I grew up fishing, but it was never more than a sometimes hobby—real Huck Finn lazily sitting by the water just waiting for something to bite stuff. It was decidedly not fly fishing, which seemed like too much work. But then I read an article in the Times about how standing in the middle of a body of water and casting a line was the new “chic way to unwind.” After chewing on that for a bit, I picked up David Coggins’ book The Optimist, which makes a nice philosophical case for fly fishing. I figured I’d try it—I didn’t need a new hobby to be chic, but I am always looking for new ways to chill. That, and I always coveted the fits. Lots of great, sun-beaten dad hats, waxed cotton jackets and so much olive. In theory, fly fishing seemed like everything I’d want in a hobby. Slow, quiet and you can get dressed up for it.
Let me say, dear reader, that I didn’t quite get it. Fly fishing: not for me! The looks, however? Those stuck around. I bought a bunch of vintage Barbour. I started wearing swordfish hats with long bills, often with an Orvis long-sleeve. I am not totally a fisherman, but I’m definitely dressing like one.
There’s a little bit of guilt here. Maybe you’re familiar with the idea of stolen valor: that’s the term used to describe people who post as military veterans. Something similar exists in the world of personal style. Camo pants or Red Wing boots are fine, but when you show up to an event dressed like you just spent a day lugging cinder blocks despite having spent all day on Zoom, well, that’s fashion-world stolen valor. And I felt guilty for continuing to wear the gear I grabbed when I fancied myself a fisherman.
But maybe I shouldn’t feel so bad. These days, it’s hard not to incorporate some little element of another person’s hobby (or even your own!) into your wardrobe, even if you don’t realize that’s what you’re doing. It might be fly fishing, or maybe you picked up a varsity jacket for Only NY’s fictional running club, despite the closest you’ve gotten to running for pleasure is reading that Haruki Murakami about jogging. You don’t have to be a parent or a tennis player to own a “Tennis Mom” tote from Racquet Club LA. You’d rather stay warm inside than go hiking in frigid winter weather, but, damn, you’d cop a Jil Sander x Arc’teryx snowsuit in a heartbeat. The closest you come to ceramics is hoping to one day have a Seth Rogen vase in your home, but you own a pair of vintage jeans with specks of dried clay and paint on them. Perhaps you, like me, keep a couple of tomato plants and various perennials on your roof—but act and dress as if you spend your days plowing a field with the help of a lame mule.
The “weekend gardener” look, in particular, seems resonant here. I found my way to it by accident: I’d lazily pair overalls with clogs, or idly linger on the “buy now” link for a garden gi from Hot Cactus. I’d hit the farmers market in a pair of destroyed khakis and an old fleece underneath a French chore coat. All of that is to say: I spent a lot of my spring and summer dressing like somebody who has a weekend house in the country, where all I dream of doing is wrapping up work and going to tend to my roses. I’d describe that little period as “earthy.” Not quite crunchy, but not far from it. It was comforting as much as it was comfortable. Who cares if I wasn’t a gardener? It felt great.
It turns out that I wasn’t alone. “Sometimes these fits can drag you into a hobby,” says Bram Korsten. Early in the pandemic, Korsten found himself thinking about the relationship between people and nature. That thinking led to the founding of Bram’s Fruit. The brand draws inspiration from gardening as a lifestyle, with hats and shirts featuring a happy little lemon. There’s also a sweatshirt that says, “F*ck Off I’m Gardening.” The big thing is that it’s about gardening, but not of it. You could wear any of the Bram’s Fruit stuff while digging in the dirt, but that’s entirely up to you. A self-described “sloppy gardener,” Korsten looks at gardening as more of a metaphor. “It’s equal to growth,” he says. “Many of my actions are based on learning, exploring and seeding my dreams and future to let them grow.”
I was thinking of Korsten recently, as I sat on my roof trying to remember the basic points from the “How to prepare outdoor plants for winter” listicle I’d hurriedly read. I was in a blue French chore coat and an old pair of overalls; I had on an old bucket hat and I was waring my first pair of cozy socks of the season with Birkenstocks Nearby was a copy of Rebecca Solnit’s Orwell’s Roses, a look author’s life and work through his own obsession with planting things. I thought about how, during the pandemic, I had put together a little garden of sorts. I could count the tomatoes I’d successfully grown on one hand; most of the honeysuckle I planted (in hopes of attracting butterflies) had died. But one quote from the book really stuck with me: “Gardens are also places in which the inseparability of life and death is apparent in innumerable ways.” It made me feel a little better, looking around and seeing my own failed attempt to become more of a gardener on my little patch of rooftop. Sure, I was really into looking like a gardener. But I was also still trying to be one.