Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Norwegian Crewneck Sweater

Brad Cole graciously allowed the use this picture of him from two weeks ago in his 30+ year old L.L. Bean version.
Many have asked for a review of the L.L. Bean Norwegian Sweater.  Specifically, there have been many questions asking, if the new version is better than the original version (shown above);  if they are still worth the price; and if L.L. Bean is the only place to get one.

And warning - this is a geeky, wonky, trope-filled fanboy entry even by the geeky, wonky, trope-filled fanboy standards of this blog.  

The Norwegian Sweater/ Pullover  is a classic European sweater with a 3-check design and a high degree of durability and warmth.  It is also known as the Norwegian Heritage Sweater or the Nordic Crew Neck Sweater.

Many in the U.S. associate the sweater with L.L. Bean.  For example, consider this quote from Guaranteed to Last : “When [Roger] had the opportunity to work for the company that made his favorite sweater, he grabbed it. “  [Page 154]

However, unlike the Bean Boot (Maine Hunting Shoe) which L.L. Bean Inc. designed and produced, the Norwegian Sweater was an European import and already had been, in the words of LLB’s early catalogs, “long used by Norwegian fisherman who required an unusual degree of durability and warmth in a sweater.” 

The sweater sold well. (For those interested, Heavy Tweed Jacket scanned in some L.L. Bean catalog pages from Christmas 1985 in this post.)  Then L.L. Bean made, again quoting from Guaranteed to Last,  “a shift in the manufacturing from Norway to China in the early 1990s.” 

Sales fell.  And L.L. Bean stopped selling the sweater in 1999.** 

In 2009, L.L. Bean began offering again the Norwegian Sweater, and this time imported from the same Norwegian factory. Some people have asked me, how do these new versions compare to the original? 

As with many others, we have been wearing these sweaters since the mid 1970s.  We have purchased some in every decade since. (All of our sweaters were made in Norway.)  Over the almost forty years, there have been subtle but noticeable changes.  (From the comments I have received, I believe quite a few people "notice" the change, but can't articulate the specifics, which I will attempt to do here.)

The first change noticed was the shade of Navy.  The ones from the late 70s were a brighter Navy, and one might say, preferable to the newest model.

The Navy of the older sweaters (on top) is brighter than the current version.
The cut has changed, especially the shoulder width. The originals had significantly wider shoulders.

Both are Men's medium but the original has broader shoulders.  Chest measurements are the same.
The cuffs are also different. The current cuffs stretch out and become wide at the openings which one has to fold back. It does make it somewhat less comfortable to wear under Barbours, especially Bedales which have knitted cuffs.

On the left is a 35 year old cuff from the original; in the middle is how the current version looks new; on the right is how the current version looks after some use.

The current version (on right) also has a significant exposed seam.

Current Cuff

Old Cuff;  Old Dog.
Perhaps one should prefer the purity of all wool (and in Guaranteed to Last, LLB says the wool is stronger these days) the old ones with the rayon just feel tougher.

So while many the newest 100% wool version , more love the originals with the 20% rayon,  shorter length, brighter Navy, wider shoulders, slightly larger neck opening, and tight cuffs.  While the originals are an "A", my review of the new Norwegian Sweaters would be about a "B-".

Finally, in this age of the Internet, people who love the European sweaters don’t have to rely any more solely on the US importer L.L. Bean. Here are some other potential sources of "Norwegian" sweaters.

These are made in Ireland.
And (source?): Aran Sweater Market *

Here may be the original Norwegian manufacturer (thanks to the comment from Adrian Holand Wigé Nordtømme):
Here is the current source of the Norwegian Crewneck Sweaters that L.L. Bean imports:

* Added after this post went up, thank to the commenters on this post.

From our archives...


This vintage L.L. Bean Norwegian sweater (complete with 20% rayon) was spotted in the rare color combination of Charcoal with Purple and Teal.  This is the way these tough sweaters are best used.

The Reverend Bobby Ives.  Photo Courtesy of The Lincoln County News, Damariscotta, Maine (used with permission)

66 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you! I've been looking for exactly this information to help me decide if I should get a newer model or look for the vintage stuff on eBay.

Anonymous said...

I "clicked" over to the scans of the old LLB catalogue. Sigh. I want to shop out of that catalogue! I saw so many things I would still buy today, starting with the tartan slacks...

Michael Rowe said...

I've got to stop looking at scanned pictures from old L. L. Bean catalogues. The nostalgia wrecks me. I still have my sweater, last purchased in about 1987. I saw the new ones in a Bean store in IL this Thanksgiving, but didn't check it out. Perhaps now I will.

