Although buffalo plaid legitimately conjures images of the wild west, the contrasting checks are not exactly an American original. Instead, the pattern was introduced to North America by a descendant of Scottish folk hero Rob Roy McGregor.
Scotsman Jock McCluskey was a sometime lawman, bounty hunter, fur trapper, gold miner and eventual Indian trader in 1880s America. Befriended by members of the Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne tribes, McCluskey bartered for buffalo pelts, offering a myriad of finished goods in exchange, the most coveted being heavy Scottish blankets, their dense, hearty weave emblazoned with his clan’s signature red and black tartan. Native Americans had never seen such a deep, rich red. They believed its intense hue to be a sorcerer's hex, a dye distilled from the spirit blood and ghostly souls of McCluskey's prey and enemies, a belief McCluskey did little to dispel. Worn in battle and draped across their war ponies, the classic red and black check was prized as a good luck talisman, called "plaid" by the warriors (the Gaelic word used by McCluskey was pronounced pladjer).
A 1906 postcard featuring "Rob Roy" tartan
I own a classic red and black "buffalo plaid" shirt, and also one with olive-green and black. But on Thursday I felt like channeling a snappy white and black theme to suit the brisk wind blowing puffy clouds across the sky in the wake of a late-season snowstorm the day before. This crisp, collared flannel shirt, like my other two, is a vintage piece by Newport-News (www.Spiegel.com) which, amazingly, is au currant on celebrity fashion sites right now (I found three featuring my shirt!) but which Newport-News no longer makes. Since the day was going to be so nippy and I would be outdoors for long periods during my commute from Baltimore County to the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., I tucked a long-sleeved, ribbed knit Faded Glory Tee under the flannel and chose heavy black gauchos by Rod’s Western Wear (www.rods.com), cinching the ensemble with a stretchy black belt from Target.
My distressed leather cowboy boots by Willie, a purchase many years ago at Designer Shoe Warehouse (DSW), underscored my rough and tumble Western vibe. Now I needed something to tone down all that testosterone. I wasn’t going to be trading for buffalo pelts, after all. I was going to be quietly conducting research in the halls of the Congressional library.
A search through my jewelry collection turned up a beautiful bracelet and earrings of black and white crystals by Fire & Ice Jewelers of Baltimore (www.fireandice.com), Christmas gifts from my dear friends Robert and Jan a few months ago. And this was a perfect day to rock my new knit "texting" gloves, which I purchased in Park City, Utah, last weekend. Covered in rhinestones and accented with heavenly faux-chinchilla, the gloves not only would keep my limbs warm, they would restore some welcome femininity to my look. I was set.
Compliments flowed all day. It felt good to be so accidentally "hip" in my vintage buffalo plaid and up-to-the-minute fingerless gloves. Say, could I interest you in some pelts?