An Essay On A Book About Duck Boots


Cozy is defined as snug, comfortable, and warm: hot cocoa, Elizabeth Cotten songs, Kevin McCallister in Home Alone, the English countryside, basset hounds, sitting by a bonfire, the soundtrack to Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary, and the 1955 film All That Heaven Allows.  These are all things I’ve personally designated as cozy.  I recently read a piece over at The New Inquiry blog, “Thoughts on a Word: Glamour (Part II),” and I thought discussing ‘cozy’ in a similar manner might be an adequate way to start talking about Guaranteed to Last: L.L. Bean’s Century of Outfitting America.

The company founded in 1912 by Leon Leonwood Bean is, in my mind, the quintessential cozy North American American clothing company.   Closest rivals are maybe Pendleton flannels, or possibly Hudson Bay point blankets when used as a capote (not of the Truman sort).  In Tim Burton’s 1988 film, Beetlejuice, there’s a moment when Otho–the interior designer and former member of the Living Theater played by the late Glenn Shadix–takes a look at the newly purchased home of his employers, situated in a snug, Rockwellian New England town, and utters, “Deliver me from L.L. Bean,” in an unaffected, 80s sort of way.  Otho and his boss Lydia Deetz (played by the great Catherine O’Hara) are both New Yorkers stuck in country paradise, apparently repulsed by quaintness and calm, stranded by Mr. Deetz’s New York midlife-meltdown.

Obviously if you’ve seen Beetlejuice,  you know that isn’t the entire story.  There are ghosts played by Genna Davis and Alec Baldwin.  We get Michael Keaton in his greatest, and most possessed (figuratively speaking) role, weird artwork, and novel opportunity to fall in love with Winona Ryder.  But if you strip all that away, it’s also a film about a man named Charles Deetz (played by real-life registered sex offender, Jeffery Jones) searching for coziness.

Otho’s comment about L.L. Bean is a perfect summation of what the brand means for many people.  It’s rustic and comfortable, and, until recently, has been relegated to hunting gear, weekend wear, and (thanks to The Official Preppy Handbook) “preppy.”

The last few years have found L.L. Bean replicating the Preppy Handbook 80’s resurgence–the company’s famous duck boots have again wrapped themselves around the ankles of fashionable urbanites in record numbers, and the rainbow of flannel shirts carried by their signature line are part of the uniforms worn by the stylish and hip from Williamsburg to Portlandia.  Joining brands like Red Wing and Pendleton, the company started by a Maine fisherman looking to sell waterproof boots has become all the rage.

You can blame better marketing or a renowned consumer interest in authenticity, but I think L.L. Bean’s comeback is due to our search for the perfect cozy outfit.  We want to curl up next to a warm fireplace, sip on hot cider, and wear the clothes we imagine to be cozy, which just so happen to be made by L.L. Bean.

Guaranteed to Last: L.L. Bean’s Century of Outfitting America is a scrapbook meant to pump up an already well-known legacy.  You aren’t going to get any weird dirt or trade secrets by looking through it (note: that’s a big difference than actually reading it); however, you will get a beautifully presented celebration of a century.  If you’re a fellow fan of cozy, it’s worth adding to your reclaimed-wood bookshelves.

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