Photo by Muffy Aldrich
The Modern Guide to The Thing Before Preppy

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

L.L. Bean (Gorman Era)

Many of the great preppy stores have fallen a bit, and the number of people who knew them at their peak are shrinking.  If you did shop at Beans during the Gorman Era (1967-2001), do you have any memories of what made it great?

17 comments:

  1. Things were made in the USA...not China, not Viet Nam, not Bangladesh, not Thailand as shown in their catalog these days. The material was sturdier and had staying power. Planned obsolescence was not the theme of the early Bean products.

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    1. There's no question that the quality of the goods has decreased significantly. My husband never met my grandfather who died fifteen years before we got married, but he wears my grandfather's navy blue Bean chamois shirt from the 1960s or 70s constantly in the fall and winter. If you didn't know better, you'd swear the shirt was only a couple years old.

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    2. Decline in quality is very evident. Take the Scottish Plaid flannel shirts; Recent purchases of the shirts started to fray in the collar after three washes. Older versions of the shirts would last me 4-5 years with frequent wear. Go to the Outlet store in Freeport and wonder how they stay in business, can afford expansion, with all of the ill-conceived styles and patterns, most riffing on their tradition, with a tin ear. .

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  2. The quality of their clothes was definitely better pre-2000. The best part was that if you had an item, wore it for 20 years, and needed to replace it, LL Bean would, free of charge. Their mail order business was also very good - no shipping costs. Now that's reserved for LL Bean credit card holders . . . .

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  3. LL Bean's clothing was made to be functional and to last. Their cotton cable crew-neck sweaters now appear to be coated with some slippery finishing. I am grateful to continue wearing a few that I bought in the 1980s! My old barn jacket finally gave up the ghost after 35 years of heavy wear. I wouldn't consider replacing it with their current version.

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  4. Great memories of the original store when the front door was still on the Main Street side. They've changed the layout so many times I can't remember what was where. I remember when the trout pond went in and a fantastic photo that filled the wall in the lobby of two men going over some intense white water rapids in a red canoe. I searched for that photo a couple years ago but couldn't find it. I spent a lot of time in that lobby because my mom and sister NEVER returned at the agreed upon time. I'm not bitter. ;-)

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  5. This is a perfect example of your excellent concept of the life cycle of a company/brand...Mostly made in USA, quality functionality durability and value defined the brand. One thing I think has hurt all our clothing is that covid decimated the textile industry. Bean is no exception to this. I have been buying used clothing for years because the quality is so much better. I think the clothing industry is full of people who believe their own nonsense...

    I
    think covid 19 decimated the textile industry

    I think has hurt all of our clothing

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  6. I was a loyal LL Bean customer going back to my teens, and wish I could still wear the shirts, sweaters and so many other items from that time. Other than a couple of shirts and a pair of the classic Bean boots, I don't have much left from that era. But up through the 80s, LLB supplied my turtle necks, camp mocs, sweaters and even some of the button-downs I would wear with a blazer. Classic design, high quality materials and workmanship, made in USA (or Europe for some of the sweaters), and reasonable prices made the company a standout.

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  7. My first visit to the walk-up store was to get equipment for a Maine canoe trip with a friend when we were fifteen. His father was a Maine guide and Old Town Canoe sales rep so we had the use of company canoes and were guided by him on a curious 'ox-bow' route, crossing lakes, portaging between them and then following a river back to the starting place. That was the trip that got me devoted to life in Maine. Years later my wife-to-be and i drove to Maine during a college weekend to her family's place. We stopped at Bean's to break up the drive. Curiously both times in those far apart years in that old second floor location it was after midnight.

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  8. LL Bean reminds me of my time in the US as a youngster. I loved my navy Norwegian jumper with the white chevron flecks in high school and my critter trousers in the winter.

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  9. Still a special place, but different in so many ways!

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  10. As little kids in the early '80s, my brother and I each had wool buffalo plaid coats from Bean's. I think his was blue plaid and mine was red. They may have been hand-me-downs from my cousins. They must have been close to the end the era of quality kids' clothes in natural fibers, although I never thought of them as anything special at the time.

    Fast forward twenty years any my mom was still gifting me a stack of shirts every Christmas. The sort of shirts with buttons on the collar, and soft fabric with some texture. She'd been buying them for me all my life, and I didn't pay enough attention to know they were out of the ordinary.

    I was interviewing for my first job out of grad school and thought I should have a white shirt. I seemed to have every color except white. So I went to a mall out in the suburbs to buy a white dress shirt, but once I saw what they were like I headed back to the parking lot empty handed. The shirts had no buttons on the collars, and they felt so smooth they reminded me of a cheap rented tuxedo shirt from high school prom.

    This was before Bean's had outlets all over the country, but I vaguely knew that there was a Brooks Brothers downtown that was supposed to sell good mens clothes. They set me up with a good white shirt, and I got the job.

    Later, maybe ten or so years ago, I took the train to Grand Central and went to the Brooks that was then across the street from the train station. I wasn't as impressed, and ended up spotting a blue window awning on the first floor of a nearby building with some nice looking mens clothes in the window. I went inside and found myself in a store called J. Press.

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  11. Being native Californians, my childhood experiences with Bean were all mail order. We started ordering from them when I was a child in the mid-late 70s. Everything was sturdy, well made and so classic in cut and appearance. Bean sold blazers for men and women, and I seem to recall wool skirts back then as well. We ordered a lot (five children), to the point where our UPS driver asked my mom if we were rebuilding our wardrobes from scratch. Sad to see how large the decline in quality is and how the clothing is now all very casual; nothing appropriate for a traditional office anymore. I still use luggage from Bean bought in the mid-late 80s, about a dozen Boat and Totes, blankets, coats, shoes, slippers and sweaters. My flannel pajamas and sheets are still Bean, and we’ve still got lots of Bean towels from over the years. I was in the Freeport store in the early ‘90s; would be nice to see it again.

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  12. @1:44, any chance your parents were Reaganites? I've always suspected that the nationalization of Bean's by mail-order in the late 70s and early 80s was part of the pushback against the excesses of the 60s and 70s and something of a political statement. I might be reading too much into my own family experience, though.

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  13. May I comment on Talbot's, please? I remember their Irish linen blazers and Italian wool suits. As a young woman starting out in the professional sector, I could count on them for beautiful, traditional, and versatile clothing that was always well made. Their sweaters are now nearly all polyester and acrylic, which is appalling and heartbreaking.

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    1. Looking at Talbot's now makes me sad.

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  14. Sure LL Bean is not what it was, but what is? We shopped their catalogue regularly since I was a kid in the 70s. I still find decent stuff in their stores. However, as a comment above states, second hand stores and Ebay are where you find the treasure.

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