I recently came across this article that describes the trend of the “lumbersexual”, which describes the appearance of an “lumberjack” many hipsters and other trendy males have adopted. The rampant incidence of beards, flannels, long hair, and work boots being sported by young, urban males is the basis for the term “lumbersexual”, which brings back memories of the equally inane term “metrosexual” to describe fashionably conscious and well-groomed males of the early to mid 2000s. My issue with the article in question is that the author failed to truly investigate how this whole trend came to be. Time for a history lesson.
In 2008, North America experienced the worst financial crisis since the stock market crash of 1929. Millions were laid off, businesses underwent massive restructuring and organizational changes, and society as a whole became a lot more conservative with their money. People no longer could afford to live a life of excess.
Consumer tastes demanded longer-lasting, quality goods that would last them many years into the future. It was at this time that the “Workwear” trend in men’s (and to a lesser degree, women’s) fashion took hold. Instead of new, shiny, elegant clothing, male consumers of the world demanded rugged clothing crafted from a quality manufacturing process.
Almost overnight, large fashion houses started cranking out workwear inspired pieces. Entire brands based around a workwear focus even started to pop up. Japanese influence also took an upswing, as the staple garments of the Japanese blue collar industry became the darlings of numerous menswear brands in the form of “repro” (short for reproduction) designs. Even American workwear legend Levi’s decided to get in on the fun, and launched their LVC (Levi’s Vintage Clothing) line to produce a variety of high quality reproductions of classic workwear pieces.
Bottega Venetta produced workwear inspired pieces like luxurious cotton coveralls and cashmere fingerless gloves. Ralph Lauren launched their double RL line, RRL, to mimic what LVC was doing. Engineered Garments, launched by Japanese designer Daiki Suzuki, is influenced by the sturdy and cropped garments worn by pre-WWII Japanese blue collar workers. Selvedge denim became a huge trend, and numerous companies were created; some still exist to this day, many have seen their revenues wane with the times. Red Wing boots, long seen as an American classic for their construction and durability, started to be seen on the streets of New York and Los Angeles on the feet of the fashion conscious.
For two years, the workwear trend boomed. Like all popular fashion trends, eventually the workwear tastes of the fashion savvy eventually trickled down to urban trendsetters. It was at this time that mention of the “urban lumberjack” was first seen in publications outside the fashion industry’s inner circle. Flannel shirts, selvedge jeans, duck cotton coloured pants, and sturdy leather boots became popular amongst the hipster crowds of Williamsburg, Portland, and Queen West.
This influx of workwear inspired clothing was closely coupled to societal tastes at the time. Urban young adults grew tired of the “fake” and modern direction that many cities were taking. Many young males and some females were affectionately drawn to the more authentic side of things: this included all things rural, outdoorsy, and rugged.
What trends were common around this time?
1) Shopping local, supporting your farmer’s market
2) Urban farming/gardening
3) The craft beer industry started to take off
4) Beards became en vogue, as did growing your hair longer, perhaps sporting a man bun in the process.
5) Country music became the most popular form of music in North America
6) Folk Music went mainstream; Mumford & Sons won a few Grammies
7) Many TV series were created to reflect these tastes: Duck Dynasty, Mountain Men, Yukon Men – really any “blue collar” themed show was the result of the jaded urban inhabitant’s yearning for a more authentic, rugged sense of self. Dirty Jobs was a great reflection of this.
This myriad of trends gave birth to the lifestyle of the urban lumberjack, or what is now apparently known as the lumbersexual. Contrary to what the article in question referenced, the lumbersexual did not arise out of gay culture. The urban lumberjack is largely one borne out of the larger hipster countercultural movement, which has evolved from comically large sunglasses and keffiyeh scarves to dressing like lumberjacks and drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon or craft beers.
As Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter describe in The Rebel Sell, Countercultures are created simply as an alternative to the mainstream; there is no true stance or constant activist principle behind them. If we examine perhaps the most famous counterculture example, the hippie, we associate these individuals with environmental activism and freedom from government control. Ironically, these same youth who were so against destroying the environment and big oil were also the primary consumers in the 1980s when the SUV – perhaps the most destructive vehicle for the environment ever created- was conceived. These same bell-bottom wearing flower children were now suburban adults driving their kids to soccer practice in their 4 wheeled tank that seated 7.
Of course, there were the genuine (read: authentic) individuals who truly did care for the environment and still hold the same stance today as they did 50 years ago, but the vast majority of individuals who participate in countercultural movements do so as a means of social leveraging.
As described in Potter’s The Authenticity Hoax, to be authentic, to be “cool”, is a large motivator in our society. Our society is comprised of numerous sub-cultures, all who hold a certain belief and standard of what is “cool” to them. For those who have grown weary of the hustle and bustle of the city and yearn for the simpler country life, the lumbersexual community gave them a sense of belonging, so they ascribed to it.
The feminization of society in the last 50 years has also contributed to the rise of the urban lumberjack. In The Better Angels of our Nature, Steven Pinker states that feminization is one of the reasons violence has declined in our society. Consequently, this has also left many men without a sense of what their masculine identity is. Dressing like a lumberjack, one of the stereotypically “manly” occupations is their attempt at trying to capture some of that bygone testosterone, even if they’ve never held an axe before.
Five years from now, we probably won’t see as many beards, flannel shirts, or work boots being sported by hip young adults across North America. Most of these individuals will have moved on, grown up, for a countercultural lifestyle in a capitalist society has a limited lifespan. The generation after them will find their own problem with the world, their own quest to be “cool”, and their tastes will reflect that. It’s what happened with the hippies in the 60s, the punks of the 70s, Grunge in the 90s, and now hipsters in the 2000s and beyond.