Wearing sturdy work boots, rugged bluejeans and waxed canvas jackets that Paul Bunyan could only have dreamed of, the guys streaming into BlackBlue men’s clothing shop in St. Paul looked every bit the classic American archetype. (Think James Dean or a young Steve McQueen.)
But they weren’t necessarily trying for a retro look.
For a few years now, the men’s fashion industry has been turning up the heat on tried-and-true brands, many of which happen to be based in Minnesota. Now guys from the streets of New York City to the runways of Japan are emulating a look that just comes naturally for Minnesotans.
The look, called “urban lumberjack” or “American heritage classic,” is characterized by those familiar items often worn by grandpas across the state and manufactured in our back yards: Red Wing work boots, Bemidji Woolen Mills buffalo plaid flannels and Duluth Pack canvas bags.
“We’re seeing this look all over the place right now,” said Mike Ader, better known as Mustache Mike, who recently opened MidNorth Mercantile, a vintage men’s shop in Minneapolis’ North Loop. “At times, Minneapolis can be way behind when it comes to fashion. With this whole heritage trend, we’re leading the pack.”
That look will be prevalent this weekend at NorthernGRADE, an annual celebration of American-made goods that brings together boots and jeans makers, as well as artisans who craft canvas bags, leather accessories and furniture.
Style transcends age
American heritage style, like the slow-food movement, urges consumers to think about where their clothes come from and how they’re made.
And, on the heels of a recession, more Americans seem willing to invest in classic pieces that are made to last a lifetime, rather than picking up “fast fashion” items that quickly go out of style.
“Clothes should be treated the way you treat your house,” said Satchel Moore, manager of BlackBlue.
Moore practices what he preaches. The 27-year-old man hems customers’ jeans on a 1920s Union Special sewing machine that he keeps in his Lowertown apartment. “When something tears or breaks, fix it,” he said. “Then it becomes real — like the Velveteen Rabbit — instead of getting thrown away.”
NorthernGRADE co-organizer Katherine McMillan agrees. McMillan, who co-founded Minneapolis’ Pierrepont Hicks menswear designs with her husband, Mac, said there’s more to the heritage movement than just a look.
“It’s more about the quality than the fashion aesthetic,” she said.
Sure, the look is popular with trendy urbanites who’ve never set foot in a forest. But adherents of the style say it transcends age, class and even culture. The look is big in Japan, where it’s been coined as “the dad look,” or “American traditional.”
But you don’t have to be a dad, a hipster or even a lumberjack to pull it off. With the addition of a cardigan or jacket and tie, the style easily transforms from day to night.
“These luxury American-made brands can be modern and sleek,” McMillan said. “They don’t have to be old-school woodsy, although a lot of them are, because that’s inherently American.”
“You could wear this stuff to the Boundary Waters and the Guthrie all in the same day,” said Moore.
That’s why NorthernGRADE and area businesses like Askov Finlayson and Martin Patrick 3 see a range of men passing through; everyone from the businessman in search of locally made $120 silk ties to the college kid who was turned on to the style by a plaid shirt he saw at Urban Outfitters.
“It’s not just because it’s cool again. … It’s all really functional,” said Chris Furlacher, who stopped into BlackBlue during the most recent cold snap to get something warmer than his Filson Packer canoe hat.
The 25-year-old, who used to shop at J. Crew, said he started paying attention to not only the way his clothes looked, but also how they withstood the wear and tear of his frequent fishing and camping trips, as well as time he spends at outdoor beer festivals promoting his family’s craft beer business.
Guys like Furlacher have helped keep Red Wing’s boot factories running at full capacity, despite the hundreds of thousands of construction workers who were laid off during the recession, said company spokesman Peter Engel.
“Red Wing work boots have been made the same way for 50 years and they last forever,” Engel said. “There’s been a tremendous bump in sales from the Japanese, Europeans and young urban hipsters.”
Urban hipster. That’s not a term welcome by most male fashionistas when describing the urban lumberjack look.
“We’re not hipster. We don’t go ‘glamping’ with Champagne in the woods,” Moore said. “We don’t go around posing with axes just because.”
Although they could if they wanted do. Axes will be on hand this weekend at NorthernGRADE.