14 December 2010

"Heritage" vs. Heritage

About a month ago, Lands' end gave me a $100 gift card to spend on stuff from their new "heritage" line, Canvas 1963. Now, I'm always a bit conflicted when it comes to handling these freebie offers. On the one hand, the line between integrity and whoredom is very thin and easy to trip over. On the other, I generally like Lands' End as a good source for cheap basics, like tennis shirts and puffy down vests. Besides, I can always find a sweater I like with them, so this time I bit.
As luck would have it, they offer a pretty good silk knit tie for $39.50. I've been searching unsuccessfully for solid black silk knit tie for as long as I can remember, and this one is just about right. Knitted in Italy, though assembled God-knows-where, 2 3/4 inches wide. Truthfully, only a hairsbreadth different than what J.Press is offering for $59.62, on sale from $79.50, so I guess that makes this a bargain. Since I usually don't pay more than $3.00 for my neck wear, I have to remind myself how things are in real life, so I give this tie a thumbs up. Oddly enough, this tie is listed on the separate page for Canvas 1963, but it actually comes from regular Lands' End.

And yes, my button down collar was worn disdainfully unbuttoned that day. We'll save that discussion about contrived nonchalance for a separate post on another day,
Along with the topic of black accessories and brown leather being worn together in the same rig.
So what of the other sixty bucks? They have this cotton shawl collared cardigan available in charcoal grey, with a six button front. Recently, GQ ran an editors picks section on Canvas 1963, in which they had this to say about said sweater:

"Yes you're man enough to wear a cardigan, especially a thick, chunky shawl collar version.
Wear it with a plaid shirt and a skinny tie-no one will mistake you for Gramps."

Yikes, who writes that kind of copy? Seriously, the Lands' End people were pushing this whole GQ business as a selling point with me, but that kind of drivel just turns me off. Man enough to wear a cardigan? What the hell does that even mean?  I remember when I was in high school and my Dad subscribed to GQ. Back then they had Glenn O'Brien answering questions, Alan Richman as the food critic. Richard Merkin and Tom Wolfe turned up with fair regularity in the columns. These days...save that for its own post too, I guess. But I digress.

Here's how the sweater looks on the athletic young fellow who was paid to wear it:
and on your humble author:

I might be mistaken for "Gramps" yet. It's a pretty good sweater, basic and useful. Mostly I've been wearing it with plaid shirts and jeans under a duffel coat, a dashing look for trips to the post office or supermarket. Worth sixty bucks? Not really, when you can get a cotton "Drifter" crewneck from regular Lands' End for half the money. Which gets at my whole problem with all of this so-called heritage business.

The cheap crewneck sweater is actually the heritage of Lands' End. They've offered it for years, it's always been cheap, and you can still get it, and it's the same as it ever was. This sweater is not only twice as expensive, but carries an invented heritage.  Similarly, they sell Chinese made duck boots for $70, when proper ones made in Maine from L.L.Bean can be had for $84. L.L.Bean is doing it's own invented heritage thing with L.L.Bean Signature, instead of just selling Maine Hunting Shoes,tote bags, camping and fishing gear, lined khakis and bow ties...you know, their actual heritage. Old brands with real heritage designing fake heritage for people who don't understand heritage or authenticity in the least is an infuriating sign of the times. but again, I digress.

I sat on this post for a month, because I didn't want to come out all piss and vinegar over a freebie. I had just about decided to keep my mouth shut on this one. And really I like Lands' End, mostly. Every Spring I stock up on tennis shirts from them, and sometimes you can score a good pair of wide wale go-to-hell cords or something. If you've got a good eye, they offer a lot of basics that blend right in with your good stuff.

What changed my mind was a hand written note I received a week after my order arrived. In the puffy writing of a "nice young girl", I was thanked most graciously for my loyalty as a customer. That stuff counts, with me anyway.

Truthfully, I can't recommend Canvas 1963, or any other fake heritage line. I'm tired of having clothes cut too narrow, a romanticized version of the past being rammed down my throat and into my ever expanding waist as some kind of "authenticity". I can recommend the real Lands' End, where the real heritage is. Pants that fit, good cheap sweaters, and friendly customer service. It's just weird to me that companies these days can be schizophrenic enough to be the real thing, as well as their own crummy knock off.

