There is a trend present in our consumptive culture that primarily involves looking backwards for crap to buy, the essence of which seems to be a desire to purchase things that will last or else to eat and take care of ourselves the way our grandparents did. Interests in things like knitting, beer brewing, and growing our own food are all part of this and, to the extent it’s not a shallow excuse for conspicious consumption, it’s generally alright.
Included in this is a collective desire by men to pretend we have blue collar origins. Words like “honest” and “rugged” get thrown around a lot when talking about chambray shirts and handmade leather goods of various shades of absurd. We get suckered by Walt Whitman being used to sell jeans, formerly exclusively an item worn by miners and sailors but eventually becoming the uniform of a counterculture we wish we were actually a part of.
Much of this is just a new flavor of midlife crisis. Men have been buying motorcycles and uneccessary tools since the agricultural revolution drove people into cities and further away from seeing the fruits of their labor. Now though they aren’t buying sportsbikes or powerboats – they’re buying Royal Enfields and wood-masted sailboats. American automakers have been remarkably ahead of the curve by introducing (or re-introducing) primarily retro-styled musclecars to cater to the oh-shit-I’m-old crowd.
So there’s money to be made by selling men fancy handmade retro stuff* to men or otherwise helping them pretend they’re one of the guys on the yacht in a Polo ad. Where there’s money to be made, there’s a blog. Enter Uncrate, Acquire, and Gear Patrol.
All three of these blogs have a lot in common and cover very similar products for a very similar demographic. None allow comments, and for good reason: much of the stuff they present is absofreakinglutely ridiculous. My personal favorite are these axes from Best Made.
Granted, this is an extremely nice product. It seems very well made and seems to have been produced by someone who really stands behind it. If my dad needed an axe for some reason I’d gladly buy him this**. However would I buy myself this axe, in the extreme off chance I’d actually need one? Honestly first I’d go to a hardware store. If I used what I got there a lot and and it broke and/or it just sucked for some tangible reason, then I might consider buying something worthy of being passed to my hypothetical children. You know, the same children that will one day consume all my disposable income and thus eradicate my ability to buy expensive hand-produced specialty tools. But I digress.
It goes without saying that most of these products aren’t necessary and instead represent wish fulfillment. I WISH I lead the kind of life that required me to need this axe, or even had a cabin far out in the woods somewhere in which this axe would come in quite handy for 2 weeks out of the year. Instead though I live in Brooklyn with a roommate. Our most regular adventure involves bimonthly discussions of possibly, maybe getting a cat.
So I wont be buying an axe, but what else is on these sites? Generally everything these blogs display (you could almost say “advertise” and very rarely if ever say “review”) fall into one of the following categories, each of which can have the word “expensive” appended to the front:
- Questionably functional hand made tools for tasks I’ve never known anyone to need to do
- Fancy outdoor equipment of varying usability.
- Electronic gizmos you’ve seen elsewhere already or else wouldn’t be caught dead owning/using/holding/breathing on.
- Shit from J Crew, or at least looks like it should be on the shelf at J Crew.
- So many goddamn murses.
- Lotions and hand creams. Because men need to be told it’s ok to buy these things.
- Watches. Because real men wear things on their wrist that cost more than their computer.
- Luxury yachts and cars. Because why the fuck not.
Much of this you see elsewhere online in much snarkier tones. Considering you can’t throw a rock without hitting a gadget or general lifestyle blog, do I really need these websites to remind me that I should*** want an iPad? In short, of the three Gear Patrol is the only one that consistently displays products I haven’t seen elsewhere and seems to have the most balanced coverage, even going so far as to produce reviews. Furthermore their posts don’t practically mirror the other blogs and actually display fresh content I haven’t seen before.
In the end all of this is fine and dandy, even the fact that everything tends to be pricey. But let’s be honest: the army inspired trench coat isn’t 6 times better as the actual army surplus trench it costs 6 times more than, and our grandfathers would be happy either with the army-surplus version or else whatever he could find at the sale rack at JC Penney. So my advice is this: browse these sites for ideas then take your money elsewhere, except in situations where you can really justify the increase in price as an equivalent increase in quality. In the meantime I’m going to go talk myself out of buying a new watch.* Stuff is a word used a lot on these blogs
** However dad’s pushing 70 and I spend most of my time trying to talk him OUT of using heavy tools.
*** FYI I don’t. If given one I’d sell it on ebay immediately and use the money to get something useful. Like a hand made axe.