January 27, 2008

The Unsung Hero of American Classic

Around 10 years ago, when I was a young, surly, rebellious teenager, I thought I was stylish, edgy and, dare I say it, a trendsetter. With my abundant black eyeliner, wallet chain, flannel shirts and skateboard-intended sneakers (I didn't), I "sassed" my mother when she would show me catalogs featuring women her age, wearing Oxfords, moccasins and "skorts." I was dedicated to newfound love of underground punk music and bad influence friends, and had no interest in looking like I was about to go kayaking in Casco Bay.

Within a short time, however, I slowly began to gain a great appreciation for a New England-based company which chose quality over advertising, and classic cuts over trends. Once I got over the initial difficulty of ordering through a new catalog without the opportunity to see how I sized up in a store, L.L. Bean became my go-to source for slippers, sweaters and coats I knew would last me for years. The Best Thing To Come Out Of Maine earned a permanent spot in my shopping rotation my senior year of high school, when I discovered their indestructible wool sweaters, $30 boat shoes and one of my favorite things on the planet: the Bote & Tote Bag. Monogrammed, of course.

While some items in the catalog are more expensive than others ($30 River Sweater next to the $200 Hudson Bay Point Blanket), two things are always certain: the item will always look good, and the quality is the highest. What I mistook in 9th grade for boring, middle-aged duds were actually classic, American items meant to get you through multiple seasons for multiple years, both in terms of appearance and function.

L.L. Bean doesn't have the high-end, Ivy League Brat appearance (or clientele) as, say, J.Crew or Lilly Pulitzer. These are both stores I love, surely, but what L.L. Bean has over them is history, and a subtly prep, polished appearance unlike any other brand, which will be noticed by those in the know, those who matter, those whose mothers have been putting the catalog in front of them since junior high.

Below are some of my favorite pieces from Freeport. There are items for work, play, lounging and activity... everything but evening. Who knew Mom was so chic?

Galway Jacket in charcoal herringbone, $99

Bayside Twill Blazer in stone, $59

Baby-Cable Button-Front Cardigan in sun, $49.50

Pinpoint Oxford Shirt, 3/4 Sleeve in blue stripe, $35.50

Rockport Plainfield Boots in milkdud, $160

Wicked Good Moccasins in natural, $49.50

Bean's Toggle Coat in camel, $199

Casco Bay Boat Mocs in navy, $44.50


PS: I'm saving Bean's Home Collection for another post, because their flannel bedding alone is worth it.