Classic and traditional styles have always done that. In fact, the hallmark of the true preppy aesthetic is the re-purposing of utilitarian items for everyday life: foul weather gear becomes a fashion statement, prep school ties and jackets appear in the office, and the steamer trunk great uncle Dan used at Yale is now a snazzy coffee table at the beach house.
A great example of this approach to life – utilitarian yet stylish – is the canvas tote bag. The most famous version of this functional workhorse is made by L.L. Bean. In fact, L.L. Bean literally invented the canvas tote bag category. The bag was originally developed to carry blocks of ice (back in the day when block ice was used to keep foods fresh in the ice box).
A nicely aged tote
From these humble beginnings, the bag quickly became recognized for its simple yet elegant functionality. L.L. Bean started to offer the canvas tote in a smaller version and called it the “boat & tote.” It was perfect for lugging around sailing and boating items and the more abuse it suffered the better it looked. So began the WASPy affinity for this multipurpose wonder.
As the Official Preppy Handbook cheekily pointed out, every New England family has several of these lying around the house. In some ways, these canvas totes are a sort of status symbol. That you know what these bags represent – where to get them, the history, even the perceived lifestyle they imply – makes them recognized and desirable.
Courtesy of Selectism.com
The L.L. Bean canvas tote bag has been liberally copied by many competitors. The basic design has even been reinterpreted by suppliers to Wall Street brokerage houses and white shoe law firms. Their logoed bags, given as employee gifts or awards, have become New York chic collector items. Go figure.
It is not uncommon to see these bags on the subway commuting to work with their owners. They are neutrally appealing and bring a bit of the outdoors to the office without being at all kitschy. The midsized L.L. Bean version is perfectly proportioned to hold everyday stuff along with lunch or a morning bagel.