A Man and His Clothes

Call it a fashion faux pas, but this Mainer is standing by his utterly predictable L.L.Bean wardrobe.

Paul Doiron
Photo by Mark Fleming
[A]fter getting the news that Leon Gorman had died, I found myself doing an inventory of all the L.L.Bean clothing in my closet. Gorman, as you probably know, was the grandson of Leon Leonwood Bean and the former president and CEO of Maine’s iconic outdoors company. More than anyone, he was responsible for transforming a smallish mail-order house into a multinational, multibillion-dollar brand. Gorman’s many accomplishments as a businessman, conservationist, and philanthropist have been widely reported in the tributes written about him. Because he and I didn’t know one another (we might have shaken hands a few times), my eulogy must be of a different kind — although I would argue it is no less personal.

Which brings me back to my closet.

I should note that I am undoubtedly an L.L.Bean outlier, even among Mainers. Long before the brand took on its current hipster allure, I was outfitting myself in chamois shirts and Bean boots. The products suited my lifestyle as an unfussy person who gets outside in all kinds of weather. And the 100 percent satisfaction guarantee appealed to my Yankee frugality.

As I started counting articles of clothing, I expected to find a fair number of items with L.L.Bean tags. But nothing like this. Here is the almost-complete inventory:

3 pairs of Maine hunting shoes (aka Bean boots) in different styles and materials; 1 Maine warden’s parka; 3 L.L.Bean Signature suit jackets; 2 L.L.Bean Signature suits; 1 wool shirt-jac; 2 wool overshirts; 4 dress shirts; 1 chamois shirt; 2 belts; 1 pair of corduroy pants; 2 henleys; 3 pairs of synthetic hiking pants; 2 pairs of synthetic hiking shorts; 1 swimsuit; 1 Gore-Tex raincoat; 1 pair of Gore-Tex hunting pants; 1 pair of tick-proof hunting pants; 2 pairs of long underwear; 4 pairs of merino socks . . .

You get the idea. This list is by no means exhaustive, I should add, since it doesn’t include clothes made by other manufacturers that I happened to purchase at L.L.Bean stores in Freeport and Ellsworth.

In trying to come to grips with what this collection says about me (other than that I am overdue to bring a donation box to Goodwill), I thought of that hoary Shakespearean paraphrase: “The clothes make the man.” For much of my life, people have seen me dressed in L.L.Bean clothing, and if Polonius’ maxim is to be believed, many of them have judged me, for better or worse, by the label I have chosen.

I remember wearing Bean boots on my first visit to college in Connecticut — and the razzing I endured for being a stereotypical Mainer in stereotypical Mainer footwear. At Yale, my female friends had a joking term for the woodsy way in which I dressed. They called it “Lumber Punk.” Today, of course, most of Brooklyn dresses this way.

It’s been fun to be stylish for the first time in my life. But my affection for L.L.Bean clothing is likely to remain long after the winds of fashion have shifted. Those flannel shirts and rubber-bottomed boots make up too much of my identity.

Leon Gorman might not have shaped my life in any direct way. But the company he created — the L.L.Bean that became synonymous with Maine at its best — manufactured products that helped me to define myself, not just in the eyes of others, but in my own eyes as well. I am the guy in the L.L.Bean clothes. And I am grateful.

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