to keep factory workers safe and hunters and fishermen warm.

Lumberjack wearing a buffalo plaid coat

Today it is much more popular. A quick search on Amazon finds shirts, boxes, pajamas, pillows, and much more. I never would have predicted that buffalo plaid would become so fashionable!

The buffalo plaid pattern is a traditional Scottish tartan of Clan Gregor. So how did it come to be known as “Buffalo Plaid?”

In the mid 1800s and for a couple hundred years before that, European fur traders travelled throughout what is now the USA and Canada, offering goods from Europe to first nations people in exchange for furs. One such trader was Jock MacCluskey, a Scottish Highlander who later changed his last name to McCluskey. He traded for buffalo hides, and what he offered in return was blankets and shirts in the now well known red and black plaid of his clan. The first nations people reportedly admired both the goods and the man. The bright red colour held spiritual significance to them, and according to several web sites, “In the Indians’ eyes, McCluskey was no ordinary white man. Awed by his strength and size, he was hailed an invincible warrior. Both feared and revered, he was equally admired for his compassion. In the anti-Indian holocaust that followed Custer’s defeat, McCluskey was a rare white man who championed their cause. His reasons were simple: Their plight mirrored his own family clan’s descent from nobility to hunted criminals.”

Buffalo plaid has a rich history that I have barely scratched the surface of. We don’t know who created it or when. It is often referred to as “The Rob Roy Tartan” thanks to one historical source claiming there were pictures of Rob Roy MacGregor wearing it, but other historians say that there is no good evidence of this. We know it goes back to the 1600s because of a portrait of Lord Mungo Murray circa 1680.

Lord Mungo Murray circa 1680. Buffalo plaid socks.
David, Lord Ogilvy by Allan Ramsay 1745

It amuses me to make luxury items in this pattern that I once associated exclusively with work clothes, but historically speaking, it isn’t strange at all!

Handwoven buffalo plaid on the loom