The city hums and honks below as half a dozen guys guzzle Bell's Two Hearted on an Upper East Side rooftop, escaping a weed-beclouded party downstairs. Moonrays splay through frail clouds as puffs of smoke from American Spirits rise skyward.
A guy with a red pine tattoo cracks a new bottle and asks if anyone wants another.
"I have to open at the coffee shop tomorrow, but fuck it," says another, accepting the offer.
The tar roof dampens the thud of his worn Red Wings, scuffed by his days delivering 80-pound bags of green coffee and nights hauling gear to shows in Brooklyn.
Another guy pops the collar of his earth-toned Pendleton flannel and tugs down on a day-glo orange cap to shield himself against the wind.
It's cold. The only line of defense here is layered flannel. Jeans rolled at the ankle show off vintage Danner boots and secondhand Timberlands.
The chat is about weather, Star Wars, work — until an inquisitor breaks the monotony: "Have you all ever heard of this thing called lumbersexuals?"
Record scratch. "What the fuck is a lumbersexual?"
The stars wink down at us like they know something we don't.
Origin of a Species
Pretend that Mean Girls was made in 2015. In the film's iconic cafeteria scene, the cool, artsy girl explains the lay of the land to a new arrival who was home-schooled in Africa and knows nothing about what's cool, what's trendy, and what's not.
Today, somewhere among the Plastics, the jocks, and the sexually active band geeks, we'd find the... lumbersexuals.
Behold the lovechild of the metrosexual and the hipster, a man who's incorporated a hearty helping of good ol' American masculinity into his sartorial sense of harmony.
He's old enough to grow a beard, but not so old as to hold hints of salt in the black pepper. He longs for the days when life wasn't complicated by big-city dreams, when a man could eke out a living off the land. But the closest he's gotten to downing a tree is stuffing his face with bûche de Noël.
The lumbersexual has an evergreen-loving heart, but he's a desk jockey trapped in the concrete jungle. His raw masculinity must be practiced after hours. When you actually find him in the woods, he's staring into the distance, wondering if Valencia is the right filter for this sunset Instagram post.
He's a wannabe lumberjack with a killer sense of style.
The lumbersexual, a term coined by Tom Puzak at GearJunkie, is at the epicenter of a Minnesota-born trend that's wormed its way to Manhattan rooftops and L.A. brew pubs. Guys are eschewing the done-up style of the mid-aughts, letting their shirts get wrinkly, tossing aside their exfoliating face wash, ditching their wingtips.
Give these boys a secondhand buffalo check shirt and a pair of jeans that haven't seen a washer in weeks, and send the razor on a sabbatical. It's beard time.
If David Beckham was the ultimate metrosexual, then the patron saint of lumbersexuals is a cross between Parks and Rec's Ron Swanson, meme-hottie Ryan Gosling, and Bon Iver's sensitive Justin Vernon.
Adrian Flygt, professional lumberjack, compares the new fashion to the rhinestone cowboy style of yore. It's all about "man's estrangement from power in his life and trying to get back to a simpler time."
How to Spot a Lumbersexual
Don't confuse the lumbersexual with his progenitor, the lumberjack. Instead of sawing wood, he's more likely to be sitting at a faux-worn wood table at the corner coffee shop, building his wilderness photography website on a MacBook Air. His is an air of thoughtful contemplation as he strokes his Trotsky beard-stache, waiting for a medium sugar-free soy chai latte.
This guy will take a lowball of Bulleit Rye (neat, duh) to go with his six-ounce filet mignon and roasted fingerlings. The lumbersexual is a meat and potatoes guy, but he's no farmer. He's got taste, style, and a je ne sais quois that makes you think he could star in a Fleet Foxes video.
The lumbersexual's idea of a mountain climb is hauling a keg of Summit up three flights of stairs. Though his web coding gig doesn't provide the brawn to match the style — and an LA Fitness membership is out of the question — that doesn't deter him from rolling up his wool sleeves and mounting a pair of antlers he got at Urban Outfitters in his cubicle.
At his apartment, you'll find books like How Stay Alive in the Woods, Into the Wild, and The Hatchet with barely broken spines sitting next to dog-eared issues of GQ and Esquire. Hanging over the lumbersexual's mantel is a decorated ax that hasn't seen a tree save for the one killed to make it, and his closet has enough flannel to outfit the cast of The Red Green Show.
To get that fresh-from-the-forest aroma, he has a bottle of Juniper Ridge's wilderness perfume, which offers scents like Big Sur Trail Resin and Siskiyou Backpacker.
