My friend Emily and I went to see Fleet Foxes play at New York’s Webster Hall on Sunday night. After procuring two Bud Lights (because we’re classy), I came up with a fun drinking game: Every time we saw a guy with a bushy beard, we’d take a gulp; for a bearded guy in buffalo-check flannel, two gulps.
I’m still nursing a hangover.
Enough with the lumberjacks!
Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses, My Morning Jacket, Bon Iver, and Modest Mouse all show some signs of the syndrome. I’m not sure who’s to blame. Part of me wants to pin this on Mary Kate Olsen, who paired an oversize plaid flannel with skinny black jeans two years ago, causing countless celebrity rags to praise her revolutionary “lumberjack chic.” I realize that’s insane: Jim James is not taking fashion tips from Full House‘s Michelle Tanner. And, besides, M-K’s look was more grunge. These guys are doing full-on Paul Bunyan: flannels, worn jeans, heavy boots, rat’s-nest beards, even suspenders. Suspenders! What’s next — a hip flask of Old Grandad in the back pocket? A blacked-out tooth or two?
At Webster Hall, three of the five members of Fleet Foxes seemed to be emulating Brawny, the russet-headed he-man cartoon mascot of paper towel fame. Maybe they have a good reason. Perhaps they grew up watching Seven Brides for Seven Brothers — one of the greatest movie-musicals in history and, I’m fairly certain, the only one about a brood of lumberjacks — and were inspired to lead a life among the trees.
I could have overlooked their militantly woodsy ensembles — they are from the Pacific Northwest, after all — if half of the audience hadn’t been rocking the same look. It seemed like a joke, like one of those Improv Everywhere missions. A flash mob: Lumbercon! And in a way I can’t help but be mad at Fleet Foxes and people like Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon for inspiring thousands of “hipster lumberjacks.” (Know what’s even more appalling? The term “hipster lumberjack” pops up on Google 239 times!)
I know, I know, it’s just one more hipster uniform, a 2008 version of the emo hoodie-and-eyeliner combo. In some ways, it’s just an artful reiteration of the grunge look — maybe with a more atavistic gloss. And it’s just one more version of the blue-collar drag so often donned by postcollegiates trying to obscure traces of privileged origins with authenticity-imputing garb (see trucker hats, wallet chains, etc.).
But come on.
So I offer a humble bit of advice: Young college grad of refined musical tastes, you’re not a lumberjack. When is the last time you’ve climbed a tree, let alone chopped one down? And that’s okay. Just leave the buffalo-check flannel shirts and Biblical beards to men who know the difference between an Alaska Fir and a Mountain Paper Birch. Find a different working-class hero look. I think “tugboat captain” might be available.