The Past & The Future of the L.L. Bean Anorak

The anorak made its way into the Trad cannon via Ivy Style as documented in the famed book Take Ivy. It was one of the lucky items to transcend the Ivy era and found itself perhaps even more popular among the 70’s prep crowd (The Late 70s Prep Look) . The anorak continues to weave in and out of mainstream popularity, but it has found a home for itself in the world of traditional American clothing. That about sums what I know about the anorak, but luckily for us we have a guest poster Kel Rhoads who knows his stuff and is going to give us a history lesson on the L.L. Bean Anorak (and a sneak peak at their 2017 anorak).

anorak-ivy-style-3LL Bean, established purveyor of traditional clothing, has offered an anorak for over 70 years—although not continuously. For the past several years, if you wanted a traditional Bean anorak, you had to scour the used market. Fortunately, that’s about to change. A new Bean anorak will be released in early 2017. Given our interest in the garment, an LL Bean employee sent us an exclusive photograph of the upcoming model. We’ll show it to you in a bit, but first, let’s put the new anorak in its historical context.

The original “annoraaq” was designed by the Inuit as a heavy, fur-lined, hooded pullover jacket. No openings to the front, with drawstrings at hood, cuffs, and waist, helped the jacket ward off wind, water, and freezing temperatures encountered by polar hunters. The garment was strictly and efficiently functional. As is often the case, the garment’s spartan practicality provided the foundation for its evolution into versatile, and sometimes even fashionable, outerwear—for even the non-polar inclined.
To our knowledge, there have been four previous generations of the Bean anorak, with the 2017 model ushering in the fifth. The first generation served soldiers in WWII and was available into the 1960s as “Bean’s Labrador Parka,” either cotton or 60/40, with a distinctively alien, two-pocketed, low-hem cut. Today these are valued by collectors.
LL Bean Labrador AnorakLL Bean Labrador ParkaThe second generation ushered in “Bean’s Anorak,” which had the familiar modern windbreaker look we recognize today. We suspect the second generation was offered throughout the 1970s and 1980s. They were made of slick, lightweight (2.5 oz./yard) nylon and had parallel seams on the chest. The elastic wrist bands on most of these vintage ‘raks have relaxed and need replacement, but otherwise they are still durable, functional garments—and still the lightest and most packable of any Bean anorak.
Bean’s third generation was produced in the 1990s and was broadly popular, even earning its own advertising spreads in outdoor magazines. These anoraks were redesigned in softer Supplex nylon with a cotton-y feel, and the seams on the chest evolved into a slenderizing keystone shape. That, along with an elastic waist drawstring, meant wearers could advertise a trim, athletic figure beneath. These were known as the “Mountain Classic Anorak” in solid colors, and the “Alpine Classic” or “Aztec” in flamboyant color-block variants. We aren’t certain if the third generation made it into the 21st century, but there was a many-years-long hiatus where Bean anoraks were no longer offered.
mountain-classic-anorakPopular demand caught up with Bean in 2012, when they reintroduced a fourth variant for just two years. They again called it the “Mountain Classic Anorak,” made of an even softer Supplex than previously. In many ways, however, the 2012 reissued Mountain Classic was more like the second-generation Bean’s Anorak with straight chest seams and vintage leather cord keepers at the hood. Bean also cut the fourth generation model considerably larger in the trunk, yielding a less athletic but comfortably drapey (some say tent-like) shape.
That brings us to the just-introduced fifth generation Bean anorak, called the “Mountain Classic Color Block Anorak” — although we’ve been assured one color scheme will be a sober black-on-black. Studying the photograph, it appears the anorak has gone back to a slimmer cut, possibly longer, and with a longer chest zipper. Its color-block style harkens back to the “Alpine” and “Aztec” designs of the 1990s, but less rambunctiously so. Bean has also revived their “Sunrise over Katahdin” label (which appeared in 1987) and placed it prominently on the chest. We have no idea how long Bean will offer the new 5th-gen, but we’re told they’ll debut in the Spring of 2017.
ll-bean-anorak-2017Modern windbreaker-style anoraks are favorites of travelers. There’s a cost of having to wriggle into a pullover that gives half the ventilation of a zip-up jacket. But the benefits are many: a streamlined front that doesn’t snag on pack straps, superior weather resistance, a long and lightweight barrier that wards off the grime of public transportation. And then there’s that magnificent kangaroo pocket. For the urban traveler, its great advantage is rapid deployment and concealment of valuables. While others are fumbling with wallets, packs and purses, the anorak’d traveler faces the vending machine, unzips, pays, and stashes change and receipt back into the pocket in seconds. By the time he or she turns away, everything’s zipped and secure, to be sorted out later. Pick-pockets hate anoraks!
oxford cloth button down
Jerrod Swanton is a simple man interested in simple, classic, and traditional style.

12 Comments on "The Past & The Future of the L.L. Bean Anorak"

  1. Dutch Uncle says:

    Allow me to cast my vote for the 2012 reissued Mountain Classic: considerably larger in the trunk, hence comfortably drapey with its tent-like shape.

  2. Milo says:

    Thanks for the info…my favorite Bean anorak must be an 80s model. Looking forward to purchasing one of the new ones when it is available.

  3. JoelVau says:

    Hey Jerrod

    Someone gave me two Jos A Banks traveller ocbds for Christmas and I wonder if you have any tips on how to get the coating out of them. A salesman at BB once told me not to starch their non iron shirts, so I figure sending these to the laundry might help. But do you have any home remedies, so to speak? It is getting so hard to find a must iron decent ocbd for under $100


  4. oxford cloth button down says:

    Joel – This is something that I have never attempted. I don’t have any good ideas, but I hope that someone else will chime in with some advice!

    Anyone ever tried this???

  5. JackBoul says:

    I’m a big fan of the anorak and found your page on a Google search of same. Was unaware the anorak was trad. I’m in style and didn’t know it! Tempted to pick up one of the new LLB models if the colors aren’t wild. Thanks for the history.

  6. Randall Reeves says:

    Have never been a fan of anoraks because they are difficult to remove without flinging one’s glasses to the floor. That said, their total practicality PLUS (new to me) solid place in the canon of Trad clothing suggest I should take another look.

    The only thing I find disappointing in these designs is the elastic cuff, which, with any consistent use, would wear out quickly.

  7. Charlottesville says:

    Jerrod – Nice to see you quoted in the Wall Street Journal as an expert on trad clothing. Congratulations! Hope it brings some more traffic to your terrific site. For anyone who may have missed it:

  8. Paper Clip says:

    When I hear “anorak”, I think of the 80s preppy mainstay: the J Crew anorak – which was very popular on the UMass campus Greek area in the late 80s. I still have mine in green with tan placket and hood.

  9. oxford cloth button down says:

    Charlottesville – Thank you!

    Paper Clip – I think of something very similar when I hear anorak. I think of those Charles River type anoraks.

  10. Woofboxer says:

    Informative and a nice read thanks!

  11. FJW says:

    I have a Labrador Parka from Bean that was purchased in 1974 and still wear it.

    Back than it was sized so you would be able to wear a heavy sweater and maybe a down vest under it. Mine’s a small and believe me in 2017 I’m no longer a size small and can no longer wear anything under it

  12. Kel says:

    The eagle has landed! After a 3-year hiatus, new Mountain Classic ‘racks are in stock @ LL Bean as of Jan 26.

I would like to hear from you