"There's a lot of things that are packaged like 'Beard this' and 'Lumberjack that,'" says Juniper Ridge owner Hall Newbegin. "We're going out into the mountains ourselves. We're putting our hiking boots on, and harvesting plants in a sustainable way, and putting the real stuff in a bottle from the mountains of the west."
The lumbersexual is into authenticity.
An honest day of work starts with working some oil into the bristles along his chin, rendering his digits soft and supple before he mounts his bike and rides toward the city lights.
Unfortunately, the one thing he can't buy is calluses.
"The calluses on my hands and the scars from accidents in the woods are very real," Flygt says. "I'm not a guy who's trying to pull off a look."
If you're trying to tell the difference between a lumbersexual and the genuine article, introduce yourself with a handshake.[page]
The Lumbersexual's Native Habitat
Tom Waits growls over the Butcher and the Boar's beer garden, nuzzled between Loring Park and downtown. It's near closing, time for the lumbersexual to down the remnants of his Sweet Child of Vine IPA.
He and a girlfriend started the night noshing on cheddar sausage and bread-and-butter pickles. There's more Knob Creek single-barrel bourbon sold at this joint than anywhere in the world, and the lumbersexual has engaged in a multi-hour tasting. After all, a nose for what makes a good pre-Prohibition whiskey versus an aged bourbon is what separates the experts from the neophytes.
And the lumbersexual ain't no novice.
He flashes a toothy smile beneath his studiously curated beard, a well-trimmed mass of brown that's cut close to the chin so you can still imagine his chiseled jawline. He's got an undercut — floppy and gel-thick on top but shaved close on the sides — that he runs his tattooed hand through, rumpling the longer parts on his crown in a frankly-my-dear-I-don't-give-a-damn-about-my-hair way.
Finally, the lumbersexual checks his iPhone and begins his retreat, headed home to the neighborhood of the moment, the North Loop.
His Habitat Is Spreading
Once just a necessary staple of North Woods apparel, flannel is now ubiquitous from Virginia to the Silicon Valley.
Guys in Los Angeles don $300 Burberry flannel and spotless Red Wings as they step out of BMWs. At the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, starlets channel their inner ski bunnies while leading men play dress-up in lumber chic. Ryan Reynolds struts the streets in checked wool and a crisp white tee, bark-colored work boots, and week-old scruff... while promoting a film in which his cat tells him to kill people.
Lumbersexuals can be seen on the runways, with designers like Rag & Bone broadening the look's appeal to high-end consumers. The label has even teamed up with local brand Faribault Woolen Mills on lumber chic apparel.
This bastardized version of Minnesota life has gone national. And the urban woodsman look is proving both beneficial and amusing to state brands.
"It just makes me laugh because everyone is saying that 'lumbersexual' is a term," says Andrea Sega of Duluth Pack, the century-old maker of rucksacks and luggage. "But I just look at it as something I grew up seeing all the time. I just see a northern Minnesota guy."
And what might that northern Minnesota guy look like?
"I guess stereotypical of what most people would say would be like a classic wool shirt, some boots, rolled-up jeans, probably rocking a good mustache or a beard, combed-back hair, and I could see some kind of urban-looking glasses," she laughs.
"This isn't new for Minnesotans," adds Rachel Smith of Gander Mountain. "This is just a look that we're really comfortable with. I think flannel, plaid, and boots — that's just part of who we are in Minnesota."
Juniper Ridge's Newbegin, a self-described hippie, associates the look with authenticity and quality. "The new rustic men's fashion movement is all about that lumbersexual thing of simple and high quality," he says. "The lumbersexual term always gets giggles from people, but it's great."
And that's giving utilitarian Minnesota an unexpected moment in the spotlight. "This is cool because Minnesota is not really a trend-setting place that you think of," says Sega. "You usually think of New York or L.A., so it's really amazing that people are now bringing that focus to the north."[page]
Minnesota's Lumber Chic Bonanza
The loggers of the 19th century lived a brutal life of low wages and subzero temperatures, testing their limits in the forest by outrunning the crack-and-whoosh of falling pine. Sturdy, practical duds were a necessity. After all, the nearest Abercrombie & Fitch was hours away by sled dog.
"A lot of the old-time guys that spent time in the upper Midwest, they wore flannel not as a fashion statement, but as a garment of function," says Dave Weatherhead, owner of Timberwork's Lumberjack Shows in Hayward, Wisconsin.
