Colgate Couture: The Bean Boot

Being a true New England girl, I adore L.L. Bean. Growing up, the majority of my and my siblings’ wardrobes consisted of the beloved Maine brand. We donned the monogrammed backpacks with the metallic stripe on the front pocket, the cozy sweaters, the comfortable chinos and the colorful win­ter jackets. The L.L. Bean garb we acquired over the years dutifully withstood the harsh Massachusetts winters, and we continually reached for the trusted articles again and again. But our favorite L.L. Bean item was, and continues to be, the Bean Boot – the product that remains the icon of the compa­ny’s image. Both fashionable and practical, the boot has remained an American staple for decades. Take a look around campus and you will spot the distinctive duck shoe. And since I am one of those who sports a pair al­most every day here at Colgate, from Octo­ber through April, I became curious. What is the history behind this iconic footwear and its astounding popularity?

Established by its namesake, avid out­doorsman Leon Leonwood Bean, L.L. Bean has grown from a one-man operation to an enormous global enterprise whose an­nual sales are in the billions of dollars. The success of the company is attributed to its charismatic and innovative founder. A true Maine man, Bean spent most of his days outside exploring the Maine wilderness, fishing and hunting. But having tired of ex­periencing sore, wet feet after his adventures in the North American woods, Bean began developing a wa­terproof shoe. He envisioned a prac­tical, lightweight boot with a sturdy rubber bottom and a handsome leath­er top. In 1912, Bean took his idea to a cobbler and the Bean Boot was born.

Originally mar­keted toward Maine hunters, he guaran­teed the quality of the Maine Hunting Shoe and promised a refund on any unsatisfactory prod­uct. This ironclad guarantee that Bean pledged almost a hundred years ago still holds today. (I might add that 90 of the first 100 pairs sold were returned because of cracks in the sole. Unfazed, Bean immediately went back to draw­ing board and started the tradition of testing each product himself.) A true businessman de­voted to his vision of providing quality boots at a fair price, Bean quickly expanded the company and opened his first factory in Freeport, Maine in 1917, which is still in operation today. Hunt­ers and preps alike responded well to the new and improved boots, and the L.L. Bean product line soon expanded to include an extensive line of clothing and other outdoor essentials includ­ing camping equipment and durable luggage. The rugged aesthetic of the brand shaped a new concept of classic American clothing – one that valued both versatility and style.

But back to the boots. Although their rich leather material seems to go with ev­erything, it is more than their stately lines and romanticized, outdoorsy aesthetic that keep us lacing up our Bean Boots season after season. Rather, their quality and prac­ticality ensure they withstand the test of time. My dad still has a pair from the 70s. I appreciate them the most when trudging through the Quad on snowy mornings, thankful not only that the flannel lining keeps the feeling in my toes, but that the rubber treads keep me from face-planting. But their widespread popularity speaks for itself. The Bean Boot is an American prod­uct whose appeal spans across gender, age and class lines. In a consumer-driven world that pushes us to look forward and replace things more quickly than ever, the Bean Boot reminds us to look down every once in a while and appreciate what keeps us on our feet.

Contact Lucy Baird at [email protected].