Prep Membership Card: The LL Bean Norwegian Sweater

In the 1980s, I would stroll through the oak grove of my small college campus clad in a well worn pair of chinos, cream-colored turtleneck, a pink Brooks oxford and an LL Bean Norwegian Sweater. I was confident in believing I had found the perfect sweater that would be around forever.

Boy was I wrong.

November 1 will see the long-awaited return of the LL Bean Norwegian Sweater after hiatus of nearly two decades. Though not yet listed on the LL Bean website, you can place a telephone order for the sweater now.

Wildly popular in the ’70s and ’80s, the past 18 years have not been good to this preppy icon. In the wake of increased apparel outsourcing, the once authentically Norwegian sweater began being made in China. This sino-faux sweater received a chilly reception, and in one of the trade’s most creative euphuisms, Bean decided to let the sweater “rest.”

Long favored by Norwegian fishermen, the iconic blue with white birds-eye pattern is back and better then ever. Bean has returned to the original supplier, which has been producing traditional Norwegian knitwear for over 70 years from a small, idyllic island factory. The sweater is priced at $129.00 and is available in two models: the original crewneck and a 1/4 zip-neck. The zip sweater will be available through Bean’s retail stores and is designed to appeal to those more accustomed to performance fleece then staid wool.

First introduced in 1965, the Norwegian Sweater earned the devotion of outdoor enthusiasts. The original model was 80 percent unscoured wool for water repellency and 20 percent rayon for strength. The new models are 100% wool. The whole process from farm to factory has improved; advancements in wool and knitting technologies allow the all wool sweater to be stronger, water repellent and retain its shape This change from the original sweater should be good news to devotees of traditional clothing who are largely synthetic-fiber phobic.

“The nearest thing to a prep membership card,” is how Lisa Birnbach describes the Norwegian Sweater in  “The Official Preppy Handbook.” The unisex sweater was integral to the preppy layering scheme, and the shoulders were supposed to be dirty as evidence of the deviant social practice of “gatoring.” Birnbach quietly warned against similar outdoorsy models, and encouraged readers to source exclusively from LL Bean. Three photographs, one illustration, and a handful of references in her best-selling tome solidified the Norwegian Sweater as a campus favorite and helped drive sales throughout the ’80s.

Growing up in 70’s the sweater was “the first LL Bean item I wanted,” says project manager Don Rogers, who spearheaded the sweater’s return. Its rebirth reflects a growing interest in American heritage brands, he says. “Now is the right time for the reintroduction of the sweater.” — CHRISTOPHER SHARP

Christopher Sharp lives in upstate New York. He is a former community-newspaper reporter who has served in the Navy Reserve for over 20 years, currently supporting the Global War on Terror.

10 Comments on "Prep Membership Card: The LL Bean Norwegian Sweater"

  1. I ordered mine a couple days ago and can’t wait to recieve it.

  2. Thanks for the heads up about ordering over the phone early. I’ve been waiting for a few months now to get one and just bought a small and medium about 5 minutes ago on the phone. I’ve been scouring eBay for the past couple years looking for a good one but they always looked really wide and the neck’s were always so stretched out. Thanks again for the tip.


  3. Note that the pattern of the new one goes the opposite direction of the original.

  4. The pattern on old sweaters appear in both directions.

  5. Got mine a few days ago. Still looks great, feels great. Hell, at this rate, I’ll be wearing it in the 2050’s!

  6. I have a cardigan, with charcoal and red pattern. Metal buttons. It has a giant hole in the elbow, and I want another. Crew neck cardigan. The way to go. But in any case, glad to see Bean is going back to the source, for once. I think Leon Leonwood would roll over in his grave if he’d seen how much labor has been lost to the far east….


  7. NHS: “I’ve been scouring eBay for the past couple years…”

    I’d like to advise you: Do NOT shop from E-Bay! They are notorious for their fakes. I personally have never shopped from E-bay (I live in a town with many stores and visit New York often enough so there’s no real incentive to buy online) but have heard that people sell fake Lacoste and other brands, better to go to the store itself. Or if that isn’t possible only order from the officially approved site itself.

  8. Robert Hoadley | November 18, 2009 at 10:10 am |

    I missed getting one in the early 80s when I was young and could not afford to buy one (plus I lived in So CA and could only wear it a few times a year). As soon as I heard it was back I ordered one, but one questions… It is very roomy, is it supposed to be worn a bit large? I think so, but thought I would ask opinions..

  9. Ancient post, but damn, these are so warm over a shirt. I always wore mine skiing.

    I just bought the half-zips in loden and navy/red, because I just need more in my life.

  10. Today i found one of the orginal at a good will today

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