Walking through downtown Manhattan any given day, you encounter a cultural oddity. The Paul Bunyan statue from Fargo has come to life, reproduced, and taken over entire neighborhoods. Filson, Red Wing, Woolrich, Engineered Garments. Some have called these come-to-life city-dwelling folk heroes, “urban woodsmen.” But Elliott James Sainsbury of Menswear has coined a better term to describe the Bunyanites, and that is “monocle man.” ESJ writes, “He shops at Borough Market and Columbia Road. He listens to Radio 4. He might grow his own veg or at least get a vegebox, drink wanky coffee and listen to Mumford & Sons (whose name actually sound like a countryfied clothing label). And, of course, he reads ever-so-slightly po faced magazines like Inventory, A Continuous Lean. and, of course, MONOCLE.” ESJ is describing an English type with an American analogue in the woodsman. He’s the man for our times. A consummate consumer caught in an economic downturn, he purchases common-looking items that cost oodles of money. He is the ironically conspicuous inconspicuous consumer. That madras shirt can’t cost $125. Oh, but it does.
Almost as interesting as the Monocle Man phenomenon itself is the reaction to the phenomenon. For a group that subscribes to an incredibly narrow interpretation of classic American style manufactured by specific brands which have received the imprimatur of the chief woodsman, Monocle Men are surprisingly fearful of labels, especially ones that draw attention to the extent of their preening. Blogs that announced the arrival of Monocle Man were met with defensive comments from woodsmen hailing from Williamsburg all the way to Chelsea. “I can wear Filson because my third cousin used to shoot skeet…or was it trap? Wait, which is the blue-collar one?” Authenticity is the Monocle Man’s bugaboo. If he can prove that his interest in American clothing is not ephemeral, not just a manifestation of the vicissitudes of the fashion cycle, he can attain at least some pretense of authenticity. Ironically, for a style that would have a young graphic designer walking around the Meatpacking District dressed like Ed Gein, phoniness is really looked down upon.
Of course, Monocle Men attach too much importance to authenticity. It’s sincerity that counts, isn’t it? Wear what you like because you like it and save everyone the rationalizations.