LOOKING BACK, it’s no wonder I had such a difficult start. As a native New Yorker, graduate of NYU, and D.C. resident for many years, I was literally a babe in the woods when I arrived in Maine five years ago. Back then the only thing I owned with an L. L. Bean label was a pair of worn duck boots bought at a neighborhood yard sale, and those were for my Halloween costume the year I went as a country bumpkin.
To make matters worse, my husband and I didn’t just move to Maine, we moved to Freeport, Maine, and if you know anything about it, then you know it is akin to Zion—the promised land—being the home of Bean’s flagship store, or as I like to call it, the Mother ship. Perched nearby on the so-called “Bean campus” are—cue the harps—the Hunting, Fishing and Camping Store, the Bike, Boat & Ski Store and the Home Store. The warehouse, outlet store, distribution center and employment office are within a few miles, comprising in all about 75 percent of the jobs in the town.
While there are other commercial enterprises here, Bean’s is to Maine what Kool-Aid was to Jonestown, if you get my drift. Everyone here shows his or her devotion from head to toe, long underwear included, and if you don’t you’ll be sorry.
I’m blushing as I think back, but before I came here I actually owned several dresses, scads of pantyhose in assorted colors and a winter coat that was not puffy, did not have a hood tucked inside the collar, and definitely did not make me look like the Michelin Man. My stylish Burberry trench coat was to die for, but alas, being neither bright yellow nor waterproof, it was not “wicked good.” In fact, none of my clothes were any good at all, something I learned the hard way over several harsh winters, wet springs and buggy summers. The fact is, Bean’s clothes just work for life in Maine. After all, who needs high heels in a place where it’s always mud season?
That explains why every woman around is swaddled in unattractive, un-sexy, un-feminine but oh-so-practical Beanwear. There are classic pants and sweaters and jackets, all available in plaid, flannel or fleece-lined. There are ill-fitting jeans that will shrink to half their size after two washings. There are nightgowns and bathrobes and PJs available in a moose or lobster print—your choice–guaranteed to turn off even the most oversexed significant other night after night. And don’t forget those boots–they’re iconic, and they’ve been iconic for 100 years. To help you remember, there’s a 16-foot Bean Boot just outside the store’s main entrance.
You can tell something is from L. L. Bean by that gigantic logo sewn in a prominent spot. I see now that’s something to be proud of–I’ve grown–and today my wardrobe is much more appropriate. I have one yellow slicker and two down parkas, all of which can convert to sleeping bags when necessary. I have rain pants and snow boots and windbreakers suitable for Paul Bunyan or even his blue ox, Babe. I have two fleece vests, three anti-bug shirts, a mosquito netting body suit, and some cargo shorts infused with sun protection. It almost goes without saying I have several canvas tote bags in a variety of sizes. I am good to go.
So get over those trendy Georgetown boutiques, those pricey Bethesda shops and that snobby Saks and Neiman’s. I certainly have. What a drag that was, schlepping over to Tysons Corner, fighting the traffic to Connecticut and K and trying to find parking in Friendship Heights; now it’s one-stop shopping just three miles from my home. Besides, the store is never closed, adding to its appeal. Open 24/7/365, you can go there at three in the morning or on Christmas Day or whenever the mood strikes you, and it’s always a party. They let you return everything and anything forever, just because. Plus you can pick up a rifle, a kayak, a few duck decoys, some chocolate-covered blueberries and a quart of maple syrup at the same time.
When you stop and think about it, except for how you look, that’s a pretty good deal.
Andrea Rouda blogs at “Call Me Madcap!”
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Editor’s note: It may be made for Maine, but there is some Beanwear that all of us, no matter where we live, should have in our closets. See our slideshow above.