I think that most would agree that LL Bean isn't what it used to be. Over the years the company has gone from small Maine-based outfitter to a global company that has diversified itself into every possible outdoor niche and outsourced the production of most of its products to third world countries. In doing so, they have diluted the number of classic, good-looking, and quality-made products into near oblivion. Fortunately, a few standards still exist, most in a state close to their original greatness. I have outlined them below:
The Maine Hunting Shoe
About as close to the original as you can get, and still made in Maine. I have them in 10" and are great for being out in the field, or just for a rainy day.
Made famous by the Official Preppy Handbook, accept no substitute. Throw these on to go get the mail, or to head to the bar. They look best with no socks (although actually going sockless is not recommended; use a pair of "loafer socks" to create the illusion). Made in Maine.
Chamois Cloth Shirt
Although these aren't made in the US, they're still pretty good. Soft, comfortable, rugged and warm, wear it while raking leaves or in the duck blind. Can also be worn over an oxford cloth shirt a shirt-jacket.
Irish Fisherman's Sweater
Still made in Ireland, they cost a pretty penny at $119, but they are surely worth every penny, especially if you are on a fishing boat in the somewhere in the North Atlantic.
Original Field Coat
While I don't own one of these myself, they appear to be about as good as the original. If I didn't have a Barbour, I would most certainly pick one up. While the "Stone" color seems to be popular, I think that "Saddle" is a better choice.
Camp Moc/Blucher Moc
These are no longer made in Maine, and the leather is of questionable quality. However, they still seem to be decently constructed, fairly comfortable, and are amazingly versatile. If they're good enough for Vampire Weekend, they're good enough for me.
Casco Bay Boat Mocs
I suppose this choice is a little bit of a cheat since Bean hasn't really been offering these for very long. However, I got a pair about three years ago and they are an awesome boat shoe; they are far superior to the pair of Topsiders I own. I have them in Briar (which start to look better after a bit of wear and some applications of mink oil), but they are also available Chocolate, which look similar to the classic Sperry dark brown.
LL Bean Trail Model Vest
Photo courtesy of Heavy Tweed Jacket
Although Bean does, from time to time, offer a nylon down jacket, since they started using zippers instead of buttons, things really haven't been the same
LL Bean Norwegian Sweater
80% Wool, 20% Rayon, and made in Norway, these sweaters, like the Rubber Mocs, were immortalized in the Official Preppy Handbook. No self-respecting prep in the 80s would have been without one. In spite of bringing back a Chinese-made version a few years ago (with a lower wool content, natch), I suspect that this one is gone for good. Fortunately they can usually be found on Ebay.
I should note that fortunately Bean's customer service is still top-drawer. If you call them, the phones are answered by actual Americans (it is especially exciting when they have a Maine accent) and their return policy is fantastic. I can only hope that they keep around many of these products for years to come.
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