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Thursday, February 16, 2006

An L.L. Bean Story

I pride myself on making things last, and the longer I have a streak going the more I'd like to keep it. I suppose the sports nexus to this story is that L.L. Bean is a leading purveyor of outdoor wear, and I'm very fond of some of their products.

Yes, I was marooned in Florida on Sunday and Monday before returning Tuesday, and I use the word marooned because I felt somewhat powerless dealing with the rapid busy signal that was USAir and because the temperatures were in the low fifties with a twenty-mile-an-hour wind. So much for getting some sun and relaxation. Instead, we donned most of the layers we brought with us. I didn't wear my winter coat, if only because psychologically I didn't want to let go of the fact that I wasn't in Florida. I also made for a unique traveler among my group, in that I didn't leave my winter outerwear in my car, which most did, and which all who did lamented. Try going back and digging your car out of a foot and a half of snow while warming up the frigid coat that spend the past week in the back seat of your car. There are more fun things to do.

Anyway, I am walking along Terminal E at Philadelphia International Airport after having landed wearing my L.L. Bean Baxter State Parka. Now, this isn't just any Baxter State Parka, but a 1988 version that his hunter green with the black-and-red-checked wool pattern that lines the hood. What makes this coat outstanding is that it has stood the test of time, is good until it gets 20 degrees, is thin enough that you don't feel like the Michelin Man wearing it, and you can don layers under it to make you feel warmer. During my 18 years of ownership, I've had a pocket reattached once (courtesy of the company) and had the zipper reattached (courtesy of my dry cleaner). I get it dry cleaned after every winter, and it looks as good as new. It hasn't frayed, either.

A nice gentleman stops me, very polite, perhaps in his 70's. "Excuse me," he said, "but may I ask you where you got your coat."

"L.L. Bean," I said.

He smiled quickly.

"But," I added, "it's almost 20 years old."

His smile vanished.

"I had one of those with that lining for 30 years before it wore out," he said somewhat wistfully, "and it was just great. The hood didn't blow off your head the way the new models do. I've been looking for something just like it again, but I haven't been able to find it."

We then exchanged pleasantries about our older L.L. Bean stuff and shared a lament that more recent coats our family members have bought from various vendors (including one from Bean) haven't held up the way those old Baxter State Parkas have. Except for my attachment to my antique, I would have given him the coat, although it might have been a size too big.

Quality is an over-used word and one that also gets taken for granted.

I bought the coat in 1988 for $79 at a time when I needed my first post-college casual coat, instead of wearing a big woolen winter coat that looked better atop a suit. I also bought a pair of Bean Gore-Tex lined hunting boots for about $99, and I still have them too. They're great for shoveling snow. You could have a wind-chill factor of about 15 degrees, but your feet will feel like they're in the Caribbean Sea off the Jamaican coast. Great, great stuff. I splurged spending that money then; it looks like a bargain today.

I don't know whether they make that stuff like they used to, but these items give me a fond affection for the L.L. Bean brand. I've worn that coat to many a football game and to many a basketball game (although, thankfully, the gyms are of course warm enough not to need the coat while inside). At this point in my life, I hope to make it last forever.

Thanks, L.L. Bean, for high-quality stuff. If you can do so, resurrect your specifications for the late 80's model of the Baxter State Parka. They hold up really well, and there are a bunch of people out there who would buy them in a heartbeat.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The same thing happened to me. I bought a brown leather "bomber" jacket in 1988... I still wear it and I get compliments on it regularly. It seems that the more I wear it, the better it looks.

I bought it on a trip to Maine at their store... I had forgotten about them recently, but you reminded me to return to their web site. Thanks for the story.

Los Angeles

6:41 PM  
Anonymous Shree said...

Couldn't agree more. I got a fall jacket from them that is into its 5th Year now. Although technically its a fall jacket, I have pretty much used in every snow storm and every ski trip. Not a stich has come out ... awesome stuff.

8:22 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Thanks for your comments and welcome to the blog. I really respect Bean (now when you call them to order from the catalog, if you're in their system their customer service folks welcome you by name). Of course, it could be that the customer service folks are in Wyoming and the inventory is kept at UPS is Louisville (for ease of shipping) and most of the stuff is made overseas, but if that's the case, the way they police their brand and insist upon quality at all levels is amazing.

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Anonymous Doug said...

My LL Bean Baxter State Parka is so old it doesn't even have the Bean logo on the outside. The plaid wool liner is wonderfully warm and it was made in the USA. I've about given up finding a replacement.

Doug in Orange County

9:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The threads wore out on the stitching on the sleeves on my jacket. Resewed it and it is still in service after more than 20years. The pockets and handwarmer pockets are the best. Wear it all year round just add more layers as it gets colder. Wish I could still get this parka style.

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Blogger Peaches said...

I just found a teal blue Baxter State Parka with a teal/heather plaid lining at the local Salvation Army this afternoon. Other than being a bit wrinkled, it looks great. Has the attached hood, and loads of pockets. It's old enough that the writing on the size label is gone. I went to the store looking for a funky jacket for work, but this one is almost too nice. A deal and a half for $9. Thanks for the posting.

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