Know the difference, and choose wisely.

40 comments:

Young Fogey said...

Great post. Your voice comes through loud and clear.

I love my Lands End clothes. They're affordable, they're durable, and they look good. Sure, the majority of them are made in Turbanistan or Elbonia or the People's Democratic Republic of Fascista, but as much as I want to buy all American, all the time, I can't afford to.

I got a fabulous Italian-made cashmere knit tie from them last year, and some of their silk ties--particularly older ones--are made in America.

I also love Lands End customer service. The American ladies they have manning the phones are great!

I don't love the models they use, especially not the scruffy ones--but I'm looking at the clothes, not the guys in them.

And yes, now that I think about it, Lands End Canvas makes no sense whatsoever--but that's what happens when you get bought out by Sears.

David M. said...

Oh no, please don't tell me you bought a Lands' End silt knit tie for full price. Those ties are constantly on sale. I bought one at the Sears in the Natick Mall this summer for like 7 bucks in the Lands' end section.

spoozyliciouzz said...

Looking good, Guiseppe. Nice job on the knit, and who gaves the damn about GQ, really.

Will said...

Couldn't agree more on this whole "heritage" fad, it's frankly spoiling the whole thing for me. This goes especially for LE Canvas. Here in Germany, they offer a 100% acrylic plaid scarf for more than 50 USD. Ridiculous!

Anonymous said...

LL.Bean Signature does actually rerelease archival items. Hunting coats, etc.

Rebecca said...

Your writing just keeps getting better and better - enabling you to walk the thin line "between integrity and whoredom" with both honor and humor.

...just enough "gramps grumpiness" dispensed here to make the point about and expose the reality of invented heritage...

Patrick Guldan said...

Giuseppe,

I love the Lands End knit tie, but I too couldn't spring for a $40 version normally. Luckily, the Sears Outlet was selling them for $3 a piece. I picked up an emerald green that I am wearing right now, a burgundy birds eye knit, and several navy knit ties. At such a low price, I bought them by the gross.

As an aside, I do love hearing about the thrift store purchases. It gives me hope as I search through the racks in prep/trad starved Columbus, Ohio. I do rely on the basics from Lands End, but mainly stick to the regular stock. You can't go wrong with a Hyde Park Oxford for less than $25.

Thanks,

Patrick

Anonymous said...

It's called marketing, G. Your economy is based on it. LEC has reasonable clothes for the price.

Jho78 said...

It seems to me that Canvas and LL Bean Signature are attempts to appeal to younger customers by offering "updated" styles of their clothing. Maybe if they pushed them that way instead of calling them "heritage" they wouldn't rub those who know better the wrong way.

Anonymous said...

Thank-you! I could not agree more. 'Heriteage' to me seems code for 'charge twice'. And I also do not like 'skinny' cuts. Aargh. I want real heritage, clothes that fit like they used to. Shirts that were comfortable and pants that I do not have to spend all day pulling up (I despise low-cut).

Rykman said...

A superlative post. You hit it on the head.

Unfortunately you also got a sweater made of cotton from Land's End Canvas, as did I.

At least yours was free.

OldSchool said...

Giuseppe,

Cravatte a farfalla a L.L. Bean?

When did L.L. Bean sell bowties?

Anonymous said...

While GQ may no longer be quite what it used to be, I have to point out that Glenn O'Brien still answers questions and Alan Richman is still their food critic.

Li Xiaoli said...

I agree with the heritage vs 'heritage' sentiment. The faux heritage thing just feels insincere and money grabby.

The LL Bean Signature line is nice I suppose, but in all honesty, I was sort of confused when I first saw it. The appeal was the mainpage and that it seemed to be utterly without pretension or any attempt to re-invent itself to appeal to people under 30.

Gregorius Mercator said...

Glenn O'Brien still writes for GQ.

While I do like slimmer cuts of classics (I love the old school looks, but not always the old school lines and boxiness), I can certainly share your feelings on the ridiculousness of classic companies being their own knock-offs.

