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When did L.L. Bean start to suck, anyhow?


I was taking off my winter coat just now, since I got the stove and the heater going for my office, and the zipper jammed again. That's the reason I returned the last coat I got from them. Same deal with my sleeping bag -- and there's nothing more frustrating than trying to get into a sleeping bag in a 2AM chill and having the goddamned zipper jam.

Does anybody know when L.L. Bean started to suck, and why?

The first L.L Bean winter coat I had was a voluminous navy job with a big hood that I used for a blanket when the heat went in my apartment in Philly, and I must have had it for at least five years. When the sleeves finally wore out at the cuffs, the zipper still worked fine. I loved that coat. What the hell happened?

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DCblogger's picture
Submitted by DCblogger on

LL Bean used to be made in this country from US materials, now over seas from cheap materials.

I have a flannel suit that is 30 years old, still with ILGWU label in it. They don't make they like that anymore.

ClareA's picture
Submitted by ClareA on

Bean's is still ranked # 1 in customer service - for online retail.

Give them a CALL!

zuzu's picture
Submitted by zuzu on

Try rubbing a beeswax candle on the offending zippers. That might help.

But your real question may be not what's happened with LL Bean, but what's happened with the zipper manufacturers. Because it's a safe bet that the zipper was made by someone else (likely YKK; check the zipper pull).

The other thing is that your old zipper might well have been metal, and your new one is plastic, which won't rust out or shrink in the cold, but isn't necessarily as durable.

Submitted by lambert on

Yes, it's YKK. I believe the last one was YKK too, but this is like the consumer grade version, and the last one was like industrial grade.

Thanks for the beeswax tip, I might have some.

zuzu's picture
Submitted by zuzu on

I recently took a sewing class in which zippers were discussed (including how to tell the difference between a regular zipper and an invisible zipper).

New York also has entire stores full of zippers in the Garment District. It's kind of fun, until you realize that you have to schlep all over town to get materials for your project.

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

soap, a tiny tiny smear of vegetable oil, or in a pinch vaseline or chapstick.

If it's hanging up you may have to slip the zipper itself off the tracks and deburr it with an emery board (or sandpaper on a toothpick, or the file in your Leatherman -- you do have a Leatherman, don't you, Lambert? If not get one, even if you have to get one off Ebay from the NTSA resellers!). Good idea to give the mechanism and the tracks themselves a look-over to be sure the teeth are straight and smooth, not snagging or out of line, as well.

all else fails go to a thrift store, get an old parka (you do not care about its condition; in fact for this, the rattier the better), swap the zippers. (yes, you can, and hand needles and thread are cheap and available at most grocery stores. One trick is to NOT remove the old zipper, but sew the new one INSIDE it using the old zipper material between the edges of its tracks and the seam holding it into the garment as a guide.

As a kid I inherited a Sears "parka" from a cousin. It was the first double-action, open-at-the-bottom zipper I'd ever seen. I wore it from 7th grade through high school, until I got my letter jacket. Then I hung it in a closet, and it was my son who finally wore it out. Weighed about 12 pounds and had a green outer shell of some really impermeable material, and an inner shell of (green) fake-fur. So warm some days I had to take it off on the school bus. But because it had that fur-texture liner rather than the later 'slick' ones, I didn't sweat in it as bad as you might expect.

Not only can't you buy those anymore, you can't buy the colorful slightly-padded nylon "ski jackets" I used to get at Anthony's stores (i bought a new one every fall in college: the first one for me, the 2nd one for my dad, the 3rd one for my mom). That was 1983-85, and one of them is still on my son's coat hook. Knit cuffs, windproof/moisture resistant shell, soft warm liner. Didn't weigh much. My big quibble was the plastic zippers, but airport security taught me to love those, too.

Some places (I think cheaper than dirt still does) also sell mil-surplus zippers with metal teeth and mechanisms on canvas or nylon tape in lengths up to about 10 feet. Check American Science and Surplus or some of the (like whiteblaze) make or repair your own outdoor gear sites, and some of the sewing sites.

connecticut man1's picture
Submitted by connecticut man1 on

Here is a laugher... Forbes puts out it's 25 most influential LIBERALS list and has Ezra Klein listed as a health care guru. I nearly busted a gut laughing so hard when I read that... Yeah, there are a couple of people on that list that merit being there, even if they are Reagan Republicans or moderate conservatives, and a few other people that might even be considered liberal. Anyways, the rest - the overwhelming majority of them - are a bunch of gas bags and media failures that are influential amongst other gas bags and media failures that liberals don't pay attention too other than to kick for their stupidity on a daily basis.

It is pretty much Forbes conservative's wet dream of what they wished influenced liberals...

There is no doubt that Ezra Klein is on the left side of the spectrum, but it is a huge stretch to put him anywhere near the top 25 influential liberals... And beyond comprehension to list him as a "health care guru" for liberals, as is evident in his recent pieces on the subject.

DCblogger's picture
Submitted by DCblogger on

and even considered posting on it under Gaslight Watch. Fred Hiatt is supposed to be a liberal.

TreeHugger's picture
Submitted by TreeHugger on

descent into mediocrity: I started noticing a major change @ 15 years ago, and it has certainly correlated with overseas manufacturing, but also with piss poor designs and far inferior materials. I especially miss the great heavy duty wool sweaters and jackets ...the only equivalent sweater I ever owned was a Navy surplus standard blue wool sweater.

