When Maine hunter Leon Leonwood Bean developed his rubber-soled boots back in 1911, he could not have envisioned the fashion moment they’d be having more than a century later. To try and keep up with record demand, his namesake company began hiring 100 new employees and has added a third shift at its Brunswick, Maine, factory.
No one can pinpoint exactly when the iconic Bean boot became cool, but interest started ramping up during Fashion Week 2012, and now you can find evidence of it all over blogs and Pinterest, where the boot is shown at the end of beanstalk legs covered in tights and woolly socks, bare except for short-shorts, and decked in stockings beneath a poufy wedding dress. It pops up on celebrity sites like E! Online and that up-to-the-minute lexicon tracker, Urban Dictionary, where related words include “preppy,” “WASP,” “New England,” and — cover your ears, Leon — “sexy.”
Spotted on rock stars and other celebs, the boots in the past couple of years have been covered by Vogue, GQ, InStyle, and Glamour and have been featured in teen fashionista Tavi Gevinson’s online magazine, Rookie, under the headline, “Damn Girl Ya Look Good.” So what exactly is the appeal here?
“There’s a playfulness and novelty to wearing these boots with a cute little skirt or interpreting them in quirky ways,” says Jay Calderin, founder and executive director of Boston Fashion Week. “There’s a certain charm in that, and you can have a lot of fun with it.”
But it’s also about quality, he adds. Bean boots are still hand-sewn, just as when Leon started out, one pair at a time. “There’s a return of respect for craftsmanship and quality,” says Calderin. “It’s a backlash to fast fashion and disposable clothes that don’t really wear very well.” The boots, he says, have taken on a “cool factor” and, yes, even become “almost like a new status symbol.”
BY THE NUMBERS
> 450,000 — Pairs of boots sold last year, a record
> 15,000 — Number of pairs currently on back order
> 24 — Number of weeks it can take to train a Bean bootmaker
> $79-$199 — Price for Bean boots, including shearling- or Thinsulate-lined, dark and light leather or waxed canvas uppers, dark brown or colored rubber bottoms, and padded collars
> 170+ — Number of countries where Bean sends its catalog
> 45-60 — Minutes it takes to make a pair of Bean boots
> 7½ — Height in inches of Leon’s original boot
> 1960 — Year Red Sox great Ted Williams wrote to L.L. Bean asking to buy his company
One hundred and four years after the first pair of Bean boots was made in Maine for sportsmen, the footgear is in the fashion spotlight, appearing in high-style magazines and on the feet of supercool celebrities like Jake Gyllenhaal.
Tanned hides are cut into components of the boots’ uppers.
The hides for the boots’ uppers are sourced from Maine and Minnesota.
Uppers are stitched together according to specific standards of construction.
Paired tops and bottoms move to the next stage of production.
L.L. Bean’s 170,000-square-foot factory floor in Brunswick, Maine, is humming 24 hours a day with about 400 employees making boots and tote bags in three shifts.
Once the upper is constructed, the eyelets are punched through its layers of leather.
Both the upper and the lower parts of the boots are smeared with waterproof glue before being attached and run through a high-speed dryer.
Linings like Thinsulate may be sewn into the boots after the tops and bottoms are triple-stitched together in a process known as vamping.
Boots are buffed during their final inspection before being boxed and shipped around the world.
Elizabeth Gehrman is a regular contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.