Li Xiaoli said...

P.S. Agree with the GQ sentiment, too. I feel like I should point out that Playboy used to feature regular ads for Cricketeer, and pieces by Ian Fleming, Alex Haley, and Saul Bellow. They still occasionally do great articles, but it feels like the notion of a literate popular culture has changed radically.

Anonymous said...

I'll add a vote in opposition to the rose-colored-heritage thing going on in men's clothing right now. Even if I may be in the target market for the stuff, in nearly all cases I've been disappointed with the 'new' compared with the 'original' from the same brands. Odd fits, discordant details... perhaps that is what fashion is though these days. Hopefully the good old brands realize that there are still people, even young 30ish yr olds, who appreciate quality and timelessness and maintain their classics alongside this temporary fashion experiment.

Joshua said...

"It's just weird to me that companies these days can be schizophrenic enough to be the real thing, as well as their own crummy knock off."

This pretty much sums up my feelings too, though I do think LL Bean Signature is intentionally branded dirrectly toward the metro-rusticator crowd

The Tyrant said...

You can't serious be complaining about not being able to find enough "full cut" clothing in this world.

The Skinny Guinea said...

I too bought this same black LE Canvas knit tie (on sale though @$29 a few months ago. They were good enemough to publich my feedback , which was honest. Another observation I left from the feedback comment is the absurd placement of the "made in Italy" tag right that consistently snags right in the middle of the knot area on my 16 1/2" neck (easily enough removed.)

I´ve since ordered the purported "one tie you need" in Navy from JPress on sale. I must say it lacks the thick-ass seam running up the back of the blade of the LE tie. And that extra 1/4" might just be worth the extra $20...
Just sayin'!
Keep up the excellent work, paisano.
-SG

Jerry Grasso said...

We ordered some scarves from Lands End Heritage and got the same hand written note. My wife likes the scarves, but when I buy from Bean or LE, it is the basics, so I too am trying to find the value in what they bring out from the vaults....

Scott said...

Why did you get the shawl collar, which you yourself said was not worth it, in place of the crew neck?

Anonymous said...

Not to split hairs but you're comparing apples to oranges. The cheapest shawl cardigan online at LE is $69.50 which is more expensive than what you paid at LE Canvas, right? So for you to compare a cardigan to a sweater (which should be cheaper depending on fabric, etc.) is muddling the argument. Is your cardigan really that overpriced? Not really, unless it falls apart rather quickly and sweet Jesus who pays full price anyway? I know you had a free gift card so that doesn't really apply in your case, but LE always has a sale going on at one time or another.

I do agree that LE Canvas probably shouldn't be selling duck boots which are iconic to LL Bean, but Bean is just as guilty of raising the prices on their Heritage line. Just because they have a heritage doesn't mean people should be paying rube prices.

Also, some of us are skinny and need clothes that are slightly slimmer.

Lastly, GQ mostly blows rockets. They contradict themselves in every issue. You just have parse the bs and find what works for you just like clothes shopping. Yes, I do have a subscription and it was free just like your cardigan.

Anonymous said...

Here they come, Giuseppe--LE, BB, Orvis, Barbour, Old Navy, J. Crew, 500 start-ups selling work clothes, ad nauseum.

Shill, shill, shill your blog
Build their revenue stream,
Merrily merrily merrily merrily
"Used" was just a dream.

Anonymous said...

Glenn O'Brien was answering question in the sixties, not for GQ.

Anonymous said...

Both companies are marketing these lines as updated fits/style based on their own heritage. Nothing wrong with attempting to appeal to grandpa and grandson too. Send the gift card back next time if it offends your sensibilities so.

NCJack said...

Fully agree on this whole "Heritage" thing, smacks of the "new & improved" advertising (so, what, your old stuff was crap?), and the "we've rediscovered quality" (so you DO admit you lost it, eh?)

Or when a big outfit buys out a smaller successful outfit, then changes everything. Why did you purchase them in the first place?

The message that comes across, though I'm sure it's not meant, is "Alright, we've known for years we could do better, but were too bloody stupid, but here it is now"

I have to wonder if the "fashion" customers attracted will outweigh, $$wise, the "reliability" customers who start to look elsewhere.

