we are sooo lucky to have been raised amongst catalogs

So, back the the oh so awkward glorious days of Jr High and High School, Nirvana and Pearl Jam were lighting up the airwaves and every week I looked forward to watching Seinfeld and Northern Exposure. It was in this era too, long before the internet, that catalogs and magazines were my only outlet to a world and a place I wanted to live. Namely, anywhere where plaid and flannel were de riguer attire amongst with tall pine trees and mountains or, pretty much anywhere that wasn’t called Hillsboro Ohio. Much like a reference to Best in Show... I loved catalogs, I used to get all the best ones: J. Crew, Banana Republic, Pottery Barn, Lands End and my personal favorite,L.L.Bean. When these little gems arrived in the mail, I would spend hours flipping through the pages and reading all the descriptions. It wasn’t so much that I loved the clothes, but I loved the photos, I loved the made up life the people in the catalogs had. The Christmas catalogs always featured a big party where they all go out in the snow to pick the perfect Christmas tree. The summer ones always had a great little garden party with cold beverages swimming in a large bucket of ice or featured a couple out in the woods, camping by a lake. And without fail, the fall issues had folks in their favorite plaid flannel shirts raking leaves and gathering pumpkins. Naturally, it just seemed to me, this is the life one should have. Granted, the clothes won’t make it happen and it might be hard to find beautiful friends of almost every ethnicity ... but one could create situations in their life that mirrored or bettered, those idealistic lifestyle images found in catalogs.

Which means... at least for me...if you don’t like the scenery, flip the page first chance you get.

Long before I could get out of town, I my closet was full of my favorite LL Bean flannels. I had my khakis, I had my Timberland Boots and I had my beloved Jeep Cherokee. Eventually by the time I got to college, the Jeep was loaded up with a bright red sea kayak headed to Maine for the summer. In the later years I added my black lab mix to the picture and then afterwards, I moved to a place where pretty much, any time I wanted to go camping under the pine trees or forage through the snow to find the perfect Christmas tree, I could. My life in essence, has kinda become like those catalog pages. Granted, that may seem kind of shallow... but it’s only shallow if all I was ever worried about was how other people perceived me, like a voyeur in someone else’s life catalog. But you know, other peoples perceptions were never the goal... the goal was living the kind of lifestyle that I wanted. It’s just a funny circumstance that it resembles the pages of the catalogs that I obsessed over so much. These days I don’t really spend my time reading catalogs, instead I’ve made my life the catalog. Why spend my time pouring over someone else’s ideal of a perfect life when you can be out there living your own perfect life?

On that note, back in the glory days of my catalog reading, I often ripped out pages I liked and put them into a file folder that has traveled around with me over the years. When moving this past month, I went through some of those old images for the first time in years and it’s funny what I had saved. One of those saved pages was full of my favorite L.L.Bean plaid flannel shirts. Back in the day, L.L. Bean was the best. It was synonymous with the words "outdoors". In high school, when I had saved up enough money, I actually purchased a few of my favorites along with one of their classic "warm up jackets" and that became my “go-to” for cold weather clothing. But then, grunge fell by the wayside and clothing style and sizes changed and those shirts were given away to my parents or put in boxes which were stored and moved from location to location after high school. Always packed, kept for my never ending love for the Bean, but... never worn.

Oh, 1994...

Recently, I’ve feel like I’ve been on an Americana kick... no, that doesn’t mean buying all the American flags I see and covering my car with them, it means rediscovering classic American items. Handmade, hand tested, hand trued year after year classics. From classic American architecture like the Grand Lodges, to basic bluegrass and old country favorites, or little things like you grandfathers pocket knife, the flashlight your grandma always kept in her car, the zippo lighter always on the end table, your dad’s handkerchiefs, that flannel your mom has had forever, a pair of good leather shoes that won’t wear out after a season, simple things. Well made things. Things you may pay a bit more out of pocket now, but it’s well worth the value they give you year after year. This brought me back to thinking about those L.L.Bean flannel shirts I had.

Certain that I had one of those flannels stored away somewhere, I went digging through my boxes and sure enough... found one of them that had traveled with me all the way from Ohio. I hung it up in my closet and promised to wear it again someday soon. Then last week, when getting ready to depart for a late summer camping trip I reached in and grabbed it. Upon putting it on, I suddenly realized why it hadn’t been worn in such a long time. See back in 1996, the fit on clothes was much bigger than it is these days. In fact, this shirt is so big on me now, that I’m pretty sure I could fit two of me’s in it. Sadly, realizing it would be more of a fire hazard than a warm shirt to sit beside the fire, I put it back in the closet and made a mental note to visit L.L.Bean again soon and order another one, appropriately sized.

So, this week I did just that. I visited the modern catalog... the internet.. and typed in plaid flannel into the search browser. And, I was surprised by what came up. There was one women’s shirt available in two colors, one men’s shirt available in two colors and one kids shirt, also available in two colors. Initially, I loved the women’s shirt, it was an attractive plaid and the cut seemed to be pretty flattering (which isn’t normal for most L.L.Bean clothes. Sorry Bean... your selection of mom jeans scares the crap out of me!). I was ready to click “buy”; however, just before doing so I read through the customer comments and reviews and all the women seemed to say the same thing... they loved the pattern and the colors, but overall the fabric itself was lacking in quality. Everyone wanted flannel shirts as durable and as warm as the mens and boys, but were solely disappointed in the option that was given for women. Which really got me thinking, has L.L.Bean ventured so far away from their initial roots that they are cheapening their product for the sake of fashion? And if that’s the case... I imagine those unflattering mom jeans that they are also selling, will probably last a good 30 years.

Then I remembered seeing an article that was written regarding a new line of clothing for L.L.Bean under the tag line “Signature” . Apparently this off-shoot of L.L.Bean still stands behind the same principles as the regular L.L. Bean, but the clothes were designed by a more fashionable fella and come with an updated cut and styling as well as a slightly higher price-tag (think: L.L. Bean meets J. Crew). When going over this new site, I liked the clothes. No wait, I loved the clothes actually. No mom jeans anywhere in sight and full of L.L.Bean classics like their Maine Guide Shirts, Cotton Flannel shirts in attractive plaids as well as there ever favorite Chamois Cloth Shirt, available in even an classy women’s cut. Made to look like it would work in the professional office space as much as it would work out in the yard or out with friends. Now L.L.Bean - now we’re talking! But... still, there is hesitation. Why is one chamois shirt on the regular L.L.Bean site $35 while the signature one is $50? Why can’t L.L. Bean adapt and make a better, more fitting product, just as durable as the other.... without creating a separate “signature” line and raising the price under the guise of being a classic “historically american” product? If someone buys one... what is that saying about the person who buys the other? They are just cheaper? Do they not care about fit, form and function?


this

and this are much more appealing than...

this and ...

this.

I love you L.L.Bean and I will always love your product and your catalogs and your store as they bring back nothing but warm, happy, fuzzy memories. But, right now you’ve got me a little... well, questioning. And, just so you know, on my nostalgia kick for a quality L.L.Bean flannel shirt that is a heavier flannel and fits well, I ended up ordering the boys buffalo plaid flannel shirt. Thankfully, I can still wear kids clothes till someone out there makes some durable and fashionable American classic women’s clothes.

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