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.

Wildly popular in the ’70s and ’80s, the past 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.  — CHRISTOPHER SHARP

24 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.

    NSH

  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….

    G

  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

  11. Heinz-Ulrich von Boffke | October 16, 2019 at 11:50 am |

    I have and wear a few of these in the navy (above) and natural and charcoal varieties. Have done so for 30 years, but only just learned that the L.L. Bean iteration is apparently a preppy thing. Who knew? My excuse is that I studied the Norwegian language and Scandinavian literature in college and grad school, spent quite a bit of time in Norway during the 1990s, and simply liked the basic design of this particular sweater. During a period back here in the U.S. I came across them while leafing through an L.L. Bean catalog, and here we are. In Norway, you rarely see people wearing these in town, where they are perceived as old-fashioned, but they are somewhat more common in the countryside and along the coast.

  12. A complete non-sequitur for this post (and pre-heyday to boot), but just came across it and thought the group might think it was fun anyway:

    https://youtu.be/fAOLqVcJtD4

  13. Charlottesville | October 16, 2019 at 2:30 pm |

    I wore one of these regularly in the 70s and 80s for skiing, hiking and other cold-weather activities, but alas no longer have it. The sweater is still available 10 years after this original 2009 post, but now costs $50 more ($179):

    https://www.llbean.com/llb/shop/594?originalProduct=60845&productId=1012193&attrValue_0=Dark%20Umber%20Heather%2FNavy&pla1=0&mr%3AtrackingCode=09EF5EF9-53A5-E811-80FB-00505694403D&mr%3AreferralID=NA&mr%3Adevice=c&mr%3AadType=plaonline&qs=3136917&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIkZmMzrGh5QIVRT0MCh02LApsEAQYASABEgJNNfD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds

    Less than a Shaggy Dog, but getting up there. You get what you pay for, I guess.

    Paul — I discovered that song not terribly long ago myself, on a CD collection of 1920s hits (yes, I still play CDs and even vinyl on occasion, but no 8-tracks or cassettes). It always makes me smile. Interesting side note, the band leader, Fred Waring, backed the inventor of the original electric blender, which bears his name.

  14. @Charlottesville: I seem to remember my grandmother (University of Delaware, Class of ’25) going to see ‘Fred Waring & His Pennsylvanians’ perform live at Christmastime back in the 1970s. Could that possibly be the case? The old Google machine says he lived until 1984, but could he still have been performing in the 70s? Perhaps it was “Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians” that I’m recalling,

    In any event: I had one of the original wool/rayon version sweaters in the 80s, and bought one of the new ones a couple of years ago. It seldom leaves the closet, because at any temperature over 35 degrees you might as well be wearing a fur coat, it’s so warm. (which I suppose is a compliment to it)

  15. I just got a sweater from Dale of Norway.

    Anyone else out there paternal haplogroup L22? Hello? Anybody?

    We’re a small branch of the human family tree….

  16. Charlottesville | October 16, 2019 at 3:43 pm |

    Paul — The NY Times indicates that old Fred gave his farewell concert at one of Reagan’s inaugural balls in January of 1981, so it looks like your grandmother may well have seen him perform in the 70s. https://www.nytimes.com/1984/07/30/obituaries/fred-waring-conductor-dies-at-84.html. And as you say, the sweater was definitely warm. With a cotton turtleneck and North Face down vest, it kept me toasty on the Appalachian Trail or skiing in the late 70s and 80s. Now I live at the bottom of the mountain just below the trail and the Skyline Drive, but very rarely get up there any more, and I haven’t been skiing in years, so I guess I no longer need a sweater that warm.

  17. Commander Whitehead wore a version of this sweater (jumper). It’s featured in one of the Schweppe’s ads. Accessorized with gray flannels, awe-inspiring beard, a yacht, and a female companion.

  18. Cuff Shooter | October 16, 2019 at 7:17 pm |

    Christian – R-M269 here, vanilla western European. No Norwegian sweater for me (yet).

  19. This is another one of those so-called *preppy* items that never appealed to me but then I went to California public schools like our host did. SoCal had it’s own interpretation of prep and these weren’t it. I see they have one in an olive drab looking shade which is much easier on the eyes than the sick dream blue and white.

    And being an equal opportunity critic, I can’t stand the Shaggy Dog sweater either. I like smooth, well knit Shetlands and cable knits but wear sweaters far less often than I used to.

    I am glad to see LLB at least getting these from Norway and that they are 100% wool. So much of their product line has diminished in quality these past 10-15 years there is little I can buy there anymore.

  20. It’s a safe guess that a lot people grew (70s and 80s) up wearing mostly LL Bean and Lands End. I wonder how many people bought this sweater for no other reason than (a.) it was in the Bean catalog, and (b.) it looked warm and comfy. In other words: no thought as to whether or not it was “preppy” or, in modern-day terms, whether or not Buffy or Kiel James Patrick has endorsed it. Ah, for the days when a handful catalogs* (more than) sufficed as advertising for outdoorsy, classic, durable clothes.

    *Bean, Orvis, Lands End

  21. MacMcConnell | October 17, 2019 at 9:36 am |

    SE
    I agree, the only purchases I’ve ever made from LL Bean or Orvis has been fishing or hunting gear. Never purchased a thing from Lands End, although I can spot one of their BDs from across a room.

  22. As soon as I saw the picture I remembered that I had always wanted one back in the 80s. I immediately went to e-bay and found one for 20 bucks. There’s a rumpled pair of khakis and a beat-up pink OCBD just dying to meet it!

  23. Charlottesville | October 18, 2019 at 10:41 am |

    Nice comment, Mr. Ward. E-bay can be a great source for discontinued classics, and the pairing you have in mind sounds perfect. Hope you have a nice weekend.

  24. 40 years-Wore one in Germany. Wore it in SoCal. Wore it to bars & parties. Wore it to shore & on lakes. Wore it skiing (& yes, with the North Face down and Levis). Took it x-country to P-town. Up to Vermont. Back to Cal., OR, WA, and OR again. Still have it. Hand wash, hang dry. And some years back found an additional one in very roomy X-large & new condition. But no longer have the A&F Adirondack trail guide sweater or the heavy Scottish grey knit, nor none of the wool cardigans and light crew necks. Anyone remember Bean’s Blue Rock sweater?

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