30 Years in Filson: A Musician’s Story

Filson-JohnRoderick-1John Roderick is an American musician, writer, and podcaster. Born in Seattle, Washington, he grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, where as a young man he worked as a sluice box mucker for a gold mining operation in the area. He is currently the lead singer and guitarist in the band The Long Winters and an outspoken Filson fan 30 years in the making.


When I was sixteen I had a growth spurt and was suddenly able to wear my dad’s clothes. His closet, which had been a childhood clubhouse and hiding place, was now suddenly a university class in how to dress like a grown-up man. In 1984 my dad’s new girlfriend took him shopping for a flashy new wardrobe of double-breasted suits at the Nordstrom in downtown Anchorage, but all my dad’s sixties suits still hung there in the closet in perfect order. Three buttons, cuffed flat-front pants, thin lapels, all tailored at Fredrick and Nelson and other venerable Seattle men’s shops.


Enraptured by this encyclopedia of style I was even more astonished to find a pair of oil-finish tin pants from Filson. I didn’t understand what they were at first, the worn and treated fabric seemed almost like leather. My dad was sporty, outdoorsy, but these pants seemed like clothes from another time, like something a prospector would wear. The 80’s were the era of Gore-Tex and polypropylene, but his Filson pants were outerwear beyond mere fashion. I stole them immediately.


I wasn’t much of a fashion conformist in high school. I wanted to wear only classic things. The fashion at the time was for Miami Vice pastels, or Fast Times at Ridgemont High surf wear, but those clothes seemed so flimsy and stupidly trendy. I didn’t want to be a twit in the latest checkerboard clothes, I wanted to dress like I imagined Jack London dressed. I wanted to be ready for anything. What if there was a catastrophic earthquake? What if the Russians invaded Alaska and we were forced to escape into the woods. Those Vans would seem like a pretty poor choice after a night in winter.


So I took my dad’s Filson pants and wore them to school. They were an immediate sensation, although not in the way I hoped. A girl asked me if they were wet. My buddies, standing around in their identically faded and creased Levi’s, were embarrassed on my behalf, as only teenagers can be at a friend’s fashion faux pas, but I stood my ground. “These are Filson’s,” I explained. “They are outdoorsman clothes. They are superior.” My friends were snobs but I was a reverse double snob.


A few years later I was living in Seattle, still wearing my old Filson pants. I made friends with an artist named Tom who lived in a loft in Pioneer Square. Tom was an impressive guy. He was old Seattle. One sunny autumn afternoon I was at his apartment when the weather changed dramatically and started to rain. Tom offered me a jacket, a classic late-60’s green Filson Cruiser, to wear home. “It was my dad’s” he said, “but it’s too small and I never wear it. You can keep it.” It was like being given the keys to an airplane! I had never owned such a beautiful thing, already worn to a soft patina, already slightly faded by hard use. I tried to refuse but Tom was adamant. “Take it,” he said, “You’ll get better use out of it.”


I wore that jacket every day. I was living a rough life at the time, my youthful desire to be “classic” in every way extending to the idea that it was “classic” to get drunk and sleep outside and smoke cigarettes and get in fights. I was trying to emulate a kind of manhood that was falling out of fashion and dying from disuse, a sort of northwestern bruised-knuckle bohemianism that didn’t have the same pride of place in Seattle’s coffee cart future. My Filson jacket was my armor. It shed the rain, blocked the wind, and made me feel like a local in any tavern or bar. My Filson and a Cowichan hat were my only outerwear through all the grunge years, a timeless combination equal parts Jack London and Jack Pepsi.


A few years later, having fallen low enough to take a job at a local pizza chain, I befriended a co-worker named Andy who, despite being younger than me, had worked his way into a position of considerable authority as a pizza cook. He was a handsome, modish, floppy-haired kid with a non-conformist taste for Brit-pop and a Fred Perry sense of style. At one point he quizzed me on my worn green Filson, wondering how and why I wore this same jacket everywhere. He was trying to front on my “old man” style, but I let him have it, explaining with a fair degree of condescension that this jacket was a Seattle institution, the Filson Cruiser, and that any self-respecting person should not only own one but should pay tribute to them in word and deed.  By this point in time I was so inseparable from my coat that I feared losing it. I was careful never to leave it on a barstool or coathook. I frequently rolled it up and used at as a pillow when I ended up sleeping on someone’s couch. I extolled its virtue from the end of every bar in town in the same knowing tone I’d used with Andy. I felt like owning a Filson was a Northwest badge of honor.


Twenty years later I still own that Filson Cruiser, I’ve worn it on tour all over Europe and America, and still wear it every winter. I still have the Cowichan hat too, although those original tin-finish pants finally gave up the ghost a few years ago. They were probably forty years old by the time they came apart, and I’d been wearing them constantly since I took them from my dad’s closet in 1984. In the intervening years I’d added several Filson items to my collection, including a pair of Whipcord wool pants, some luggage, and a heavy ski coat that Filson made in partnership with Burton. I never lost my taste for classic clothes, it only grew stronger in me as I got older. I have a daughter now, so it’s doubtful that most of these items will get passed down to her, but maybe she’ll have a son. Doubtless I’ll hold on to the stuff long enough to give it to him.


About a year ago I stopped in to the Seattle Filson showroom to browse the racks and say hi to a writer friend, Chris, who’d taken a part-time job at Filson out of a love for the clothes and a desire to soak in the atmosphere of the last of the true Seattle outfitters. I ran into another friend there, former Harvey Danger bassist Aaron Huffman, just looking for a coat for the winter. As we stood there chatting, Chris said, “There’s someone here who’d like to say hi to you.” Out from the back room came a guy about my age, very fit, dressed head-to-toe in tailored Filson, bald and bearded and in every way the picture of a Northwest outdoor guide. “Do you remember me?” he asked. It was Andy, the mod pizza cook. Sometime after we’d lost touch he finally went down to visit the Filson store and he’s worked there ever since, although he spends half the year as a hunting guide in Alaska! Quite a lifestyle change from listening to Blur! The other Filson employees confirmed Andy is sort of an unofficial expert on everything Filson, a kind of institutional memory for the store and its products.


It was emotional to see Andy again, and amazing to hear his stories of the life he’d discovered as an outdoor guide. I told him a little about life on tour in a rock band, and we laughed about my old Filson coat and the role it played in both our lives. The other employees and customers in the store crowded around us for a while to hear us ribbing each other with old stories, but pretty soon they all drifted away and it was just Andy and me left standing there in the racks of clothes. “Why’d you come down today?” he asked. “I was looking for some pants, actually.” I said. “Oh, you should check out these new jeans,” he said, “What’s your size? 36?” and he started bringing me clothes to try on.