Bean, untucked (uh-oh)

I’m worried about where L. L. Bean is going. Before recycling the catalog I usually flip through it and covet the sweaters that I can’t afford and that anyway are increasingly no longer available in tall sizes. Bean is about my style — has been for many years. I can’t wear the young men’s jackets with the pseudo-military epaulets. Too reactionary. A few years ago I had a pair of Sketchers that even my college-aged nephew commented on (“Cool shoes!”), but after I wore them out I started wearing my Rockport “man shoes” full time. And as hard as I try, I can’t resist the urge to tuck my shirt in. I’m darn nar a half-century old, for crying out loud. At least, I’ve thought, I’ll always have L. L. Bean, the middle-aged slightly dorky family man’s outfitter.

The classic bean man. Was going to put in a few hours on the new airport project working remotely on the laptop from the porch, but what the hey -- moments like this are to be cherished.

The new bean man. "I don't know why I'm here by this boat. I'm not big on boats -- bourgois affectation if you ask me. Shall we adjourn to a Starbucks where we can adore myself?"

But something troubling is sneaking into their marketing. While sorting a long-neglected heap of mail today, I ran across a Bean catalog that advertised an apparently new line called “Signature”. Right away, my B.S. antennae started wiggling like mad. On the cover were a young, very young man and woman, both looking out at the camera from inside or next to some vaguely barny structure. They did not look at each other. They in fact seemed to be unaware of each other. Two black holes of youthful self-absorption, isolated from all else, except their clothes, which they rocked.

The setting is familiar — Bean catalogs are all about porches, fireplaces, the barn, the maple sugaring house, the dock down by the lake — but what was new was the attitude of the models. They were not my generation. In the past, even the models much younger than I were still “of my generation” spiritually. As Angela put it, they were “happy, middle-class, college-educated people starting families and taking vacations on the coast”. They were always smiling. The women looked like young moms, open and fun, and the men were always doing easy but real things — fetching a few logs for the fire, tying up the dinghy — often accompanied by a golden retriever and always in a good humor. Their demeanor always suggested the presence of other people, their families and friends, very close by. Sometimes they were looking down sheepishly as though chuckling at the very idea of their picture being taken, as though they didn’t take themselves too seriously. They knew they were part of a community and that it was okay for them to be a little fuddy-duddy. “Hey, are you takin’ pictures again? Well, hurry up, I gotta get these firelogs into the cabin and get back to our game of pinochle before someone looks at my cards.”

The classic bean man. Could take a little ribbing about the hair.

"I don't know...I just...Do you ever just...I don't know..."

These new models don’t smile. They aren’t doing anything, aren’t on their way to join their spouses or children, or even their friends. They just exist in this moment of handsomeness or loveliness. It scares me. Is that what L. L. Bean thinks I’m shooting for? Is that what they want to sell me, to reflect to me about my aspirations? The venerable outfitter must be hurting for business. Or maybe this was inevitable and I’m just feeling that age-based dissing that everyone eventually experiences at the hands of fashion but that just smarts a little more in today’s culture, when these consumer goods are so ever-present around us.

"Sheesh, you had to go and bring that up again. We were just frat boys then."

Ball and smile: the evidence of loved ones nearby.

The invasion of the iPod people...disconnected, serious. "Hear this..."

I’m making it sound as if the old Beanies are more real in some way, and I know better. After all, they were just models, too. Selling duds. But you can learn an awful lot about where the culture thinks it’s headed by what marketers reflect back at you in your catalogs. I’m a happy, middle-class, college educated family man who vacations at the coast, and I preferred it when L. L. Bean was trying to sell me that image of myself.

"Dorky, sure, but somebody loves me, and they're calling my name."

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12 Responses to “Bean, untucked (uh-oh)”


  1. 1 Kip October 24, 2010 at 10:04

    Good eye Matt, I see your point with the provided pictures. I don’t know that I would have noticed that had I been thumbing through the catalog. By the way, I seem to be incapable of leaving my shirt untucked as well. Even on a Sunday afternoon. Gotta tuck it in, that’s how it goes.

    • 2 jstwndrng October 24, 2010 at 11:50

      Welcome to the olde farts club. We are no longer being marketed to. Is that an honor? A relief? Or do we protest and say that you can’t dismiss the tail end of the baby boom without a fight?

