Fashions Next Biggest Name: L.L. Bean?

Look out, Christian Louboutin! According to record-breaking sales, it looks like the red-soled shoes women are hoping to find underneath the Christmas tree this year might actually be a pair of special-edition Bean Boots from Maine’s most famous retailer, L.L. Bean.

Although Bean Boots may be considerably more affordable (and practical) than a $700 pair of Louboutin pumps, the popular snow boot is proving to be more difficult to get ahold of than designer stilettos. According to a Yahoo! Style article, the Bean Boot waiting list had reached 100,000 names by the first week in December. An L.L. Bean representative told the Portland Press Herald that 450,000 pairs of boots are expected to be sold this year. Considering the fact that only ten years ago, the company sold an average of 100,000 pairs of Bean Boots each year, these numbers are shocking.

Out with the new, in with the old

 

 

Allyson Butler, a Maine native with a New England-inspired style blog in the works (Follow the link to subscribe and receive a notification when she makes her first post!), moved to Massachussetts for a few months shortly after graduating from the University of Maine. Butler was years ahead of the trend, and laced up her first pair of Bean Boots when she was only four years old. (Well, perhaps a parent laced them up for her. Entire Reddit discussions boards are focused on how to properly lace up a pair of Bean Boots; the options are apparently endless.)

When Allyson first made the move to Massachusetts, she was shocked to receive flak for proudly donning her favorite Bean Boots. Her new friends claimed the boots were too “outdoorsy.” However, a few months later, L.L. Bean opened a popup kiosk in the Natick Mall, where the boots sold out rapidly.

“I have about five pairs,” Allyson laughed, even though the statement is absolutely factual. Butler explained that her interests can range anywhere from couture fashions to cabin-chic, which is why she was thrilled to stumble across a Maine-inspired spread in Vogue a few years ago.  The 2011 feature, “America the Beautiful: Maine” was published just before the rest of the country began to welcome Bean Boots with open arms and credit cards. Although the boots were notably absent from the feature, L.L. Bean did receive a shout out for its classic Boat and Tote Bag; the monogrammed canvas carry-all that is an essential for anyone in close proximity to New England’s rocky coastline.

Allyson, who purchased two pairs of Bean Boots during a trip to the Freeport store in early November, noted that many styles were already sold out by that point. Online, each style of Bean Boots is displayed alongside the following message:

"Due to an extremely limited supply of L.L.Bean Boots, we recommend placing your order now so we can reserve a pair for you.
"We make our boots by hand, so sometimes we just can't make them fast enough, but we promise that our team of stitchers in Brunswick, Maine, will start handcrafting yours as soon as possible."
 

The company's recommendation to make purchases as early as possible clearly wasn't just a scare tactic to increase sales. The buying began early. “The employee who helped me said he felt like the this year's holiday rush hit sooner and harder than ever before,” she said. “Both pairs of boots I went in for are special-edition, so I got them as soon as I heard that most styles would be back ordered until the spring.”

Allyson gestured to a pair of fire engine red Bean Boots. She explained that she was instantly drawn to them because they are so unique and she assumed that she wouldn’t see other people wearing them. “But, they’re sold out,” she sighed. “So, I’m clearly not the only one who loved them!” The high level of demand for Bean Boots in even the styles which make the loudest statements further proves that functionality is no longer the boot's most appealing feature for shoppers.

The refashioning of L.L. Bean

L.L. Bean has always been known for its quality outdoor products and reasonable lifetime warranty, but recently, the company has been making a subtle effort to be more fashion-conscious. In 2012, the company created a Tumblr page specifically for L.L. Bean Signature, a collection of designs “inspired by our past and fit for the way you live today.” The blog features an assortment of photos of the collection’s newest designs, user images of products and aesthetically pleasing outdoorsy shots of wolves, log cabins, snowy mountains and anything else one could expect from the blog of a traditional Maine company. At first glance, it’s nearly impossible to discern the advertisements for the Signature line from the artsy photographs that have been reblogged from other accounts; a feat that is rarely achieved by even the most PR-savvy fashion companies. The company also has a Pinterest account with over 5 million followers. L.L. Bean’s discreet transition into the world of fashion has proven to be monumentally successful, as the demographic of their consumer has greatly broadened.

The Maine-based family-owned company which once served as the butt of many jokes cracked by the consciously trendy is now, for the first time, struggling to meet the demands of consumers who are buying their products for the sake of style rather than function. (Would Otho from Beetlejuice still roll his eyes and mumble “Deliver me from L.L.Bean” if he had been hired to redesign Delia Deetz’s New England mansion in 2014? Or would he be rocking a pair of Bean Boots, himself? The world may never know.)

Despite the fact that news outlets are typically expected to maintain a certain level of neutrality, opinions have had a clear presence in the press coverage surrounding the demand for Bean Boots. Headlines such as Businessweek’s “L.L. Bean’s Ugly Duck Boot: Suddenly Hip, and Sold Out for Winter,” reveal that even business analysts who can successfully predict consumer trends have been shocked by the popularity of the handcrafted boots.

