Several months back I made a trip to a thrift store in Roswell and came across two pairs of old LL Bean moccasins--a pair of blucher mocs and a pair of camp mocs. Having been in possession of a pair of the current Bean blucher mocs for a little while, I was quite intrigued at the superior quality of the leather on the old pair of bluchers, as well as the difference in the shape of the toe box. Since both pairs fit, in spite of their worn out soles, I went ahead and bought them both (something like $15 total).
Old bluchers, after being resoled
It was a while before I finally took the old bluchers in to get resoled, but I was able to take them to my local shoe repair place and get actual moccasin soles put on them, and I also replaced the leather liner on the inside of the shoe. Upon comparing them to the current versions, I have reached these conclusions.
1. The toe box on the old pair is superior. It is rounder and more elongated; the modern pair has a squarer, stumpier toe box. The older pair just plain looks better.
2. The vamp on the older pair is a bit higher. This isn't necessarily a good or bad thing, but for wearing with shorts, and for slipping on and off without untying the laces, the lower vamp is better.
3. The leather on the old pair is much better. It is thicker, sturdier, looks better, and is clearly able to improve its appearance with age. The modern leather is thinner, looks faker, and seems incapable of developing any sort of patina. However, I will say that the leather used on the modern version is much softer and more comfortable.
4. Of somewhat less importance, the older version of the moccasin sole generally looks better compared the high-tech-looking sole used on the modern pair.
"Are your shoes from the future?"
Regarding the camp mocs, that has been a bit of a different story. I tried to purchase a pair of the modern camp mocs a couple of years ago, but had real trouble with the sizing. I couldn't get a pair that would fit snugly enough on my feet without being too tight. I ended up giving up and exchanging them for the blucher mocs that I have. The camp mocs that I found at the thrift store seemed to fit pretty well, however, and I was pretty excited about getting them back into working condition.
However, I took them back up to above-mentioned cobbler (this was after I got the blucher mocs resoled), and was told by the owner that the company that made the moccasin soles is no longer making them and that he couldn't get any. I was pretty miffed by this; you mean to tell me that there is no company in the entire country, or world even, that makes the old-style moccasin soles? I ended up deciding to just take my shoes back and wait until I could find someone else to put the proper sole on them.
I ended up taking them to Midtown Shoe Repair about three weeks ago. I brought in my pair of old blucher mocs to show the guy what I wanted, and he seemed confident that he could do what I wanted. He told me it would be two weeks, and after waiting patiently, I went back up there this past Saturday. Upon getting the shoes back, I saw that they had a boat shoe-style sole on them. "This isn't what I wanted" I told the guy. In his broken English he told me, like the other cobbler told me, that the company that he used to get them from no longer makes them. It didn't matter, I was still pretty peeved that he went ahead and put the wrong soles on them. Maybe if he had asked for my phone number when I dropped off the shoes, he could have called and told me that he couldn't get what I wanted. Knowing that there was little I could do at this point, I went ahead and paid and knew that I wouldn't take my business there again. I will still continue to seek out someone who can put the right soles on them, but I guess I will wear them in the meantime.
So, aside from the soles, how is this old version of camp mocs? Pretty good, I would say. While I can't do a direct comparison since I don't have a pair of the modern camp mocs, the superiority of the old pair mostly comes down to the superior leather. As you can see, these shoes have taken on some very good character, and in spite of their age (who knows how old they are), they are still in very good condition. The laces are even the original ones (or at least the ones that were on them when I bought them). The fit is alright; the right shoe is pretty tight on my instep, and they could be a little most snug in the heel, but overall they work pretty well. If I actually wore them with socks, they'd probably fit even better.
Boat shoe sole on a moccasin: what a travesty
So what can be taken from this comparison? Well, LL Bean's camp and blucher mocs have certainly changed over the past decades. While they are still classic, versatile, affordable and reliable footwear, the old versions are simply better. I think that LL Bean needs to go back to a better quality leather and use the old pattern (including the old toe box). I can't really think of a reason why Bean would sell the current version, except that it is likely cheaper to make, and possibly represents a greater profit margin. My plea to Bean, and to Alex Carleton and the team at LL Bean Signature: bring back the old version, even if it costs a little more. It's simply better.