Customers monogram their LL Bean tote bags with a twist

When Gracie Wiener ordered a canvas Boat and Tote bag from the LL Bean website in July 2021, she filled in the “add monogram” field with the word “psycho” instead of her initials. “I think it’s funny to wear your best or worst qualities on your sleeve,” she said.

Ms Wiener, 26, who lives in Manhattan and is the social media manager for Air Mail, was inspired by a photo of a similar bag that Juliana Salazar, a fashion designer, had posted on Instagram. In February, Ms Wiener set up an Instagram account, @ironicboatandtote, to circulate pictures of the bags among her friends, who ordered their own “EGOMANIAC” bags and “emotional luggage”.

Ms. Wiener’s Instagram account, which has 26,000 followers, documents millennials and Gen Zers who combine a contemporary sense of humor with an enduring symbol of American preparedness.

The trend took off in June, when Ms Wiener posted a TikTok video about the bags which was viewed more than 470,000 times. The hashtag #boatandtote has racked up 1.5 million views on the app, where users collaborate to embellish the low-key bags with words and phrases that are anything but.

Within LL Bean’s 10-character maximum there are cheeky directives (“rip it off”, “bite me”) and self-mockery (“sullen”, “narcissistic”), as well as winks to astrology (“august leo”) and Taco Bell (“MAS LIVE”).

The trend may have translated to increased sales of the boat and tote, especially among younger customers, LL Bean spokeswoman Amanda Hannah wrote in an email. “Boat and tote sales are up 30% over last year and have been a major driver of new buyers this spring and summer,” she said. “It was really fun to see a new generation of customers take our classic tote and make it their own.”

Sarah Thompson, a 26-year-old social media manager in Boston, collected ideas on Instagram before ordering a boat and a tote that says “throw it away” in pink cursive.

“My mum doesn’t understand, which I find funny,” said Ms. Thompson, whose mother has one of the bags monogrammed with her initials. “She’s like, ‘What do you mean, throw him away? You don’t have to throw him away.

Introduced in 1944 as an ice cream rack, the Boat and Tote is as much a staple of preppy fashion as polo shirts, chinos or loafers, said Chris Black, host of the “How Long Gone” podcast. He said the bag’s customization and relatively low price — $30 to $55, plus $8 for the monogram — make it a democratic entry point into the preppy aesthetic, which is making a comeback.

Novin Abdi, 23, made his first LL Bean purchase in July: a boat and a “thank you, I hate that” tote.

Ms Abdi, who is Iranian and grew up in Texas, used to think of LL Bean as “the traditionally white, straight, WASP-y brand”. which only targeted people from the East Coast. Adding one of her favorite phrases made the bag more like hers.

“The more we complicate what ‘preppy’ looks like or what ‘classic’ style looks like, the better,” said Jesica Wagstaff, 40, a style content creator in Virginia whose TikTok video featuring her monogram Boat and Tote has been viewed over 550,000 times.

“It’s a little sign of your personality,” said Austin Riggle, 28, who works in marketing in Cleveland and whose boss was amused when Mx. Riggle showed up to work with a very large boat and tote that read, “GAY PANIC.”

Others used their canvas bags to mock luxury handbags.

Garrett Gottesman, 29, ordered a “Balenciaga” boat and tote in June. LL Bean wouldn’t embroider the bag with a trademarked name, so Mr. Gottesman, who works in social media in New York City, took the blank bag to an embroidery shop in the clothing district which realized his vision for 30 $. “It’s definitely worth it,” he said. (LL Bean won’t embroider profanity on its bags either, though some abbreviations have crept in.)

Not everyone is convinced of the sustainability of the trend. Sara Morano, 30, an executive assistant who lives in Greenwich, Connecticut, said she was worried that adding an in-the-moment phrase like “flop era” to a durable bag would push people throw it away faster.

But there are ways to participate without buying new bags, said Ysabel Morales, a 22-year-old student at the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. She bought a used Boat and Tote that says “not my circus” and on July 13, she got a “psycho” tote tattooed on her right arm.

Ms Morales said the bag was an obvious addition to her body art collection, which includes line drawings of a LaCroix seltzer can and a Marcel Breuer Wassily chair. “I just thought it was iconic.”

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