Style A Preppy Staple Got an Ironic Makeover This Summer

19:41  08 august  2022
19:41  08 august  2022 Source:   vogue.com

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Perhaps you’ve seen the iconic L.L. Bean Boat & Tote—a staple in every East Coast prep’s wardrobe since 1965—on fashionistas like Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy and Gwyneth Paltrow. Or, more regularly, in the local Trader Joe’s checkout line, as its 500-pound weight capacity seemingly made for hauling groceries across town.

But have you seen one with the monogram ‘Psycho’ in lilting black cursive? Or what about ‘Hermès’ in a block orange font (the hue eerily similar to the signature Hermès shade).It’s these cheeky twists on the WASP classic have become an unlikely trend of the summer, reviving a septagenarian classic.

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“I saw a woman in Fort Greene Park the other day with ‘Sweetgreen’ monogrammed on hers and audibly gasped,” says Brooklynite Paul McCallion, whose December tweet about his black Balenciaga-embroidered L.L. Bean backpack went viral. “I’m nothing if not a practical New England mom at heart.”

But it’s not Twitter where the Boat & Tote has found a new audience with Gen-Z and Millennials: It’s TikTok. On the app, #llbeantok has 1.5 million views with #llbeantote close behind at over 900,000. Young social media influencers have helped fuel a Boat & Tote resurgence, one rooted in the brand’s customization tool, that has helped the younger set see the 78-year-old bag through a new lens. Namely, an ironic one. Gone are the days when your name would suffice.

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  A Preppy Staple Got an Ironic Makeover This Summer © @ironicboatandtote   A Preppy Staple Got an Ironic Makeover This Summer © @ironicboatandtote

Boston-based plus-size fashion advocate Sarah Thompson, 26, posted on TikTok in July about her Boat & Tote journey, polling her followers for fun monogram ideas. She ultimately landed on ‘Fat & Hot’ and ‘Dump Him,’ the latter an idea from a follower. “As a New England girl, I’ve known about the bags for my entire life,” she says, citing her blue camouflage, monogrammed elementary school backpack. “But TikTok and Instagram are where I found out you could fully customize the monogram and weren’t just limited to your initials.”

Monograms, she says, feel dated and out of style, but personalization does not.

“There is novelty in having something personalized, especially when you can have it done professionally for a nominal fee,” says Jessica Pushor, collection manager at the Chicago History Museum’s Costume Council. “Fashion is all about self-expression, so it makes sense that a user-friendly customization tool on an online shopping platform would become popular with younger consumers.”

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So much so that L.L. Bean spokesperson Amanda Hannah tells Vogue that this summer’s sales spike is the strongest they’ve experienced in close to a decade, on par with what they typically see during their holiday peak. They attribute that to increased popularity among new L.L. Bean customers, “particularly younger shoppers who are keen to hop on the monogramming trends we’re seeing on social media,” explains Hannah.

Jesica Wagstaff, 40, tried to order a new tote this spring to add to her collection of five, four of which are monogrammed, and received a backorder notification for the first time she can remember. In March, she posted a look at her outfit on TikTok—a sweater set and crisp denim with a matching monogrammed Boat & Tote—and it hit over half a million views. “Growing up in a Northern Virginia private school, I think they’re a prerequisite for attendance,” says Wagstaff, who adds she saw her first ‘Gucci’-monogrammed Boat & Tote fifteen years ago. “Here is a bag that communicates a very specific lifestyle and the wearer opted to complicate that message with a simple rebrand.”

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Originally created as an ice carrier in the fall of 1944, the tote’s original purpose was function, not form. L.L. Bean founder Leon Leonwood Bean would, for example, use the bag to transport ice to his cabin in the woods of Maine. It was reimagined as the Boat & Tote in 1965 and, over time, became L.L. Bean’s top-selling accessory. To this day, it’s still crafted from the same double layered material used in conveyor belts—meaning it’s durable enough to be passed down from generation to generation.

“The Boat and Tote is a perfect example of the ingenuity of American design,” says Pushor. “The East Coast has historically been where the wealthiest Americans lived, played, and made their fortunes, and there has always been a desire to emulate the clothing of the rich and powerful. If you could not afford your own sailboat, you could at least dress like it.”

The TikTok-friendly monograms can give the bags an appealingly irreverent knock-off feel without knock-off quality. The 2022 product line includes a range of colorways (including faded jade, lawn green, red wine, and regatta blue), sizes, strap lengths, models (open and zip-top), and customized monograms in five different fonts and 48 thread colors. Prices start at $29.95 with a monogram up to 10 characters costing just eight additional dollars. Each one is made in L.L. Bean’s Maine manufacturing center by stitchers who can fabricate a bag in just seven minutes. To keep up with the brisk sales, the L.L. Bean design team is continually expanding its product line, says Hannah. With the 80th anniversary approaching in 2024, she says to keep an eye out for “more exciting updates.”

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The phenomenon of a funny Boat & Tote isn’t entirely new, though it is getting more popular. Former five-year L.L. Bean stitcher Brad, who worked for the company until 2020 and asked to remain anonymous, tells Vogue he embroidered everything from ‘Broseph’ and ‘Boobies’ to ‘LOL OMG BBQ’ and ‘Toast.’ More practical iterations included ‘Library,’ ‘Clean’ and ‘Dirty,’ and ‘Junk.’ He likes to think the ‘Mommy’ and ‘Daddy’ requests that hit around the holidays weren’t actually for someone’s parents but rather a cheeky nod to their relationship dynamic.

“I absolutely loved it when we’d get fun monograms, and would run around to show the ticket to my coworkers,” he says, adding that offensive words and phrases will be flagged by the system but are otherwise mostly left to the discretion of the stitcher. “We’d cackle at some of them. As a millennial, the draw for me is the ability to put something totally random and irreverent onto something that is typically used by the upper class as a status symbol. A reclaiming and repurposing, if you will.”

Gracie Weiner © @ironicboatandtote Gracie Weiner

New Yorker Gracie Weiner, 26, launched Instagram account @ironicboatandtote in 2021 to catalog the best of the snarky and silly monograms, and the account now has over 27,000 followers. She herself has 10 totes with monograms like ‘old celine,’ ‘stfu,’ and ‘fake heiress’ and carries them everywhere, “as an Olsen twin carries a Birkin,” she jokes.

She says the @ironicboatandtote account has helped make the Boat & Tote more accessible. “People tell me they grew up in areas where the tote was popular but felt as if they couldn’t participate because they didn’t have a WASP-like look or had the wrong number of initials for a traditional monogram,” shares Weiner. “The ironic monograms take the tote out of the traditional context and re-envision it in a playful light.”

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Maine native and Instagram senior creative producer Macey Hall, 33, explains the bag used to be more of an “insider thing, sort of IYKYK” but is now hitting the mainstream. Most of her bags have her initials or her name, but she also owns flannel L.L. Bean pajamas that say ‘Tired AF’ and a tote that reads ‘unwell,’ which she purchased at the L.L. Bean flagship in Freeport, Maine in December 2021 and uses when she’s “feeling sassy.”

New Yorker Sarah Solomon, 33, has five of the totes in monograms like ‘G&T’ and ‘Yuppie Scum,’ the most recent of which she bought two years ago. She asks, “Why not jump on one of the less expensive trends that gives off old money vibes?”

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