On a recent trip to New York, I had the strange satisfaction of visiting Williamsburg for the first time. I had been forewarned that it was a hipster-haven filled with places I’d never heard of and artist collectives at every turn, but I wanted to explore it anyway. Little to my surprise, I was surrounded by fashion forward nonchalance, and found myself walking through a sea of bearded flannels, destructed denim, and tattooed forearms. I’m referring to the lumbersexual, a term coined by Tom Puzak after the look took the internet by storm last fall.
Lumbersexual men present with a mixture of vintage practicality, polished machismo, and backwoods swagger. These dapper dudes have redefined the boundaries of men’s fashion, even if their ability to craft a log cabin or to build a roaring bonfire is debatable. Either these stubbled studs are onto something, or they’re entirely missing the point.
It’s difficult to resist a combination of casual and sophisticated, and their modern spin on retro attire from a bygone era mixed with their indifferent attitude makes you wonder if they’re escaping to the mountains or catching the L to a start-up. As gender roles become more fluid and the workplace more varied, some of the historically “masculine looks” from jobs that took a lot of physical strength are being channelled through everyday fashion.
Some question their genuineness and as a friend of mine pointed out, these “wilderness hipsters” are a fad, especially amongst heterosexual, white, urban men who may have appropriated the look from the gay community and popularized it in the mainstream. Yet despite the hilarity of the rise itself and the spot-on descriptions of the trend, maybe the lumbersexual is more complex than we originally assumed. Maybe we wrote him off too soon, describing him as little more than a performing fashionisto preoccupied with his own panache and Patagonia puffys, debuting himself as the evolved and more mature “metrosexual.”
What if instead, he is actually the result of a movement attempting to reclaim a convoluted masculine identity in an ever-changing gender landscape. Perhaps the urban woodsman’s piece-meal persona and smattering of flannel and argyle, oiled beard and woodsy scent, cardigans, Carhart, and rolled up denim above mod leather simply reflect an attempt to grasp for an undefined and nouveau man, a combination of domains, who’s personhood encompasses more than merely provider, protector, or performer. Although the trend may be a “calculated look with the desire to be (and be seen) as rugged and the hetero-normative version of “manly.” It might actually be an indicator of the complex evolution of the changing face of modern masculinity, a noble mission, although it’s one-dimensional execution might miss the mark a bit.
The look itself is an attractive one, and prone to making many women swoon, but is oftentimes artificial. Donning designer denim and flashy flannels does not make someone more of a leader, nor does it make them more competent, crafty, or bold. There is nothing charming about the empty promise of a different era, or attempting to convince everyone that everything will be taken care of through a pair of pre-worn jeans or an L.L Bean sweater.
Maybe to rock the look, men have to also rock the persona and character inherent in being a man with principles and stability, and maybe that’s where the lumbersexual falls short. Deriving masculinity from a theatrical appearance and a beard doesn’t make one masculine. Perhaps instead, authenticity and assurance in one’s own ability and resoluteness to be the captain of his own life led with integrity does.