"THE MOMENT WE START saying that we're cool, we're not," says Bill Kulczycki in Kurt B. Reighley's United States of Americana. The CEO of Filson, one of a handful of American workwear brands that have seen resurgent interest in recent years, is speaking in the context of his venerable company's reluctance to align itself with trends and celebrities, though the sentiment could be applied to much within Americana's pages. A collection of histories, trivia, and interviews, Reighley's book offers a comprehensive guide to young America's return to the ways of generations past, with immersive chapters on such activities as raising chickens, facial hair grooming, and burlesque.
The work reads as the product of the pleasurable task of gathering up one's interests, even if the bottling and branding inevitably quells a bit of the magic. Reighley hews close to his own peculiar standards of utilitarianism, admonishing those dismissive of steam-punk culture to "get over themselves" only to, in the next breath, accuse it of lacking the "essential pragmatism" that would dignify a chapter as lengthy as those devoted to underground circuses and faux speakeasies. And while some aspects of what Reighley identifies as part of the movement have obvious, practical ties to current events, like the economic appeal of home canning, the championing of the idea that "elaborately styled facial hair projects self-confidence and personality" rings less true, cutting edge, and cool every time it's repeated.
As cultural observance goes, it was only a matter of time before someone would summarize the up-tick of interest in straight-razor shaving and DIY knitting as "The New American Roots Movement." Reighley argues the virtues of his subjects valiantly, though to embrace each aspect herein would be a recipe for caricature. Not everyone should learn to play the washboard, compete in mustache competitions, or collect taxidermy (much less all three at once).
However, should you wish to seriously undergo the task of making jam or to educate yourself on pre-Prohibition cocktails, Reighley has compacted an impressive amount of resources into a relatively short tome, peppering his spirited histories with amusing factoids and supporting quotes. Perhaps unintentionally, in its encapsulation the excitement of Reighley's movement feels passed, but such is the nature of cultural mapping, where what is becomes secondary to what's next the moment you've got your finger on it.