The next time you see a barista with a bushranger beard decorating the crema of a flat white with a fern leaf design, don’t think what I’ve secretly thought for the past few years — why don’t you just shave off the beard and get that job you studied for at university?
That is old-economy thinking. If you want to shift into the new economic paradigm you have to reimagine what’s going on in the working lives of young men, and that bearded barista is a good starting point.
Young men are reinventing the tradition of trades. They’re doing it in a masculine tradition — ergo the 19th-century beards; they’re doing it even if they have higher education and, along the way, they’re redefining old trades and reinvigorating inner-city economies. Oh yeah, they’re doing a good job of it, too.
The sorts of jobs where you’ll find new men in old trades include craft-beer makers, potters, whole-animal butchers, heritage vegetable growers, textile makers, custom welders, natural winemakers, glass blowers, bespoke printers, mixologists (cocktail makers), bicycle assemblers, distillers, beekeepers, furniture makers and succulents growers.
And yes, their labours are most obvious in inner suburbs such as Sydney’s Newtown and Melbourne’s Fitzroy, but they can also be found in regional towns, lifestyle centres and, well, most of Tasmania is a hub for people taking old stuff and making it new.
This maker movement may have been the hot trend of 2012 but the fact it has persisted — and turned a few young men into millionaires — indicates something more sustainable is happening here, and it’s not just in the sustainability of their hops supply chain.
The idea of an artisan career is now firmly set in the minds of young men who might otherwise be wearing white collars. And, as educated men take up these trades, the status of what was once a tinker’s work has risen, as have the prices of their products.
Some of the reasons why young men are doing this and the impact this sort of work has on neighbourhoods is canvassed in a forthcoming book called Masters of Craft by New York sociologist Richard Ocejo. But even an amateur sociologist can spot a coincidence in the arrival of master craftsmen. The revival of 19th-century men’s work is happening as 20thcentury men’s work disappears.
Men’s work occupies many deep thinkers at the moment, not just because it’s disappearing but because working men have been blamed for the rise of Donald Trump, the exit of Britain from the EU and the appeal of Marine/Pauline.
Men are peeved. In particular, men who used to work in manufacturing and other hi-vis-vest jobs, are angry these old jobs are being replaced by gigs such as Uber driving and packing bunches of kale for inner-city elites.
This shift in the jobs market is on such a steep graph that the last man who will turn off the lights on male employment is already alive. And women shouldn’t feel smug, because the robot that will turn the lights off on their employment is already vacuuming floors in some Silicon Valley start-up.
Out of the blue, old jobs have started reap- pearing. And these are really old jobs: jobs that need hand tools, pedal power, maturation times, locally sourced ingredients, muscle power and patient customers — everything China thought it had eliminated from production.
And that’s the point. All this stuff is crafted, awkward even; it makes you feel all 19th-century; it makes you talk about it with the creator; it makes you want to be part of it and tell your friends about it. It’s craft for Instagram.
The urge to use body and mind to produce good stuff seems particularly important to men. And they don’t need beards to do it. Sure, at the start of the maker movement a bushranger’s beard signalled to everyone the work they were doing wasn’t women’s work. It was 19th-century work for 21st-century men. They won’t need the beard for much longer because everyone will see them for what they are — men doing work that men have always done.