The amount of attention facial hair gets these days is incredible. With this attention comes a diverse mix of stereotypes. Sometimes they are affectionate, sometimes laughable, and sometimes ridiculous. I’ve noticed the things beardsmen are labeled or compared to seem to coincide with the changing of the seasons: “Santa” comments in winter, the occasional “leprechaun” comment in spring, and “homeless” references in summer. But when fall rolls around, and you’re sporting even the tiniest speck of plaid, I guarantee you’ll get, “You look like a lumberjack!” Now I credit myself with a great sense of humor, and the attention I receive as a beardsman is usually all in good fun. Lately, however, that playful banter can quickly change to just plain annoying. Enter the new catch phrase lumbersexual.
Lumbersexual is today’s version of Metrosexual, which was a term coined in the early 2000s for guys that choose to dress well, use grooming products, and care more about their appearance than the “average” guy. Over the years, as fashion evolved from designer suits and the all black wardrobe, guys started to take an interest in “heritage” brands. Heritage refers to companies that embrace craftsmanship and fashion styles inspired by vintage design. Ironically, when you start to dig for design inspiration in men’s vintage clothing pre-1950, especially when it comes to workwear, you primarily find wool plaids, leather boots, and raw denim. They say this catchy lumbersexual term was “exported out of Brooklyn.” Well Brooklyn, you should be proud of taking credit for the threads guys have been wearing for the past 100 years- not only in woodland areas, but everywhere else in between. Couple this “lumberjack” inspired look with the modern day beard, and it was the perfect storm waiting to be named.
I’ll be honest. When I first read Gear Junkie’s article on the lumbersexual, I laughed. But as people started creating lumbersexual Facebook fan pages, lumbersexual dating sites (seriously), and lumbersexual gift guides, it got old real fast.
The perplexing idea behind this movement is that Americans seem to view the lumberjack as a beast that went extinct decades ago. This makes sense considering the fashion from this movement is more so inspired by an epic bearded folklore hero, Paul Bunyan, than by real people. In a way, as I was about to find out, the “lumberjack” is extinct and has evolved into a new species known as the “woodsman.”
Meet a Real Lumberjack
My curiosity about the lumbersexual concept got the better of me, and I set off to find a real lumberjack who could shed some light on this movement. I got word about a group of guys that could help with my investigative reporting efforts. On a snowy morning, I threw on a vintage wool plaid coat, a Nordstrom flannel, Banana Republic chinos, and mint-green Sorel boots. Armed with a designer messenger bag and a photographer, I drove 15 miles out of the city to a wooded parcel of land.
Once there, I was greeted by 3 guys wearing faded Carharrt jackets, chunky leather work boots, and thick canvas work chaps that tied over their pants. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was dressed more for a J. Crew catalog shoot than a lumberjack interview. The group included Eddie Lewis (right in the below photo) and Nolan Brewer, fire foresters, and Matt Ugaldea, a forester for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. A forester is the “Grand Poobah” of woodsmen. Foresters work with forest land owners and oversee the natural resource operations of specific wooded areas. They make high-level decisions on timber harvesting and manage the overall health of the land. Matt splits his time between an actual office and the woods.
Matt was willing to enlighten me, so we got to work. Matt is a “man’s man,” making me feel comfortable and welcome with his overly firm handshake. Even more welcoming was his incredible sense of humor. He says it is a “direct result of working alone in the woods for years. Laughter is how I kept the introversion away.”
Matt was familiar with the trending lumbersexual buzz, so I got straight to the point by asking his thoughts. “When someone jokingly calls me a lumbersexual, it can be somewhat offensive. Woodsmen are hard-working people, more concerned about their occupational responsibilities than their personal style. If the word simply means wearing flannels and boots, I guess I was a lumbersexual before being a lumbersexual was cool.”
Lumbersexuals vs. Woodsmen
Matt is one cool guy. As our conversation dove into specific details of the lumbersexual craze, he began to break down the helpful differences between a lumbersexual and a modern day woodsman:
Compared to a coffee shop, a woodsman’s office is in the back of a “pick ‘em-up” truck.
A lumbersexual might worry about a paper cut, or a bizarre accident with the company paper shredder. A woodsman worries about making it home with the same number of limbs he started with that morning.
The woods fight back: harsh weather, tree branches slapping your face, and logs falling from the sky. A world of difference compared to climate controlled cubicles.
With cold temperatures and long work days, a woodsman’s beard is grown out of necessity, rather than style. This is why woodsmen tend to have a slightly unkept look. If a woodsman wants beard oil, it’s likely going to come in the form of wood sap, chainsaw oil, saw dust, and a little bit of Copenhagen mixed in for flavor.
A lumbersexual will spend $250 on a pair of pants. A woodsman wants a pair of pants that last long and are durable. Besides, you can’t get a pair of long johns inside a pair of skinny jeans.
Chukka and wingtip boots are nice, but no competition compared to a pair of Smoke Jumpers or Hot Shots. Thick leather is key, or you won’t have toes for long.
Flannels take a beating, so they need to be inexpensive and disposable … far from the $200 buffalo plaid shirt purchased at Barneys. To a woodsman, Barney is the guy over there trimming branches.
The more you wash your clothing, the faster it will wear out. This is one reason why a woodsman will smell differently than a lumbersexual.
Instead of a laptop, a woodsman uses a Rite in the Rain notebook with a pencil sharpened by a pocket knife. (Little known fact: most woodsmen have superb penmanship, but given the dull utensils used for sharpening it usually never shows.)
While every woodsman likes a good pompadour, styling your hair every morning is pointless as it just gets smashed down by your brain bucket (helmet).
A woodsman often refers to a large tree as a “pickle.” You’ll hear a lot of “tipping or tripping pickles,” “thumping pickles,” or even calling your ax a “pickle pounder.” A lumbersexual probably thinks of a relish tray and a cocktail fork.
How We are the Same
Author, Currie Corbin
That’s right, I said “we” because by this point I’m realizing that I reside on the lumbersexual end of the spectrum. Matt does see a valuable similarity between the two groups. Whether you’re a woodsman or a lumbersexual, “What we all share goes far beyond a deep understanding and appreciation for the environment. When we are all given the opportunity, both groups are keeping things local and supporting local industries. As long as woodsmen stay in business, it helps the cities where we live thrive. When cities thrive, it leads to a profitable bar in town. And at that watering hole, you’ll find lumbersexuals and loggers drinking beer, laughing together, and listening to folky down home music.”
Matt taught me that when you’re in the woods, you have to be connected to the other guys on your team in order to survive. I guess you could say we are all in the same woods together, from the Douglas fir trees of the Cascade Mountains to the elm trees of Brooklyn, New York.
Don’t let this silly term make you shy away from buying that fancy plaid shirt or those incredible boots for fear you’ll be publicly labeled as a lumbersexual. Wear these things because they’re awesome, and wear them as a tribute to the thousands of guys out there in our forests working their asses off. They are working to provide us with paper so we can read magazines at the dentist office, firewood to keep our fireplaces roaring, and lumber so we can build our homes. Their efforts help our nation’s land become more sustainable for future little lumbersexuals to enjoy.
In conclusion, I asked Matt if there is actually anything “sexual” about being a lumberjack. Matt answers with a boyish grin. “No, not particularly. Well, maybe if a stump’s knot hole happens to be 6 inches below the belt.” Yes Matt. That’s a better definition for the real lumbersexual.
All Photos by Patrick Lipsker Photography