In fact, the reason I started to learn to knit last fall was to try to duplicate some of the great sweaters I could no longer obtain from LL or anyone else. Luckily, I found a teacher who was happy to let me skip beginner scarves and hats and go directly to a pullover wool sweater for my very first project. She just used an existing sweater to help me create a pattern and viola! I have been almost living in that sweater this winter.

Now I am about a third of the way finished replicating my favorite LL wool/alpaca blend zip front, stand up collar, full two pocket cardigan. I am using a wool/apaca blend as beefy as the original and will be able to do this project for about $60 in yarn plus whatever I will need to pay for a zipper and the local seamstress to install it for me (teacher knows folks good at this). The LL prototype has nearly disintegrated, but I could never throw it away, instead using it for chores outdoors. Little did I dream I would someday be able to recreate it myself.

Thanks for the zipper tips too. Part of the difficulty will be to find a heavy duty zipper in a color (aubergine) to use on this sweater. Does anyone know if it is possible to find a great zipper that can be dyed to match??

bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

Playing to my strengths, I highly recommend REI as a major supplier for outdoor gear including clothing. They aren't the cheapest, but everything they sell is top-drawer for functionality and reliability. They actually do have teams of people who try out the articles they carry, and if the products aren't up to snuff they don't make it onto their shelves or get pulled.

Like every enterprise they do make mistakes, and I've taken things back. Not a whimper, not a bit of argument, just an apology and a store credit and outa there in ten minutes flat. They would exchange or credit that jacket of yours no questions asked, used or not.

I grew up out West, camping at first with military surplus (still the best angle for some items, can't beat a $5 tanker's mask for survival below zero). When I first became aware of LL Bean it struck me as East Coast effite and it still does. Ordered a couple of items oh maybe 20 years ago and was not impressed with either the quality or service and that was the end for me. Looks like I haven't missed anything.

I've been fortunate through the years to have excellent local manufacturers of outdoor gear and clothing. In Salt Lake City one of the first manufacturers of internal-frame pop-up mountaineering tents was AAA Tent and Awning Company; their little 4 pound two-man was the sweetest design. A couple of practice runs and you could set it up in a sandstorm in the desert with your eyes closed and roll in the door safe and sound, no guy wires, no stakes, no problem. That tent lasted me for ten years of heavy abuse.

REI. You'll thank me.

herb the verb's picture
Submitted by herb the verb on

with the jacket I got last summer from Land's End. Great attention to detail, great fabric, great construction, great cost. It's their windproof fleece.

Salmo's picture
Submitted by Salmo on

LL Bean is not offering the same quality it used to, but then most such retailers aren't. The zipper went on the last parka I bought there, and the replacement's zipper has now failed too. Lost teeth perhaps are evidence of my too forceful approach to the failing parts that I think should not be failing. Even the REI stuff isn't what it was. For example the zipper on the last fleece vest I bought there went in a matter of months. My Patagonia windbreaker's zipper was acting up this fall. So, rather than rip it too, I got out the old Barbour waxed cotton coat that I hadn't worn for years. The zipper was stuck. Right now I am wearing an old Johnson Woolen Mills red and black plaid jacket - with buttons.

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

I too can rec REI -- and mil surplus (get Air Force or Marine gear if you can find it, and if you can get surplus SAS gear you're golden).

There are two places I can still sometimes find good stuff: Cabela's by mail, (pricey) and Gander Mountain / Bass Pro Shop, in person.

I'm an odd size (once described as "brick ... house" by a coworker, and he said it admiringly), so LL bean was never something I liked (had a turtleneck from them the first Christmas after my brother in law got married, about 1992 or 93; they were a favorite of his wife's; it was ... not comfy and didn't have any give in the neck seam. I always asked for towels after that, and usually got great ones from, like, Penney's) -- and I have a constitutional objection to paying $30 for a shirt I can't wash at home without destroying it. So some of my Wranglers are over five years old (I have one Wrangler shirt I bought new in 2001 when I got stranded in Dallas, and it's still shipshape enough to wear in public -- khaki heavy cotton work wear, washed in cold water, dried on low heat, and lightly ironed) and going strong yet. Don't get 'em at Wal-Mart. Get the 13MWZ's in the denim they used to use for Sedgefields -- pick 'em up at Gebo's or a western store. Oh, and if you're NOT gonna wash 'em in cold water, buy 'em 2'' too long or they'll be high-waters in less than a year.

On that aubergine zipper -- try Seattle Fabrics. or this sewing site.

You can also get generic velcro in zipper-replacement "tapes", but it's noisy. Catches cat fur like nobody's bidness, too.

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

if you look around, you can still find Quality stuff in them.

seconding the Cabela's rec. pricey, yes. but they are still seemingly holding the line in quality. i have a big "puffy" winter coat from them, down filled, super tuff outer shell material, zipper *and* button front, extra and deep pockets. iirc i paid 140$ for it 4 years ago. it's proven to be worth that price and i don't expect to have to buy another for at least a decade. sadly, as i look at the label, it does read "made in china." sigh.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

More than three years later, I'm writing to concur with you about the zippers. I still have a hoodless L.L Bean parka I bought in the mid-1990s and the zipper has continued to work well, but because of it not having a hood, I decided to get a new parka from Bean in 2011, but after about 25-30 wearings, the zipper began to jam, or not engage at all at the bottom, and sometimes would disengage at the bottom while wearing it. I'm about to return the latter jacket for something else and go back to my weather-worn, faded, hoodless parka of circa 1996. At least they still have a reasonable return policy.