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Freeport, ME, March 30, 2021

Vintage Finds: L.L.Bean’s Constant Quest to be Inspired by the Past

Twice a year, lugging empty suitcases and blank sketch books, the L.L.Bean design team crosses the country in search of America’s best vintage clothing. Visiting antique fairs and thrift stores packed to the brim with coveted goods and apparel, they travel as far as Pasadena’s renowned Rose Bowl Flea Market and as close-to-home as local thrift shops in Portland, Maine. Their trained eyes can spot an L.L.Bean buffalo plaid from a mile away.

Twice a year, L.L.Bean design team members travel to flea markets, vintage fairs and thrift shops across the country, scouring endless racks of vintage goods in search of America's best vintage L.L.Bean finds.

These vintage discovery trips take place before each spring/summer and fall/winter planning season, meant to serve as inspiration for L.L.Bean’s 25-member design team as they develop new garments and gear for the coming seasons. And there’s never a lack of inspiration. With more than 100 years of L.L.Bean goods circling the globe, they always find more than they bargain for (literally). The on-the-ground decision making – what to grab and what to leave behind – requires a master stroke of self-editing.

“It’s usually a gut reaction,” says Talia Daly, a designer for L.L.Bean’s Signature Collection, of the moment she finds an inspiring piece of decades-old L.L.Bean attire. Daly says she begins envisioning new product designs while she’s still scouring the racks. “Our customers thrive on nostalgia, and we love to weave L.L.Bean nostalgia into new designs, whether through patterns or prints or colorways that make their way onto anything from a women’s top to a kayak.”

Meagan Anderson, who also designs for Bean’s Signature Collection, has taken part in several vintage discovery trips. “These trips are the highlight of our development process. We constantly rediscover old L.L.Bean goods and reimagine them in contemporary ways for our current customer. That’s what’s so great about designing for a company with deep history and heritage – there are endless reference points to draw inspiration from.”

When the team isn’t rummaging through endless bins of boots, flannel and fleece, the search continues online. “We’re always looking for great-quality, vintage L.L.Bean, and since travel has been limited in the past year, online listings have become our go-to source. My Etsy cart is constantly full,” Anderson adds.

The collecting of rare finds is a collaborative effort and serves as inspiration for a variety of product categories across the company. Amy Yeo, who has designed at L.L.Bean for more than 20 years, cites how the process unfolds when back in Maine. “When we’ve finalized our seasonal vintage selection, we bring everything back to the L.L.Bean office for consideration. Some items may ultimately end up hanging on a rack for a couple of years before we use them, but sometimes, we just know, and we pull inspiration immediately.”

Once every well-loved sweater, boot and buckle has been closely looked over, the best vintage garments are pulled from the design inspiration rack and make their way to the L.L.Bean Archives, where they’re tagged, logged and carefully incorporated into the company’s 30,000-piece collection of archival goods.

Interested to see inside the Archives? Take a look at what Inside L.L.Bean guest editors David Coggins and Emilie Hawtin found when they took an exclusive tour.

Top Vintage Picks – Spring and Summer

Here, our L.L.Bean design team compiled some of their favorite vintage selections for spring and summer. In a future series, we’ll learn more about the designers and take a look at their top fall and winter finds.

L.L.Bean Men’s Hunting Jacket

Era: 1950s / 1960s

L.L.Bean Women’s Shirtdress

Era: 1990s

L.L.Bean Cruiser Pack

Year: 1968

L.L.Bean Men’s Chamois Shirt

Era: 1993

L.L.Bean Boot Lounger

Era: 1980s

L.L.Bean Women’s Printed Anorak

Era: 1980s / 1990s

L.L.Bean Men’s Windbreaker

Era: Unknown

L.L.Bean Cross-Training Anorak

Year: 1990

L.L.Bean Men’s Night Shirt

Era: Unknown