  2. 3 Ben October 24, 2010 at 13:15

    For me, being “untucked” has more to do with being uncomfortable. I prefer being tucked whilst on duty. But a good pair of jeans, denims or what have you no longer allow for this. “Tucking is no longer needed”, they seem to suggest. So room for this in not really provided. So one would think I would gravitate to a good pair of dockers or something like that for leisure, or “off duty” wear. But I haven’t been able to make the switch. Like my brother and his Rockports, I have yet to feel grown up enough to want to wear “Man Pants”. I still like the blue jeans.
    To my shock, I have found that the “straight leg” pants I have always enjoyed wearing are now two inches wider than in the past, giving me a decided toothpick in a pipeline feeling as I walk. I’ve discovered through much sleuthing in the Men’s section of the Fred Meyer’s store, that not only have they secretly widenend the “straight leg”, but they have also lowered the pockets so that they now hang out on the back of your thigh instead of your keister. What is with this? I have to reach down to the back of my lower glute region to find the top of my pocket! And either I have lost a lot of glute, (I never had a lot) or these pants fail to meet specifications for holding a simple billfold. My wallet bounces around in the pocket. I remember a time when getting the wallet out of the jeans pocket was a major endeavor. Now its akin to grabbing a small guppy in a fishbowl. Its as if Salvador has hit the Blue Jean World and all is askew! (Am I being to personal? Are these uncomfortable questions?)

    • 4 jstwndrng October 24, 2010 at 21:25

      Not at all, you stopped just in time. 😀
      I still wear jeans in the evenings and at the weekends (they look better with spit-up on them than cords or chinos), less and less often to work, but that’s mainly because I can’t find jeans long enough to break atop my shoes. I used to buy 32x38s back in the days before preshrunk, when you took them out of the store as stiff as a surf-board and even after a washing it was like getting into a suit of chain mail. You immediately lost three inches off the length, so you were at 35, which after repeated washings came to stabilize at a perfect 34. Nowadays I buy preshrunk 32x34s from Bean, but after a few washings they’re really 33s or even worse, and I tell ya it looks really uncool wearing high-water jeans with man shoes.

  3. 5 Kip October 24, 2010 at 18:26

    I’ve been wearing nothing but Levi’s for the past 20 or so years, be they 501’s, relaxed fit or what have you. There are a few occasions I wear Wranglers, always with cowboy boots, and I tried oh so hard for a few weeks to wear Dockers or other slacks (Big Boy Pants), but cannot seem to grow up and out of the Levi’s. I have not noticed a shift in the pockets as you have Ben, but I do know my trifold is thicker than it needs to be, and I usually carry it in my briefcase when going to and from work. I think Levi’s make so many different types now that to find the jeans of our youth, much more sleuthing is required. At least I’m not wearing the waist of my britches up ’round my chest! And Yes Matt, our generation is no longer being marketed to, unless the product has to do WITH old farts…namely drugs of some sort, or retirement options, or a subscription to AARP Magazine. Only 2 more years till the AARP Card!

    • 6 jstwndrng October 24, 2010 at 21:46

      Lordy, do they really let you join AARP at 50? Really? Even though we can’t retire until 95 now? You make a good point: We’re in that other demographic now, where people want to ease our pain or offer us comfortable waterfront living space, but our fashion preferences have become irrelevant to commerce. Really, I’ve half a mind to become indignant, but half a mind is about all I have anyway so I can’t afford it. And anyway, like I said, this has happened to every generation since time began. I can just see old Cosimo Medici squawking from a terrace overlooking Florence, “Have you seen the cuffs those shrimps Lorenzo and Giuliani are wearing out in public? And why can’t I buy a simple red cap in town anymore? Hey, I BUILT this city!”

  4. 7 Kip October 25, 2010 at 11:46

    Earlier today I was in a local proprietor of western wear, a shop that is the “Official Western Wear Outfitters for (the country station I work for)”. In the dressing room there were posters advertising the different brands of jeans. In one poster, divided in three panels, showing a couple being young and cute and flirty. In the other, it showed a couple leaning against a lamp post, looking off in different directions. I don’t remember the brands, as I was observing the differences in the ads. I think the only reason I even noticed is because of this thread. By the way, I have expanded my jean brands…I am now the proud owner of a pair made by Cinch, called Dooley. Boot cut, of course.

    • 8 jstwndrng October 25, 2010 at 14:26

      Yup, my aim is to encourage everyone to notice their surrounding environment more. My work here is done…(mounts steed and rides off sunsetward in his “boot Dooleys”).

  5. 11 Ben October 27, 2010 at 16:50

    Does Dooley make jeans that are normal “new jean” colors? I wonder, because it would seem that many of today’s new jean fabrics have been pre-soaked in an oil pan. Instead of “stone-washed”, which I confess, I never was fond of, they’re “stressed”. But really they remind me of rags from the oil bin at “Transmission’s Plus”.

    • 12 jstwndrng October 27, 2010 at 19:40

      They look like that to me, too. Sort of grimy in an unhealthy way. It’s hard for me to imagine that the wearer of those jeans might in fact be sufficiently washed. Just one old fart’s prejudice, I guess. YES! “New jean” color, the color of unmined cobalt!


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