Freeport, ME, October 7, 2020
America’s Shirt: How the L.L.Bean Chamois Became an Enduring Emblem of the Rugged Outdoors
“I have personally been testing this shirt on my hunting and fishing trips for over two years and prefer it to any woolen shirt ever tried. The fabric will not shrink and is much more durable than woolen.” – Leon Leonwood Bean, 1933 Spring Catalog
Several years after creating the Maine Hunting Boot, which would go on to become one of the most iconic pieces of footwear in American history, Leon Leonwood Bean introduced another soon-to-be classic to the world – the timeless L.L.Bean Chamois Shirt.
Developed and perfected by Bean in 1927 after personally testing the garment on his own hunting and fishing adventures through the wilds of Maine, the Chamois Shirt remains a wearable piece of Americana.
(Left) 1931 L.L.Bean advertisement for Leatherette Shirt, with quality promise from L. L. himself
(Right) L.L.Bean advertisement after Chamois Shirt name was adopted after 1933
Designed to be a thick, wind-resistant layer that was not only durable, but also comfortable and warm, the heavy garment was originally known as the Leatherette Shirt, named for its likeness to the high-grade chamois leather used in buckskin shirts and lederhosen. Four years later, the shirt was rebranded to its current namesake and was introduced in a standard tan colorway. It would remain that way for three decades until Bean added bright red (referred to as scarlet) in the 1960s, as according to Bean, the “red repels black flies.”
The versatile shirt became a quick success and contributed to L.L.Bean’s growth in the 1930s despite the global impact of the Great Depression. While Bean’s original intent for the shirt was for use on hunting and fishing trips – worn tucked in, as a heavy shirt – the item gained popularity and was eventually donned by men of all professions as an everyday staple. In fact, in 1955, American actor Rock Hudson was photographed wearing the classic Chamois.
Ninety-five years after it was first introduced, L.L.Bean shifted production of the Chamois Shirt to the northwest region of Portugal in order to source the country’s world-renowned brushed flannel. Today, each L.L.Bean Chamois Shirt is woven in a family-owned mill using 100% Portuguese cotton, creating a thick, heavier-than-standard 7.5-ounce flannel. To achieve the exceptional softness it’s known for, each panel of cotton is treated in the art of Portuguese flannel – brushed 7-8 times on each side with metal combs that raise the “peach,” or fuzz, of the cloth for warmth and comfort. It’s a technique that textile mill Vilarinho has employed for more than three family generations.
“Made with high-quality raw material, our Portuguese Chamois Flannel is known for its exceptional quality, pleasant comfort and fit, standing out from the other Portuguese mills and perfected over our 88 years in business,” said Ivone Ribeiro of Portuguese supplier Vilarinho.
Rock Hudson in L.L.Bean Chamois Shirt in 1955
Over time, designers at L.L.Bean have refined and expanded the Chamois Shirt portfolio, moving beyond solid colors to add new colorways and pattern work, as well as a version that lives in L.L.Bean’s Signature collection, which offers an updated, slim silhouette, custom buttons and a shirttail hem. No matter the style, each Chamois Shirt features our signature angled pocket design, with functional uses for both hunting and fishing (though the original design intent remains a mystery).
“After nearly 100 years, the Chamois Shirt remains an icon in our men’s and women’s assortments,” said Susan Popp, Senior Design Manager of Menswear & Graphics for L.L.Bean. “Throughout its many design iterations, we have stayed true to its original rugged, functional purpose and continuously look to the archives for inspiration for new silhouettes, prints, patterns and fresh colors each season.”
L.L.Bean Chamois Shirt in a 1983 company catalog
2020 L.L.Bean Chamois Shirt