Giuseppe said...

Anon. 1:54,

I guess you skipped the first paragraph of this post, but I will give a few clever points for that little jingle of yours.

Tyrant,

Not full cut, not slim cut. I prefer properly cut.

Everyone else,

Looks like I touched a real nerve here.

David M. said...

I apologize, G. You spent $0.00 on a tie that I accused you of spending $40.00 on. Sorry.

unitedstyle said...

I would rather these companies knock themselves off than have to suffer through designer versions made in the next factory over. I have a polo and an Oxford from LEC. The polo is great and I wore it once a week in the warmer months. The Oxford less so, but still decent.

I understand the argument against these so-called heritage lines, however I think they have their place. They allow a brand to experiment a little without really affecting the identity of the main brand. It can bring in new customers who may have passed up the main brand. I do have a feeling one of these will not survive and end up being absorbed back into the main brand.

Jay Baxter said...

You are such a crank. "Oh, god, I couldn't possibly take a freebie from your store...okay, I guess I will if you twist my arm...eww, these clothes are so cheapo and awful...but I'll still wear them all the time."

Stick with freebies from Goodwill and Salvation Army.

ChuckHatt said...

I agree with lots of what you say here Giuseppe but I do like their canvas heritage oxford. My 16/32 shirts are always too tight in the collar, and too baggy down under but the M canvas heritage o.c.b.d. is very nicely cut with a generous collar, hefty but soft fabric, and nicely crafted details.. The 39 dollar price tag works for me as well and it's the best fit I'll get outside of something bespoke.

Philip said...

Giuseppe,

I've been an avid reader of your blog for a while, and generally like your thoughts.

However, give LE a break. That's a great cardigan you bought--so what if the advertising was crappy? I sneer at posturing and fake heritage advertising as much as the next man, but you know what? If it's decent quality at a decent price, I'll go for it. I see PLR or LE at the thrift store I go for it, because it's pretty good stuff.

Maybe it's that I'm young, but I don't mind a slight update to my classics. I'm frankly glad to see guys around the campus wearing shawl-collar cardigans and sweaters, even the occasional affected tie. Yeah, it's a bit silly untucked and unbuttoned, but they'll grow out of that phase and start wearing it correctly eventually.

The trouble is that brands like LE (and Brooks/Press for that matter) are realizing that their devoted customer base is aging. In order to survive, they have to advertise--price we pay for living in an open market. Fact is, there's no better time to tout durability and "heritage" than a recession. So as much as I despise the posturing, I say let them have their fun and attract more lifetime customers.

Giuseppe said...

Jay Baxter,

did you skip the part where I said how much I actually like Lands' End and how it's the concept of invented heritage that bothers me?

Philip,

Thank you for a well put presentation of the other side of the argument.

The Tyrant said...

There is no proper cut when there are different-sized human beings, which is why Dior Homme and Jos. A. Bank do not share a customer base.

Giuseppe said...

The differences between dior Homme and Joe Banks go miles beyond cut alone. Apples and Oranges? That's more like unicycles and jet planes.

Spiro said...

Without going to such a dramatic place as The Tyrant, I will say that I own an oxford from both Lands End and Canvas.

The "standard" line shirt has a boxy fit and very long shirttails. All well and good for a tucked in dress shirt but not nearly as good as my 8 dollar Brooks Bros. thrift store find.

On the other hand, the Canvas oxford is a bit more body-shaped and much shorter. It makes for a much cleaner casual look: untucked without looking sloppy. Not for everyone I'm sure, but it fills an entirely different position in my wardrobe.

So yes, I feel they have different customer bases, but because of their intended uses more than anything else.

cc said...

I got a hand written thank you note rom a young lady as well, when I sent off for a free sample of some shaving cream from ursa major. I wonder if it's a new thing making the rounds.

Anonymous said...

The hand written notes are actually machine written

Anonymous said...

Do I spot a sockless loafer?
I love that that this look is just as clean (and comfortable)
For the winter as well!
Smart look, as always .....