Forget about fast fashion and flannel from H&M. Spend a day working in that stuff, and by supper you'll look like Tom Hanks in Cast Away. And you'll be really cold.
Minnesota companies have learned there's money in durable, practical clothes that last for years.
Take Red Wing Shoes, Faribault Woolen Mill, or Duluth Pack. These Minnesota heritage companies have been around for over a century, making things the same as they did way back when.
"Those are all brands that were born out of necessity, out of the landscape that we live in," says Bruce Bildsten of Faribault Woolen Mill. "We're one of the last truly vertical woolen mills in the country, where we take raw wool, dye it, turn it into yarn, and finish it all under one roof."
After four generations of family ownership, Faribault went out of business in 2009. It was resurrected two years later, just as the heritage look was turning fabulous. "It's nothing different than we've done for 150 years," says Bildsten. "It's really who we are."
The idea of a one-stop wool shop is appealing to high-end apparel makers like Rag & Bone and Nordstrom. Both have teamed with the mill on various projects.
"I think it's not a trend," says Bildsten. "It's much stronger than that.... Just like with our food, we want to know where it comes from, and I think that's the same with the other goods we consume."
Steve Spencer of Red Wing Shoes agrees: "I think we're a part of a historical landscape that seems to be resonating with a lot of guys today."
Red Wing's most popular styles were developed just shy of a century ago. "We're not really doing anything to chase the trends," Spencer says. "We're not changing our strategy or design, and we're still true to our roots."
And they expect to outlive any fad. "People are really expecting this to last six months to one year, but Duluth Pack has been doing this for 133 years, so we don't look at it as a trend," says Sega. "We look at it as a lifestyle. We're not doing anything flashy. We're not doing anything unexpected. We're just doing something that's worked year after year."
Duluth Trading, one of Minnesota's newer companies, teams with tradesmen and lumberjacks to put its gear to the test. That's how Duluth's Scott DeRuyter first heard of lumbersexuals.
During a meeting with the STIHL Timbersports organizers, "They brought up this trend, and we were kind of joking that 'Jeez, that must mean a good-looking lumberjack.'"
Little did he know that lumber chic would push sales through the roof.[page]
Lumberjacks as Fashionistas
Actual lumberjacks are both entertained and offended by the trend, even though it comes with a strong scent of flattery.
"It's amusing that this is a trend because this is kind of how I dressed and how most of the men and women I know have dressed for as long as I can remember," says Flygt, who grew up with the unofficial uniform of the woods.
Weatherhead has been involved in timbersports for three decades. He's not too forgiving of the lumbersexual co-opting his look.
"Honestly?" he laughs. "As far as I'm concerned, it's a load of hooey. I think it's a bunch of posers trying to look manly who are falling short of the mark. Wearing flannel doesn't make you a man."
While Flygt's surprised to become a fashion plate, he takes a live-and-let-live approach — with a bit of a backhand thrown in. "You be who you wanna be. If you wanna play dress-up, that's cool," he says.
Encounters with the Minnesota Species
On a blustery day at Dangerous Man Brewing Company in northeast Minneapolis, there's a beard competition, naturally. The brewery's logo is a surly-looking bearded guy.
It's 50 shades of flannel everywhere you look. Yet after talking to a dozen guys who fit the lumbersexual bill, it's clear that most don't know what a lumbersexual is, and even fewer will admit to being one.
After hearing a description, their brows furrow above smirks buried beneath masses of facial hair. They're confused. Are they suddenly... trendy?
Some are reticent to share their thoughts, lest they be linked to what seems a very bad word. Others offer one-word summations like "interesting" and "silly."
Only a few wade deeper.
"I don't have any strong-felt opinions about it," says Mike McFadden, not the U.S. Senate candidate but a young, friendly-faced guy with a beard that fades from a gingery brown near his cheeks to a deep brunette at his chest. "But it fits my style, so if someone's going to coin me as a cool look, I'm more than happy to embrace that.
"I think it co-opts the style that our dads had, too. I mean, flannel and beards and bushy hair — it's kind of what's been around for a while. It's just making it cool again."
The brewery's eponymous Dangerous Man, owner Rob Miller, has long hair pulled into a low ponytail, with a wild beard that obscures most of his neck. He says the "North Woods lumberjack look" has "always been prevalent here, but it's coming to the fore now.
"It's a stereotype, but it's funny," laughs Miller. "I like it. It's pretty hilarious."
Send tips to Tatiana Craine.
More from Arts & Leisure