Lumbersexuals

Although it isn’t officially affiliated with the company, there’s no denying that Maine comedian Liz Pride’s insanely popular viral sensation, Your L.L. Bean Boyfriend, has played a role in America’s new found obsession with L.L. Bean. The Tumblr page, which features L.L. Bean’s hunkiest models, was named one of Time’s “7 Great Tumblrs of the Past Year” in 2013. The blog even has a companion site, Your L.L. Bean Girlfriend

In the midst of a countrywide rush to snatch up a pair of the famous duck boots before Christmas morning, it is unclear whether the hype is the result of a killer public relations campaign, or if L.L. Bean is simply enjoying the benefits of popular culture's most recent creation; the lumbersexual.

Defined by GearJunkie as a man “more concerned with existing in the outdoors, or the pseudo-outdoors, than meticulous grooming habits,” the lumbersexual is the type of guy who is the complete opposite of the previously popular metrosexual. (Which, for those readers who stumbled across this article because of the “L.L. Bean” tag rather than the “fashion” or “style” tags, is defined by Merrier-Webster as “a usually urban heterosexual male given to enhancing his personal appearance by fastidious grooming, beauty treatments, and fashionable clothes.”) Unluckily for razor companies across the country, manscaping is officially a notion of the past. 

According to BuzzfeedCosmopolitan, and basically the entire Internet, the lumbersexual is the manly-man of your dreams. Although his day may consist of attending his desk job at an accounting firm in New York City, the lumbersexual sports work boots and layered flannels as frequently as possible. He may rarely ever exert more physical energy than typing on a keyboard or answering a phone, but his full-blown beard and hand knit beanie would lead you to believe that he just finished chopping down a tree or wrestling a bear.

The trend has officially made its way into stores. This year's Urban Outfitters’ holiday gift guide provides a link to an “Into the Woods” shop, which is filled with flannel prints, weatherproof footwear and enough Sherpa-lined parkas for men and women alike to outfit a full season of Running Wild with Bear Grylls.

Is science the driving force behind society's fascination with lumbersexuals? (A report of a study by The Journal of Scientific Review claims that 86% of women are sexually attracted to men with beards) Or, is this simply a fad which will eventually be forgotten as quickly as Ed Hardy graphic t-shirts? Either way, the phenomenon is quickly growing, and  L.L. Bean is seriously reaping the rewards. Although Mainers who genuinely need a pair of Bean Boots to survive the harsh winter season may roll their eyes at the thought of an entire college campus of twentysomethings rocking head-to-toe L.L. Bean in the Southwest, the bottom line is that the Bean Boot craze is beneficial to the state of Maine. The Maine retailer added 100 jobs in preparation of doubling the production of Bean Boots, and has finally given the Pine Tree State a spot at the popular table in the fashion world's hypothetical high school cafeteria.

Shopping solutions

If you're stressed out because someone on your list is expecting to wake up to a pair of Bean Boots on Dec. 25, the constant coverage surrounding the sold out snow boots probably has you feeling defeated.If you're looking to purchase a pair of Bean Boots to serve as winter snow boots and value functionality over design, you won't have much difficulty.  Although some sizes are sold out, L.L. Bean carries a Storm Chaser boot that will certainly keep your toes dry during driveway-shoveling season. L.L. Bean also carries snow boots from other quality brands, such as Bogs and Merrell.

If you're in the market for a pair of Bean Boots solely to make a fashion statement, your mission will be a little bit more difficult. The good news is that because the Bean Boot is currently more of a fashion statement than anything, other brands have taken notice and produced lookalikes. Although a majority of retailers are struggling to keep "duck boots" in stock, you can save time by knowing which brands to avoid. For example, Sperry Top-Sider's "Saltwater Duck Boot," is an almost perfect imitation of the classic Bean Boot, but unavailable in most colors and sizes. Sorel, Sperry, and even Crocs all offer Bean Boot lookalikes, but have very low quantities because they carry some of the most popular weather resistant footwear.

Think outside of the box and opt for brands that typically wouldn't carry duck boots. Smart designers made sure to put their own spin on the classic winter boot in preparation for this season. For example, Tory Burch designed the super chic "Abbott Shearling Bootie," which is basically the Bean Boot's prettier,older sister.

Major retailers such as Target are also a great resource. Because their products aren't handmade, they don't have to worry about being able to keep up with customer demand.The ability to manufacture products in massive quantities allows Target to offer styles such as the Nancy Winter Boot for a low cost.

If the fashionista on your list will take offense to the suggestion that he or she should wear a pair of duck style boots without a visible "Bean Boots" logo on the heel, do not buy a boot that looks very similar to L.L. Bean's trademark style. Don't waste your breath trying to teach a lesson about materialism; remember that you were once 15 years old and terrified of wearing off-brand trends, too. The Bean Boot isn't necessarily popular because it's manufactured by L.L. Bean, but instead because it's in keeping with the "Into the Woods" trend that has been successfully marketed by popular teen stores such as Urban Outfitters and Abercrombie. Your teenage niece doesn't actually want snow boots, she just wants to emulate a specific fashion trend. In place of Bean Boots, gift a pair of more fashionable boots that could convincingly be strutting down a runway or through a snowy forest in Maine. Any girl would love to unwrap a pair of Jeffrey Campbell's Whistler Hiker Boots, and you won't break the bank with any of Forever 21's front-lace styles. If the thought of shoe shopping is still giving you a headache, completely ditch the boots and purchase an over sized flannel or cable knit sweater that she can pretend she borrowed from her lumbersexual, L.L. Bean model boyfriend.