John said...

Many thanks. Your comments are spot on, particularly with regard to the color, shoulders, and cuffs. It is generally comfortable, but I agree with your grade. I do like the color and pattern on red/navy Norwegian sweater, but that's not available in the "Heritage" edition. (Nor does LL Bean actually explain the difference between the two sweaters, which is frustrating.)

I love my Holebrook (I bought the Classic windproof with partial zipper; the Vinga design is somewhat similar to the LL Bean Norwegian but uses lozenges rather than the Norwegian pattern). Men's are advertised as unisex.

Greenfield said...

So-so-so glad I'm still wearing my 1978 original, which was rolled up in a ball in a duffel bag in our boat's fo'c'sle for like 10 years! When we cleaned out the boat to sell it, I found my old frizzy friend. Entirely agree the old ones are superior, less itchy too.

A strong vote for adventurous E-bay'ing; have recently picked up several vintage Stubben saddles (mint, prices a quarter what they're worth) that are indestructable and incomparable to anything available new. One of them, stopped in time since about '80 is a virtual tack Stradivarius!

Anonymous said...

I wore mine the other day; must've bought it around 1983 or so. It's in great shape, damn durable, and, yes, everyone then associated it with LL Bean (which I kind of didn't like; the preppy association can be offputting to people). The navy color really works for me; as man, you don't often catch when something works well for you, but this does for me.

I was surprised to hear how much the old sweater was fetching on ebay.

JSprouse said...

I have one of the newer Norwegian made navy & white sweaters as a result of re-reading TOPHB and I have one in red with navy bird's eyes. (A former girfriend's favorite color was red, I sure do miss her.) I agree with Anonymous @ 12/5/12 10:34. I recently bought one of the reserected ragg wool sweaters.

Adrian said...

Hi, Muffy

I am a Norwegian, and therefore i know a bit about theese sweaters. They are produced by a norwegian company called Devold. Devold is an old company that has made theese sweaters since their beginning in the late 19 th century. However, they are based on the traditional sweaters the wives of fishermen made for their husbands.

Fun facts:
*Devold also made the clothing used in the south pole expidition carried out by Nansen
*Because of the harsh Norwegian winter, fishermen still often wear multiple of theese sweaters at the same time. Usually both inside and outside their jackets.

Yours sincerly
Adrian Holand Wigé Nordtømme

Anonymous said...

Adrian: that's great to know. My wife is in the middle of knitting some Norwegian style mittens for me, so she's been reading a bit on Norwegian fabric. I'll mention Devold to her.

Haakon said...

I am sorry Adrian, you might be Norwegian, but you're wrong about this sweater. They are not made by Devold, who recently outsourced their production to baltic countries. Devold still makes a sweater in a similar style (Islender), but they do not produce sweaters for LL Bean.

Several Norwegian knitwear manufacturers make sweaters in this style (Janus, Norlender, Gjestal etc). Even though Norwegian labor is expensive, there's a lot of knitwear manufacturers out there. Can't say for sure where LL Bean source theirs, but it's certainly not Devold if the tag reads "made in Norway".

John said...

That's interesting about the wider shoulders. I've noticed when I see vintage pictures of Norwegians from the 70s and 80s, especially on women, that they looked roomier than they do now. I had always assumed women were just buying bigger sizes because it was the style at the time, or wearing their husbands' or boyfriends' sweaters. In fact, one of my younger readers once asked me if Bean ever even made a women's model!

I remember the A.P. teasing me a while back because I have the charcoal Norwegian instead of navy, which seems to fly in the face of my 1980 obsession. But it offers a little more flexibility in color matching with various shirts and pants. It's also held up very well--I'm quite happy with the construction.

Flo said...

Great post, so informative! I do have a question though--they only sell these in men's, correct? How is the sizing in comparison to other brands of sweaters now?

Loved seeing the old catalog pages, I too would be thrilled to buy many of the things from the old catalog.

WRJ said...

Thanks for the comparison. I have never known a premodern Norweigen sweater, but based on your photos I prefer the old blue and, even without having an original to compare, found that the cuffs and waist ribbing stretched too easily, the wool was very itchy, and the shoulders were strangely narrow. (Had I known, I wouldn't have purchased--they're not exactly cheap anymore!) Funny to hear Devold mentioned--I have been admiring a zip-neck heather gray sweater by them sold, at all places, by the National Geographic store. I remember seeing the brand sold at ski resorts in Colorado and Utah, but not back East.

Chris from New Hampshire said...

