As you drive further north, the 101 freeway turns into a main street as it passes through the towns on route, and for whatever reason, economic, social, or otherwise, it gives me a chance to notice how Northern California remains in a sort of place of its own time and place, an odd confluence of the hippies who migrated there in droves after the Summer of Love, with the lumberjacks and hunters who took advantage of the ubiquitous redwood forest and ocean. Garishly psychedelicly painted houses, VW busses, and businesses abut bait-and-tackle stores and massive trucks, and in every little burg, you can get yourself an ugly carved redwood statue, which is the northern California equivalent of the velvet painting, except it can also grow moss if you leave it out in the rain.
The confluence takes on weird forms, a good one being microbreweries, a bad one being the wicker motorcycle we spotted in Eureka. One of the forms that briefly expanded worldwide was grunge. I thought grunge had left this world for good sometime in the mid-90s, but it lives on forever in the great northwest. As we were slowing down as 101 slowed into Willits, I saw a young man walking up a hill wearing a skirt. Outside of Celtic festivals, I hadn’t seen such a thing since the 90s, when some grunge rock stars had worn skirts, and it had kicked off a short-lived trend for male fashion victims. But here, in Willits, the fashion had apparently never died. In confirmation of this, I spotted another man in a skirt, in the same town. Oh, and flannel shirts? Yup, still being worn in Willits.
I thought it might be a small-town quirk: maybe the men in Willits had bought into the 90s fashions hard, and since then had never had enough spare money to buy themselves pants or decent shirts, but I was wrong. Days later, when I was browsing in Powell’s bookstore in Portland, I came upon another man wearing a kilt. Close up, I could see its appeal. It really looked more like Roman uniform wear than a dress, and paired with the right kind of boots, it lets you trek through the boggy fields without having to worry about soggy trouser bottoms. And I guess the flannel’s handy when you’re clear-cutting forests, or steering your fishing boat away from the rocky coast, I guess.
But it’s still a very regional fashion, one that I had relegated to a lost long-ago time, so I was pretty amused to still see it live and well in the Pacific Northwest.