Rather than Portland, Maine, these days Brooklyn, New York, and Portland, Oregon, get all the credit (both good and bad) for modern alternative youth culture. But Brooklyn while still exciting and fun, is more of a Johnny-Come-Lately than it was a decade or two ago, and Portland, Oregon is known more for its hipster-obsessive-isolationism than its widespread impact on the culture-at-large.
But if Brooklyn and Oregon aren’t the originators or modern cool than where did the plaid-class pull its inspiration from?
The other Portland, the one in Maine, in New England, the one that’s quietly been rewiring the style of young Americans since the day New York became too-cool-for-school.
The reason why most people don’t think of Portland as a prime mover in our modern culture is the same reason Portland will never find itself over-hyped on par with the Epcot Centers and Williamsburgs of the world. Portland is a small, remote city carved out of the rocky coasts and thick evergreen forests of one of the country’s smallest, most remote states. The first time I visited Portland I asked a friend why none of the phone numbers pasted onto fliers,먹튀커뮤니티 trucks and business cards had an area code on them, and she explained it was because the entire state of Maine only has a single area code- the state just doesn’t house a population big enough to require another.
The unrelenting wilderness surrounding Portland is the key to the city’s success as an American cultural hub. The city’s traditional economic engines, fishing and logging, provide a pool of references and sites for inspiration no Brooklynite would ever encounter in their day-to-day life. The city’s remote nature gives its residents the space and distraction-free living they need to pound away at their craft. And the fact Portland is buried in the middle of bear country makes it a less appealing relocation destination for the obnoxiously young and fashionable than the media-friendly dreamland of New York City’s popular outer borough du juor.
Exploring Modern Cool’s True Holy Land
The funny thing is, even though it takes a little explaining to describe why Portland has created the prototype for modern American alternative sensibilities, it only takes about five minutes of walking around the city to realize you’ve stepped foot in the cultural equivalent of primordial ooze.
How do modern cool kids dress these days? Plaid, lots of plaid, all-plaid-everything in fact, for men and women. The cool kids then add on to their plaid with outdoors wear- a canvas jacket or parka that would look right on the shoulders of a prospector and a big hat whose style was popularized by someone who either drove a truck or made their living cutting down trees. Modern cool kid style revolves around wearing fashionable variations on garments originally worn by blue-collar workers for purely practical reasons.
This style is on sight everywhere in Portland, the city from which the bizarrely popular lumberjack look migrated out to more populous segments of the country the same way grunge style exploded out of Seattle in the early 90’s.
The modern ideal of opening a small store that focuses on selling a single hand-crafted artisanal item owes far more of its DNA to Portland’s bountiful shops owned by young tightly-focused opt-outs than it has to do with the ultra-chic boutiques of Manhattan’s high-strung over-achievers. I bet you good money that Brooklynite with a post-ironic handlebar mustache who just opened a store named “Cheese and Provisions” found more inspiration from a nautically-themed t-shirt screen printing store decked out to look like a pirate’s base located in Portland than he got from a stark-all-white Surface-To-Air shop in SoHo.
And how about modern youth culture’s obsession with food? What about modern alternative culture’s love of carefully crafted, highly imaginative restaurants fighting back at our fast food nature? Despite being a city boasting a population of a whopping 66,000 people, Portland is home to a small army of internationally recognized eateries and boasts one of the densest concentrations of restaurants, bars, and taverns in the entire country. Many of the eateries in Portland focus on serving niche culinary markets and the city hosts a staggering number of microbreweries and brewpubs.
Many other modern trends in cool kid food obsession have been fixtures in Portland for generations. Portland’s oldest farmer’s market has been operating continuously since 1768 and the city has been at the forefront of the movement towards sustainable food production since the movement first began to form in the 1970’s. A cadre of back-to-the-landers moved up to Portland and got their hooks in deep, leading to a modern foodie scene that’s been solving problems of organic production and local food sourcing long before New York City got its first major organic food store.
The Problem of Authenticity
So what gives? Why are all of these fashion styles, artisan philosophies and local peculiarities native to Portland now mainstays of modern culture in major cities like New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles- cities far, far, far removed from the sort of hands-on past they love to ape and emulate?
It’s a rejection of slick popular culture through a jump back to a type of life that seems real, a quick grab for an idealized past that seems a lot more grounded in tangibles and solidity than our modern cutting-edge culture. In a word, all those cool kids moving to Bushwick, growing out their mutton-chops and pouring pickle-juice into their whiskey are seeking authenticity. And even though Portland certainly has its share of trying-too-hard youth-douchery, the city and the culture you experience walking its streets also offers a mainline to the sort of hard-as-nails lifestyle the guys kicking the old Polish families out of Greenpoint pretend they’d love to give a shot.
You can’t spend much time in Portland without rubbing elbows with this authentic ideal.
You can’t go to a small pine-lined diner to order a steak and eggs without some grizzled old guy sitting next to you eating the same. You can’t take a walk downtown without running into the city’s fish markets, stocked to the brim with soon-to-be-seafood caught by members of the city’s population. You can’t go to the craggy beaches without seeing the city’s still-functioning docks and shipyards. And any movement too far uptown leads you to an imposing forest.
Because as much as close proximity with the quickly-fading class of Americans who actually work with their hands may influence the style and character of Portland, as much as a deeply embedded frontier-mentality may work its way into the state’s self-identification, it’s arguably the close proximity to real wilderness that drives the unique spark shining out from Portland. The sea is wide, expansive and ever-present, cold, distant, and unforgiving. The coastline is rocky, harsh, and devoted to industry, not to sunbathing. The forest is constant, persistently encroaching on the town and waiting for you just beyond the lawns of the city limits.
Portland is the state capital and the most populous urban center in a state so small and seemingly insignificant that most people never give it a second thought. But Portland’s unique conflict of past and present, young and old, city and wilderness, continues to set the modern American standard the rest of us hustle to try and keep up with.