"New England is quite as large a lump of earth as my heart can really take in." - Nathaniel Hawthorne

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Norwegian Crewneck Sweater

From the archives...
Many have asked for a review of the L.L. Bean Norwegian Sweater.  Specifically, there have been many questions asking: if the new version is better than the original version (shown above);  if they are still worth the price; and if L.L. Bean is the only place to get one.




Many in the U.S. associate the sweater with L.L. Bean.  For example, consider this quote from Guaranteed to Last : “When [Roger] had the opportunity to work for the company that made his favorite sweater, he grabbed it. “  [Page 154]

However, unlike the Bean Boot (Maine Hunting Shoe) which L.L. Bean Inc. designed and produced, the Norwegian Sweater was an European import and already had been, in the words of LLB’s early catalogs, “long used by Norwegian fisherman who required an unusual degree of durability and warmth in a sweater.” 

The sweater sold well.  Then L.L. Bean made, again quoting from Guaranteed to Last,  “a shift in the manufacturing from Norway to China in the early 1990s.” 

Sales fell.  And L.L. Bean stopped selling the sweater in 1999.

In 2009, L.L. Bean began offering again the Norwegian Sweater, and this time imported from the same Norwegian factory. Some people have asked me, how do these new versions compare to the original? 

As with many others, we have been wearing these sweaters since the mid 1970s.  We have purchased some in every decade since. (All of our sweaters were made in Norway.)  Over the almost forty years, there have been subtle but noticeable changes.  (From the comments I have received, I believe quite a few people "notice" the change, but can't articulate the specifics, which I will attempt to do here.)

The first change noticed was the shade of Navy.  The ones from the late 70s were a brighter Navy, and one might say, preferable to the newest model.

The Navy of the older sweaters (on top) is brighter than the current version.
The cut has changed, especially the shoulder width. The originals had significantly wider shoulders.

Both are Men's medium but the original has broader shoulders.  Chest measurements are the same.
The cuffs are also different. The current cuffs stretch out and become wide at the openings which one has to fold back. It does make it somewhat less comfortable to wear under Barbours, especially Bedales which have knitted cuffs.

On the left is a 35 year old cuff from the original; in the middle is how the current version looks new; on the right is how the current version looks after some use.

The current version (on right) also has a significant exposed seam.

Current Cuff

Old Cuff;  Old Dog.
Perhaps one should prefer the purity of all wool (and in Guaranteed to Last, LLB says the wool is stronger these days) the old ones with the rayon just feel tougher.

So while many like the newest 100% wool version, more love the originals with the 20% rayon,  shorter length, brighter Navy, wider shoulders, slightly larger neck opening, and tight cuffs.  While the originals are an "A", the new Norwegian Sweaters would be about a "B-".

Alternatives to L.L. Bean

Finally, in this age of the Internet, people who love the European sweaters don’t have to rely any more solely on the US importer L.L. Bean (and their not insignificant markup). Here are some other potential sources of "Norwegian" sweaters.

These are made in Ireland:
Here may be the original Norwegian manufacturer (thanks to the comment from Adrian Holand Wigé Nordtømme):
Here is the current source of the Norwegian Crewneck Sweaters from whom we are told L.L. Bean imports:



This vintage L.L. Bean Norwegian sweater (complete with 20% rayon) was spotted in the rare color combination of Charcoal with Purple and Teal.  This is the way these tough sweaters are best used.

The Reverend Bobby Ives.  Photo Courtesy of The Lincoln County News, Damariscotta, Maine (used with permission)