I’d seen the catalog images hundreds of times. The classic LL Bean Barn Coat. Worn by handsome, rugged guys with peppered hair, stubbled faces and crow’s feet that deepened the harder they would smile at the camera. The backdrops of their imaginary lives, idyllic rural landscapes painted in autumn colors or with fences lining fields of grazing horses. The assumption was rural New England or Bean’s hometown state of Maine but it could have been anywhere, left purely up to the imagination of the reader, the buyer, the consumer.
Granted, they were models, likely from the famed Ford agency in Manhattan, but I wanted to be those guys, to wear that coat and be rugged and handsome and capable. To work hard and play hard, to be one with the outdoors, to drive a pick-up truck on dirt roads and do jobs worthy of wearing an LL Bean Barn Coat, a coat that combined classic fashion with heavy-duty, rural durability.
I bought myself an LL Bean Barn Coat somewhere in the mid 1990’s. I don’t remember the exact year but it was close to twenty years ago. My choice, the traditional Khaki color with the hunter green collar, a coat made from heavy canvas, with a removable, insulated flannel liner and deep front pockets that would keep my hands warm on cold Fall Michigan days. I was young, mid-20’s, newly married and kid free. I had a new career under my belt and endless possibilities on life’s horizon… and now I had an LL Bean Barn Coat.
For many years it was my regular coat. I wore it to work and I wore it on dates with my wife. I wore it to restaurants and the grocery store and on trips back East to visit my family. I wore it to apple orchards and pumpkin patches and while shoveling snow in the winter. I probably wore it to the hospital when my daughter was born in 1997. I wore it while working around my house, while chopping wood and raking leaves and repairing fences and painting barns and mowing grass.
Over the years my LL Bean Barn Coat became less and less my everyday coat and more and more something I wore when I knew I was going to get dirty. It had become permanently stained with dirt, splattered with red barn paint and faded from long days in the sun, the rain, the snow and trips through the washing machine. Plus, like most people, my attitudes about fashion fluctuated from year to year and some years I was much more fitted dress shirts than flannel button downs, and much more black leather jacket than khaki LL Bean Barn Coat. But my trusted coat is still with me, it still hangs proudly in my mud-room and close to twenty years after purchasing it, I still wear it regularly when I am doing jobs that are worthy of wearing an LL Bean Barn Coat.
I’m a much different person now than I was in my mid-20’s and I like to think that, just like my LL Bean Barn Coat, with its dirty, stained and faded patina, I have aged gracefully, not only on the outside, but the inside as well. I’m not sure I ever became one of those guys in the LL Bean catalog or if my life has developed into the storybook that those images in the catalog portrayed. Sure I have the crow’s feet and a few gray hairs and the rural life and the dirt road and the pickup truck. In reality though, if I can claim to be anything like the guys in those pictures, I know where credit is deserved; the woman I married, the family she and I have built and fostered and my general attitude about life and how I have chosen to live it.
Because a fulfilling life has much less to do with the coat you wear and much more to do with where you choose to hang it.