The first one I met was at an inauguration party in 2009. I was in a cocktail dress. He was in jeans, work boots, and a flannel shirt. He had John Henry tattooed on his bicep. He was white. Somehow, at a fairly elegant affair, he had found a can of PBR. Since then they’ve multiplied. You can see them in coffee shops and bars and artisanal butchers. They don't exactly cut down trees, but they might try their hand at agriculture and woodworking, even if only in the form of window-box herb gardens.
In the last month, these bearded, manly men even earned themselves a pithy nickname: the lumbersexuals. GearJunkie coined the term only a few weeks ago, and since then Jezebel, Gawker, The Guardian and Time have jumped in to analyze their style. BuzzFeed even has a holiday gift guide for the lumbersexual in your life. (He would, apparently, like bourbon-flavored syrup and beard oil.)
The lumberjack seems like a startlingly apt symbol for hipsters to appropriate. On one level, it’s just a neat metaphor for gentrification: Lumberjacks were, after all, an ad-hoc army of Caucasians, invading regions they imagined to be empty, sucking up the local resources, and leaving vast, bland spaces in their wake. But there’s much more to the lumberjack symbol than another glib comment on urban white culture. This particular brand of bearded flannel-wearer is a modern take on the deeply-rooted historical image of Paul Bunyan, the ax-wielding but amiable giant, whose stomping grounds were the North Woods of the upper Midwest. Paul and his brethren emerged as icons in American pop culture a little over a century ago. What links the mythic lumberjack to his modern-day incarnations is a pervasive sense—in his time and ours—that masculinity is “in crisis.”