Not all men who wear plaid are created equal, and there’s more to the lumbersexual than you think. Here, will illustrative charts, is the breakdown of the lumbersexual’s social ecology.
First, plotting each guy’s level of effort on one axis and level of polish on the other:
But beyond the simple assessment of effort and polish, and perhaps more importantly, there’s the question of authenticity: the perceived likelihood of each guy rolling his sleeves, getting his hands dirty, and “doing.”
For some guys, sure, plaid is just a fad—just an extension of other trends. These guys may superficially resemble lumberjacks, but the farther they go into the upper left quadrant, the farther they get from an axe.
Other guys, however, actually have every right to their flannel: it’s not simply a trend and they aren’t really trying, because this really is their lifestyle. And with this comes a ruggedness; a capacity for doing things with their hands in all sorts of settings. Because with a lack of polish and prettiness also comes a lack of prissiness, a promise of being able to “do.”
The high-polish, high-effort sort of man—cue the metrosexual and the mega-metrosexual, in his bespoke suit—likes to look put-together and polished, and any man who prefers the look of “looking as though he didn’t try” need not apply. Not only does this guy try, but he wants you to know it. And you should also know that he does not simply roll up his designer sleeves and get dirty; there shall be no chopping of wood.
Next, their baby brother, the metrojack. He’s still more boyish than man’s-manly, but while he might not be full-out gritty, he’s also not necessarily as “prissy” as the full-blown metrosexual, either. He doesn’t obsess over the mirror, but he likes a classic, tidy look, and he’d rather not mess it up.
From there, there’s the guy with such natural, boyish good looks, he can throw most anything on and call it a style. “Here,” he seems to say, “I wore this shirt. Am I doing it right?” Minimal effort, yet unfailingly good-looking. He is the late-adolescent athlete; an inspirer of a slow-clap. Because he’s usually a bit naïve, one can hardly blame him for barely knowing what to do in other realms, dirty work included.
With a little more effort but a little less polish, we have the almost-accidental ‘jack, by way of anti-fashion. He cares less about trends than the metrojack—sometimes erring even on the side of anti-fashion. And the result is definitely less “pretty,” less groomed—because there’s a huge difference between throwing on a t-shirt, waxed canvas bag, and leather boots and donning the color Fabergé where the metrojack likes to play.
With a little more effort and a little more prettiness, a guy falls into hipster lumbersexual: “lumbersexual” as a look. I think most everybody is exhausted of the “hipster” term, but it’s still true that some guys got to “lumbersexual” by way of style evolution. He’s got plaid, flannel, boots, a beard. Yeah, maybe he’s got some outdoor gear. While he may not spend his life pioneering the Canadian wilderness, he’s also not afraid to cycle a few miles to work in cold rain. Sometimes the outdoors get cold. While he may not fell trees, he can build things, fix things, and light fires; he can cook over a flame that’s not a grill—so he’s not wanting for a little rugged, just the same.
Then there’s the urban woodsman: “lumbersexual” by way of lifestyle, which is not at all the same as a look. There’s a big difference between those who wear Patagonia to run errands and those who really wear it: i.e., go hiking on Sunday morning, or backbacking through Alaska. Even if he doesn’t live in the woods, the “urban woodsman” is a guy who can, at least to some extent, great-outdoors it.
Maybe he moved to the city from Vermont or rural Michigan (where he really grew up chopping wood), or maybe he adopted these skills later on. Either way, this guy can not only wield an axe, but he can hunt, fish, cure meats, mountaineer, and build cabins. Just because he has a place in the city, gets paid a healthy salary (yeah, maybe to program), and doesn’t feel compelled to tuck himself away in the woods full-time, doesn’t mean he—or the plaid he wears to work—isn’t real.
Lastly, there’s the guy with less effort in general, and certainly less prettiness. “I just wore this shirt,” he seems to say, “and it happens to be plaid.” He’s a sort of lumbergrunge: an evolution of the 90s era (also plaid). While it might be tempting to group this guy in with the others, there are some key differences; namely his lack of savvy in the presence of actual lumber.
On the scale of gritty, there are guys who spend their weekends backpacking, mountaineering, camping, hiking, and cycling—and then there are guys like this, who instead gives off an air of spending his weekends laying around and drinking beer (albeit good beer) straight out of growlers on his tattered couch.
Just because a guy wears plaid doesn’t mean he’s suggesting he chops trees. Some guys do, but some merely want to look the part or play up a look. And others seem to say, “Eh. Screw all of that.”