Thursday, January 15, 2009

If it ain't broke...

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.

Rubber Moc

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.

Conspicuously Absent

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.


Anonymous said...

My camp mocs should be here tomorrow. I got the bluchers a few months ago and they are my main footwear now; unless it rains and then I turn to my Bean Boots (not big on the dark brown and yellow of the Maine Hunting Shoe). If only I could find that Trail Model Jacket and Norwegian.....

Anonymous said...

I bought a LL Bean Norwegian Sweater on e-Bay recently, in a quest for preppy purity. Unfortunately, the thing is so scratchy it feels like some medieval Catholic torture device - but worse than this, the collar is so wide I feel like a total dork in it. This one will have to be strictly a museum piece for me.

P in Phoenix

Tammy B said...

I still have my bluchers from the early 80's and they are still together. I think a little mink oil or polish may help them. I've noticed that the birds eye sweater is in the Christmas catalogue every year. But if you don't look hard enough, you'll miss it. I ordered the navy birds eye cardigan a couple of weeks ago. It seemed a little heavier than the birds eye crew neck that I ordered a couple of years ago. As big as LL Bean as gotten, you still can't beat the quality for the price. Their quality has not gone down as much as other brands such as Lands' End.

Zingiber said...

Great post. I think your list is exactly right.

Paper Clip said...


The heaviness, scratchiness and thick collar are the "sine qua non" of the Norwegian sweater. You wear a OCBD under it anyway, so it never touches your skin. This is what a heavy wool sweater is meant to be!

Adam said...

Coming from New England down to the south 10 years ago I was surprised how popular LL Bean was. I guess I had taken it for granted living up there. I think I'll have to get a pair of those Casco Bay boat shoes in honor of Peaks Island. My family summer retreat (in Casco Bay).

Anonymous said...

I grew up about 15 minutes from L.L. Bean in Freeport and spent my youth in head-to-toe L.L. Bean. (I must say that as an adult, I'm still mostly in L.L. Bean.) I agree the quality is not what it used to be. Alas, I just (only about 2 weeks ago) purchased a new pair of camp mocs. They came completely unstitched at the point where the side of the shoe meets the "tongue" (at the big loops of white thread, if you look at the photo you posted) for no apparent reason after just a few wearings. Clearly, the construction is not what it used to be. Also, thanks to Anonymous, above, for reminding me how scratchy the Norwegian sweater is, and how big the collar area is. I purchased one these 20 years ago or so, and never really wore it for those precise reasons (even though I bought it in the store, tried it on, and convinced myself I wanted it.) I didn't know what had happened to it - most of my old clothes are still at my parents' house, but I have been told this one is long gone. Recently I have been missing it, aware that I can no longer buy the sweater. Anonymous has reminded me that I probably wouldn't wear it today, either.