Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Ah, lumberjacks. Is there any trend you can't start? First you had everyone wielding tree-demolishing axes. Then it was the log rolling. You were such a beacon of trend setting. Thankfully, your fashion forwardness did not disappoint.
Okay, so maybe lumberjacks weren't necessarily in on the whole ironic grunge wave of fashion, but they certainly did provide a wealth of inspiration. The early-to-mid 90s were an interesting era, fashion-wise. Highly influenced by the mainstream rise of grunge music and subsequent subculture, the 90s saw an inexplicable rise in woodsy, outdoorsy styles. As Seattle was the generally-agreed-upon birthplace of grunge, it was no wonder they had the whole fashion world dressing like Pacific Northwesterners. Minus the functionality, that is.
Flannel became a ubiquitous staple of youth culture identity in the 90s, flaunting a sense of moody, brooding anti-authority that so defined young people in the grunge era. Plaid, functionally warm button-down shirts provided the necessary anti-fashion vibe embodied by the irreverent point of contact between Generation X and Generation Y. Before Generation Y grew up and got all civic-minded and mainstream (and probably considerably less cool), they were still riding the crest of unshakable cynicism with their 70s-born hippie-parent-backlash peers of Generation X.
Before the days of hipster chic, the level of irony in one's clothing was not quite as well-selected. While now you can walk down a trendy urban street and see the exhaustively planned outfits of a bunch of American Apparel catalog rejects, ("See, if I pair this pinstriped fedora with these neon yellow 1970s high school gym shorts...") back in the 90s the anti-fashion was not quite so preconceived. Rather, while the 80s had provided us with ridiculous poppy, mainstream, shiny bright-colored trends, the 90s' answer was to spit in the face of these bubblegum trends and say, "Screw it all. We're wearing flannel."
General unkemptness was a popular side effect of the grunge culture. True to the movement's name, grunge followers were, well, grungy. They had dirty, stringy long hair and tended to have that pleasant unwashed look (and we can only assume, corresponding smell.) Lucky for society the actual grunge movement was pretty centralized, meaning the flannel-clad sullen-faced teens you saw in your own hometowns were likely some class of poseur. Sure, they had the flannel shirts and ripped up jeans, but they were buying the shirts 3 for 1 at Kohl's and purchasing their jeans pre-ripped. Their authenticity and intention was at best questionable. It's probably more that they just really, really liked the Smells Like Teen Spirit video than that they subscribed to any particular brand of anti-authority ideology.
Lucky for the flannel industry (there's a whole flannel commercial infrastructure, right? I assume) it it a highly functional fabric that certainly has its share of constructive uses. Though I'm sure the usefulness of flannel is far more wide-ranging, here are some of the basic functionalities of 1990s flannel-wearing:
1. It kept the heroin chic among us warm
Forget Twiggy, the 90s brought a whole new wave of painfully thin, strung-out-looking models. Kate Moss was an unsmiling, non-eating supposed inspiration for us all. You have to realize, though, that it gets cold being that skinny. These uninsulated waifs were lucky to have a big burly flannel on hand to fight off the 0% body fat woes.
2. The butt-less still reeling from Sir Mix-a-Lot's slurs could use it handily as padding
No one in the 90s would ever wear a flannel shirt on its own. No, it was necessary to pile on as many other cynical concert tees as you could muster in order to fully achieve your 90s grunginess. Sometimes, though, you just needed a break from your heat-producing flannel. Don't have a place to put it down? Use your body as a temporary hanger and tie it around your waist! A foolproof plan. Good for hiding bodily imperfections and stains, too.
3. You are so tired you couldn't possibly wait until you got home and climbed into bed.
Luckily, your flannel doubled as pajamas. Or better yet, you could simply grab your handy seam-ripper and before you know it, you've got a new pair of winter sheets. Talk about multipurpose!
4. You would make a stellar extra on Nickelodeon's Pete and Pete or ABC's My So-Called Life
Both Petes were famous for their signature flannel looks. You'd be hard-pressed to find an episode of MSCL where neither Angela nor Jordan was wearing some manifestation of flannel somewhere on their person. These fine specimens of 90s television were spreading the good word of flannel, one episode at a time.
5. In a frequently temperature-shifting setting, it offered top-notch ventilation
Perfecting your flannel-based outfit was contingent on layering. Luckily, the open-flannel-over-t-shirt-or-thermal look allowed for intermittent breezes and important underarm and back ventilation.
6. Great for absorbing greasy hair!
How else would the members of Nirvana or Pearl Jam lay down to sleep at night without sliding off the pillow? Chalk it up to the ever-absorbent power of flannel. Go days without washing with full grease-drip protection!
7. You can pose as a Brawny Paper Towels spokesimage model, no problem
Again, that lumberjack image. When paired with your work jeans and some Doc Martens or Timberlands, you were pretty much ready for whatever challenge (or spill) nature threw at you.
To all you former Niravana-wannabes, embrace your once-burgeoning early 90s grunginess. You don't even need too be overly nostalgic to begin this inner hug, as flannel has (for better or worse) made a comeback in a big way. So go out there and wear it proudly. Just please don't tie it around your waist this time around.