Monday, February 08, 2010

New York Magazine on Real America

How, if at all, to relate this and this.

Or: Does the back-to-the-land trend, in its aesthetic variations, have anything to do with the populist moment taking place far from Greenpoint and Bushwick? Is this a fight for ownership of Americana, or a sign that Palindom extends further than one might imagine, with a subset of new-Brooklyn suspicious of cosmopolitanism and nostalgic for/convinced of the superiority of their own upbringings, which, even if suburban, were rustic by comparison? Because for ages, the thing new arrivals to trendy NY neighborhoods would do was try to hide the fact that they came from 'the provinces'. Now, the idea is to look the opposite of city slicker. Granted, the look is extremely urban, very much particular to certain neighborhoods and subway lines, and is if anything a reaction to whatever they're wearing back home, whether Abercrombie logo tees or Uggs, Seven jeans or Walmart sundresses. So are the unfortunate beards and pre-Franco-Prussian-War restaurant-sign fonts just an extension of the breathlessly-quoted idea from Michael Pollan about only eating foods our great-great-grandmothers picked at back in the day? Or is there more to it?

13 comments:

Withywindle said...

Blue jeans were once a sign of being working class. I'm not sure they're much of a populist signifier anymore. I'm gonna say the Park Slope lumberjack has very tenuous links to renascent poujadisme.

But then, I wear L.L. Bean quilted trousers all winter long, and I vote Republican, so there you go.

Matt said...

Or is there more to it?

I very strongly suspect that there is much, much less to it, as in nothing of any importance at all.

Phoebe said...

I sense I'm hearing from the men-who-believe-fashion-is-meaningless/men-who-take-pride-in-not-knowing-fashion's-significance contingent, and that this is coloring your answers. (For instance, jeans have not been "working-class signifiers" for a good half-century.)

While I'm not at all convinced these two rejections-of-modernity (Palinism and neo-lumberjackism) have anything other than that one fact in common, "nothing of any importance at all" seems a bit extreme. I don't get the sense that this look began top-down, as in, that some designer decided men should look like lumberjacks and then lo and behold look what's at Urban Outfitters. The look is part of a lifestyle, even if there's not an exact correspondence between back-to-the-farm believers and unkempt-beard wearers. To dismiss it as 'whatever will those hipster trustafarians think of next?' is tempting, but as hipster fashion trends go, this one is particularly tied to questions that go beyond their tiny world.

Matt said...

Well, maybe, but I rather doubt it. It's just a fad and will be done soon enough, just like it was once before. (I do tend to think there's no great significance to fashion, but this isn't even a common thing, is it? I'd be surprised if this even had the "importance" of the trucker-hat trend. What did that signify? A back-to-the road mentality?

Phoebe said...

Matt,

You're right that not every trend can be (convincingly) tied to something greater. But to eliminate dress entirely from analysis of human experience is to ignore a great deal. (I suspect that a popular belief that clothes-are-just-clothes comes back to the impression we get from a young age that caring about such matters is girl-stuff. But I digress.)

Flapper dresses come to mind as a really obvious example of fashion being tied to important-things-even-serious-types-might-care-about. Trucker hats... it's less obvious. They were part of hipster irony, which could be argued went with a moment that was all about it being uncool to take things seriously. But, fair enough, this particular trend came and went without much importance.

But the lumberjack trend does relate to something larger, as it's tied with a broader movement, even if not all movement adherents wear the gear, and not all dressed this way care about locavorism/back-to-the-farm. My question is only whether this trend relates to the Palin moment. I don't see it as a question whether the new look has broader significance - it's clear enough that it does, just not obvious exactly how far that significance extends, and in which directions.

Withywindle said...

Correlation v. causation? Maybe there was some movie starring Matthew McConaughey [sp?] back in 2005 where he wore lumberjack chic, and it sparked a cultural movement that included both Palin and Brooklyn lumberjacks.

You could have a point, but I do want a few more data points.

Phoebe said...

