I love fashion but I hate you.

Land’s End Canvas and LL Bean Signature Or Other Figments of Your Imagination

I was walking around the other day when I saw a big delivery truck decked out with “Land’s End Canvas” branding. There was a picture of a couple wearing gingham, and the side of the track was one huge close-up picture of a canvas bag or tarp, and on it was printed “Land’s End Canvas 1963″. It made quite the statement.

I bring this up for a few reasons.  First, because I didn’t even know Land’s End was launching a “Canvas” line. In fact, I had actually confused it with the recently launched Eddie Bauer Signature line. Which further got me thinking: what’s up with all of these “throwback” lines, each one a seemingly exact copy of the last?

It’s no news that workwear is in. Walk down Broadway in Soho or Bedford in Brooklyn and you’d think there was some kind of convention of lumberjacks and fisherman from 1964 in town.. The whole scene now reminds me of that “Derelicte” joke from Zoolander. We laughed back then because it was ludicrous to think that anyone would ever purposefully dress like a poor degenerate. Silly Us. (As an aside, remember that Zoolander’s father was a coal miner [“I’ve got the Black Lung, pop”], and it’s funny to think that coal miners might be having a large effect on this current work wear trend.)

But I don’t want to know what is in, or even so much why it’s in. Rather, I want to know how.

What I mean is, where did this retro/vintage/work wear/outdoorsy idea come from? Take a look at some of the branding, wording, and styling of these websites. This is Land’s End Canvas:

Then there’s LL Bean Signature

Tradition. Classic. Authentic. These are serious words with lots of appeal, and rightly so. With the democratization of fashion thanks to the likes of H&M, and the subsequent demolition of any male standard of clothing, I think a lot of men (and women) want to be able to latch onto something that is “classic” and “timeless.” People don’t want to just wear something because something is “in”, they want to wear it because it’s functional, it has meaning, and it references a storied history.

But that’s the problem: it’s a story. Who’s tradition? What classic? Authentic in what way? These clothes try to invoke a past, which I would argue is at least partly imagined, and certainly very skewed. How many people in America were really out there trouncing around in the woods, hunting deers and chopping down wood? Certainly these people couldn’t have thought that their clothes were anything more than tools to get a job done. And even if there were Americans running around with flannel and all that, why is that subset singled out for being “classic”? I’m pretty sure most Americans didn’t descend from New England back country lobster fishermen (lobstermen?).

Gingham. So much Gingham

Gingham. So much gingham. (via J.crew)

So then if most of us didn’t descend from Maine royalty, where does that leave us? Not to fear, for these are “classics”! Don’t worry that wearing avintage army jacket, faded jeans, and hunting boots 10 years ago would have easily demarcated you to the level of “street wino”, because that same army jacket and hunting boots can now be yours for only a couple hundo.

I’m definitely not saying that certain tracks of America didn’t rock that all-American look. A Continuous Lean showcased some great pictures, some from Life Magazine, showing clothing styles that would be comfortable on the runway or Broadway today. So the point isn’t that that gingham-and-washed-canvas look doesn’t actually come from somewhere. I guess I’m ultimately arguing that invoking ideas about “classics” and “history” are more powerful than the clothes themselves. Nostalgia (or imagined nostalgia) is the best marketing tool ever devised.

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