Lumbersexuals: A Devastating Axe to Masculinity

The commodification of manliness has reached a new zenith: a peak where testosterone is watered down into brand-name everything, where it’s increasingly difficult to discern between the manly men and the posers without holding a wood-splitting competition.

We’ve castrated Paul Bunyan, using nothing more than a flannel shirt.

The lumbersexual is here for at least another fall/winter season, and that’s not good for anyone -- especially the women who want to date them.

The impressive impersonation of manliness that lumbersexuals achieve with a costume of beards and outdoor clothes is like any other fashion trend in which we play adult dress-up. But other trends don’t put such an emphasis on primal brawn -- and no other modern fad gets straight girls’ pulses pumping like the lumbersexual. Because let’s face it: lumbersexuals are hot! Their appearances remind us of a time when men were big and strong and built things not from Ikea.

But what we’re actually getting is a mirage: a deliberate hairdo, callous-free hands, a desk job, and an utter ignorance of the natural world. Men who know how to pound nails, split wood, and live off the land have unwittingly lent their no-nonsense, outdoorsy wardrobes to dudes who don’t know the first thing about how to fell a tree or wrestle a bear. They can’t even wrestle bears, these guys! And this rush to exude manliness during an era of uncertain masculinity has caused us to lose its very essence.

Superwomen still need supermen

Women in America have reached a cultural milestone: we now live in a country celebrating strong, independent females who can take care of themselves. Yet these superwomen are at their best when matched with true supermen. We need guys full of brawn, and grit, and everything else it takes to keep pace -- an alpha-plus to our alpha. Feminists have tried being big-ox to the metrosexual beta. And guess what? Supporting emasculated boyfriends with failures to launch while we brought home the bacon wasn’t that cool after all. The metrosexual was puny, high-maintenance. But a lumberjack? Well there’s a guy who looks like he could not only bring home the bacon -- he could butcher the whole pig.

Except they’re not real. So how are women -- how is anyone -- to know where the manly men are, when our programmers are rocking flannels and Carhartts?

“Lumbersexuals are sort of popularly teased in the same manner we collectively tease hipsters -- as only superficially exhibiting any of the qualities they are assumed to have,” said Tristan Bridges, assistant professor of sociology at The College at Brockport, SUNY. “What is thought of as ‘manly’ changes, though. Masculinity is not stable.”

Bridges is right: ideas of what men should look like and how they ought to act certainly shift over time. Guys sporting clothes with puffed-out chests, hose, embroidered pieces, and frills were considered the pinnacle of masculine during the European Renaissance, when little difference was seen between heterosexual and homosexual men. Victorians saw manliness as control over brutish masculinity: religious, polite, protective of the family, wholesome, enterprising, and hard-working, with simpler fashion staples like tight-fitting coats, top hats, and short hair. In these cases, successful men wanted to transcend an image of brash burliness. Pomp, frill, and luxurious fabrics achieved a look of aristocracy.

Nejron Photo/Shutterstock

'Fashion is a Cultural Theme Park'

“Fashion is a cultural theme park,” said Michael Kimmel, professor of sociology and gender studies at SUNY and executive director at the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities. “Like the ‘cowboy’ garb of my comfortable suburban youth, that which we lose in reality we recreate in fantasy.”

Kimmel said lumbersexuals represent a longing for vanishing masculinity-- “hardy, independent, artisanal” sensibilities. “Men's styles often have this nostalgic, working-class reference,” Kimmel said. “Chaps, Stetson cologne, and the like. Just because someone wears it doesn't mean he wants to live there. He's just visiting, the way you visit the ‘frontier’ at Frontierland at Disneyland.”

Lumbersexuals: Not Going Anywhere

Lumbersexuals have their own gift shop, with companies eager to sell lumberjack gear to people who will never jack a single lumber. Best Made Co. sells designer axes for city folk to put on their wall. Freemans Sporting Club targets lumbersexuals with $240 plaid shirts. Fisticuffs LLC sells an entire line of “Grave Before Shave” toiletries like beard oil and mustache wax. And Gear Co-Op, a California-based outdoors store, has redesigned its website to commit a page of the online catalog to lumbersexuals, with interactive tools allowing one to carefully concoct a complete look from hat to boot.

And it’s not over, not by a long shot. Katie Smith is a senior fashion and retail marketing analyst at EDITED, a retail technology company providing real-time market data and analytics for the fashion industry. Smith’s work is on the front lines of retail trends, and has tracked huge growth in what she referred to as the “key emblem” of the lumbersexual look: plaid shirts, whose market has grown 63% from last September to this one. And she says items such as shearling jackets and utility shirts are primed to be leading trends throughout this fall.

As the lumbersexual façade persists, our ability to discern who the masculine men are shrinks. Truly burly guys vanish. It’s just like the end of the Paul Bunyan story, as the fabled giant slips further and further from sight, deeper into the woods. Time passes, with no one knowing whether he is still there at all.

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Nicole Caldwell is Thrillist's Sex & Dating Editor -- and a total sucker for beards.