Withywindle,

What sort of data points? Go to any of the restaurants that make a point about local sourcing, or the blocks around those restaurants, or the subway lines connecting those restaurants to Manhattan, and count the beards and lumberjackets. Note how those employed in the old-new-food industry dress. Or, if you're not keen on going back and forth on the L just for the heck of it, glance at any bar or restaurant review of a 'new-Brooklyn' establishment, and note how the patrons and staff are dressed.

Whereas vintage used to be about ironic t-shirts or distancing one's self from conspicuous consumption, it's now about concern for the environment; new clothes, if they must be purchased, should be of the rugged, will-be-worn-for-years variety. There's also an element of resistance to <a href="http://www.thegreatamericanappareldiet.com/interview-with-sarah-bongiorni/>made-in-China</a> fueling trends that at least look like they'd be all-American. But mainly, it's that Michael Pollan's advice about not eating what one's great-great-grandmother wouldn't have recognized as food fits aesthetically with not wearing any textiles she wouldn't have been familiar with. Nothing brand-name, acrylic, or industrial.

PG said...

I don't see any connection to Palinism in any of this, though. After all, it's not like Palin and her family show up to Tea Party conventions in muttonchops and lumberjack wear. Their aesthetic is bourgeois: they want to look nice and respectable and like people who have been raised right, without spending $70 on a pair of nylons (to take an example straight from page 230 of "Going Rogue"). Such an aesthetic is probably one of the few things I share with Palin (I get my pantyhose at Duane Reade), except that I'm lazier about it and have "screw it I don't care whether I look like a slob" days when I'm not at work.

People like Palin don't wear jeans to go to restaurants with entrees that cost over $20, as most of these locavorist places do. People like Palin also find it profoundly silly to get a lengthy description of their food's origins; if they didn't raise or kill it themselves, why would they want to hear about it?

Phoebe said...

PG,

Agreed that SP isn't lumberjack-chic or an Alice Waters ally. My theory was more that the two phenomena come from the same place, and are different manifestations of a fundamentally similar desire to return to some kind of all-American, small-town roots. Because unlike trucker hats, I don't believe the flannel these days is ironic. Not when worn by local-food proponents, at least.

PG said...

But Palin isn't returning to any roots -- she's always been small-town -- and indeed the Tea Party is disproportionately rural (and white and male). If the flannel-wearing local-food proponents are posers trying to achieve rural authenticity, then Palin and her Tea Party fans might be the real thing, except that if you confronted the former with the latter group, the posers would adamantly deny that they want to end up like those "rednecks."

Phoebe said...

PG,

Palin & co. have always been the real deal, fair enough, but if rustic takes over one of the two major political parties, then that's a revival of sorts. Those getting on the real-America bandwagon most enthusiastically may be rural, but many on the right who aren't rural are, I think, there in spirit.

As for the flannel-clad hipsters, they are (and here, no stats to back me up, just a sense from the L and G trains) mostly white and, if not rural, not originally from NY. Does this make them part of the Palin crew? No. Would Palinites and Greenpointers give one another friendly looks of recognition? No (although I can't imagine one of the ruddy, bearded hipsters in workboots denouncing "rednecks" at this stage of the game). But both groups share an interest in promoting large-scale retreat from cosmopolitanism. A shared anxiety about the world today could potentially merge the two groups, at least on some issues, but I'm not predicting anything so dramatic. I'm saying that there could be something about our times - and the economy's part but not all of it, since it was happening already - that makes a rejection of city-slickerdom appealing to groups that at first glance seem to have little in common.

PG said...

But if the hipsters aren't from NYC originally, then they are embracing urban living by choice, even if they try to dress it up with rural accessories. They can't be rejecting city-slickerdom by moving to a city, unless you're positing that these hipsters are so illogical that they think the proper way to retreat from cosmopolitanism is to move to the biggest city in America.

Phoebe said...

PG,

My sense is they come to the city with a certain degree of ambivalence. So it's not that they're illogical, but that they have mixed feelings. They want to live in a big city, but without sacrificing the feeling of community or the farm-fresh vegetables. They're not moving to the city-city, anyway, but to parts they can kinda-sorta justify as less urban, or at least less dense.