Fok-Yan Leung doesn't look out of place at the local field-and-stream emporium. His Maine Guide Jacket is nearly indistinguishable from the coats his fellow Moscow, Idaho, residents have on, and its maker, Woolrich, has been a wilderness staple since 1830. But despite the duds, Leung is actually a Harvard-trained researcher at a nearby university—not a grizzled Gem State native on the hunt for a new Winchester. And his jacket isn't your average Woolrich. It was produced by an Italian company. It was designed by Japan's Daiki Suzuki. And, as part of the luxe Woolrich Woolen Mills spinoff collection, it sells for $500—four times the price of a comparable Woolrich garment. "If the guys here found out, they'd be like, 'He's flipped his lid'," says Leung, who also manages Styleforum.net. "I've never fired a gun in my life."
Introducing haute Americana, one of the most powerful—and paradoxical—forces in men's sportswear. Until recently, men like Leung would've skipped the Woolrich for a skinny Dior suit. But in recent years a number of tastemakers, many foreign, have dedicated themselves to reviving iconic American clothing for a hip new audience. Some have collaborated with classic U.S. brands on revitalized products (see: Suzuki and Woolrich). Some have stocked hunting garb in their big-city boutiques. And some have actually begun to reproduce emblematic gear—Wayfarers, Penfield vests—to exacting standards of authenticity. The result—on ample display in places like Brooklyn, N.Y., and Portland, Ore., where certain streets now resemble catwalks crowded with bookish lumberjacks—is a subset of prosperous peacocks paying a premium for garments originally meant for mining or fishing, then wearing them to tapas bars and contemporary art installations.
Affected? Absolutely. Still, how we dress says a lot about who we want to be, and that ache for authenticity—or, at least, the aura of authenticity—is revealing. For the foreigners who instigated the fad, sturdy American gear has long evoked a distant, idealized culture. As a child, Suzuki would watch "The Graduate" and obsess over Dustin Hoffman's parka and Jack Purcells. "Americana represented a new, almost utopian viewpoint for me," he says. With the recent decline in our security, industry and standing, that nostalgia for a prelapsarian America (and the durable domestic goods that defined it) seems to have settled over the stylish set here at home. "Ironically, it's largely because of overseas interest that Americans can now wear real American stuff," says Michael Williams, a fashion publicist who covers Americana on his blog, A Continuous Lean. "They're recognizing that heritage and quality are precious in our disposable Wal-Mart world." It's as if globalization has come full circle, creating both an appetite for cultural anchoring and a fashion to feed it.
Adherents say the provenance of a particular garment is key; the deeper the roots, the better. For Owen Langston, 30, the latest Levi's are acceptable. But he'd rather wear Sugar Cane denim of Tokyo, whose meticulous $245 reproductions of 1947 501s so mirror the originals (steel doughnut buttons; vintage zinc zippers; thick, raw denim) that Levi's recently filed a complaint. To complete the look, Langston could slip into a chambray shirt ($240) by the French-designed Mister Freedom label, or swing by J. Crew for Minnesota's Red Wing boots, a staple of construction sites since 1905. (Other hot picks: Alden shoes, Sperrys, Pendleton shirts.) The point is that Langston & Co. are leaving home looking like middle-class, mid-20th-century American men. And they're happily paying upper-crust, 21st-century prices for the privilege.
In part, the heritage vogue is a (rather ironic) rebellion against the stylization of posh city life— a rebellion that seems likely to spread as we enter a new era of fiscal restraint. But mostly it's a way for Information Agers to preserve and project their manliness. Want to feel "realer" than the guy in the designer loft next door? Purchase a Mackinaw Cruiser in red-and-black plaid ($280) from Filson, Seattle's 112-year-old outdoor supplier, or shop at New York's Freemans Sporting Club, where straight-razor shaves, taxidermy and Maine-made Quoddy Trail boots reign supreme. By choosing clothes that exist for a reason, young urbanites are defying the metrosexual mores of recent years and trying to participate in a testosterone-rich tradition instead. It's still fashion, of course. But it's fashion that fulfills a masculine ideal rather than a feminine one: function over frill. Superficial or not, that shift has come as a relief for men who already spend more time working with their MacBooks than their hands—a sign that they aspire to be as strong and silent as their rougher-hewn predecessors. If only Grandpa knew how chic he was.