Hah! The Preppy Handbook gave the Norwegian sweater to L.L. Bean, and you took it away! Balance has been restored.

Joyce N said...

I just purchased a birdseye sweater in the natural/winter white color with navy birdseye from Aran Sweater Market in Ireland. I love it! It was normally $108 but on sale for $96.95 plus $35 shipping. However, they sent me an offer of free shipping so I ordered on a Sunday night - it left Ireland airport on Monday morning - and I received it on Wednesday. It is a really pretty sweater! These colors are not offered at LL Bean but I believe Muffy has this color offered previously from LL Bean. It is all wool.

Ferd said...

I had one at Yale in 1971. Drove the young prep ladies crazy. One of them stole it.

John said...

@Ferd -- You've just confirmed what I've always suspected: I was born much too late. It's not working at all for me. ;)

Preppy With A Twist said...

Hi Muffy!

Have you tried the Norwegian sweater from Woolovers? I'm interested in your thoughts.

Joe

Anonymous said...

Isn't it sad to see the degradation of a classic over the years as it's been dragged through the proverbial mud? It depresses me so. Such a sign of the times. The sizing discrepancies are a nightmare. I do love your dog, he is precious. --Holly in PA

Lottie_v said...

Well Americans are sartorially known for baggy clothing when compared to across the pond. You can spot an American man a mile off because the amount of fabric in his trousers could be used to set sail.

Cheekiness aside, they do look marvellously warm.

Joyce N said...

Muffy, you are carrying a leather tote/carryall in this post and in the Fife and Drum Parade post. Is that from LL Bean? I saw one on Page 94 of the 1985 Catalog.

Sartre said...

I hate the collar on the current model. It's too tight and sits too high on the neck. I preferred the wider and flatter neck opening of the 1970s/80s version.

Also, it may be my imagination, but I believe the rayon prevented the sweater from stretching. I find my newer model stretches out too much (except for that darned collar!) and as a result feels too bulky.

Bitsy said...

Your dog's face just melts my heart!

Regarding the link to HTJ's scans from the 1985 Bean catalog -- I still have many of the items from my college days, including some items not shown. Why ever did they stop making the knife pleat and kilt-style tartan skirts? I still wear mine and would buy another if they were offered.

I had to replace my ragg and Norwegian sweaters and my Bean boots (lost along the way somehow). While I like the new ragg better than the old (softer, less scratchy) and the Bean boots, which are the same as the old, I agree with the post and comments about the Norwegian.

John is correct about the fit -- back then, I often wore men's sweaters (acually, still do!), but even the women's were much fuller cut. These days, I often size up to get the same roomy fit, but typically do not have to do so with Bean's clothes.

Anonymous said...

LL Bean graciously sends me a present every year, gratis ( don't exactly know why), and the first was a vintage Christmas catalog from 1985 that is leatherbound if I remember correctly which when I look through it and see the decline in quality makes me quake with indignity and sadness.

I have the navy and loden-colored Norwegians and they are both quite nice but I agree that the cuffs could be improved.

p.s. You are the best blogger on the internet, Muffy.

Anonymous said...

The other night I was watching one of my favorite movie, "When Harry Met Sally" and the Norwegian sweater makes an appearance on a women sitting in front of Harry and Jess at a football game (where they are discussing Harry's impending divorce). I am such a goober that it made me happy to see the sweater on an extra in a movie...

Pete said...

The first Christmas we were married, my wife gave me a LL Bean Norwegian sweater (1995). It still holds up and I'll never part with it.

Anonymous said...

Do you wear winter coats? You seem to only wear the Barbours - probably with the wool sweaters underneath?

Winters do seem to be warmer than in the past but I'd still think you'd get a little cold?

Paul Connors said...

I bought my last Norwegian sweater from Bean about 5 years ago and the fit for the size was HORRIBLE. This year the price jumped again to $138 each. There is NO WAY this sweater, with the current quality and fit is worth that kind of money and I do not recommend this sweater based on how poorly mine fit. I paid approx. $79 5 years ago and this sweater should NOT be priced this far north of that figure.

John said...

@Anonymous 6:18 -- Now I definitely must watch that movie again. I already had it on my list to revisit the scene in Washington Square where Meg Ryan is wearing a cable cardigan, oxford, and khaki walking shorts.

Anonymous said...

John, the funny thing is, as I was watching the movie I actually thought of you and how much you would love Sally's clothes. Yes, I am a regular reader of your blog. Lol.

John said...

@Anonymous 6:18/11:52 -- How funny! We seem to be evenly matched goober-wise. We really must discuss preppy film sometime. :)

If you've never seen it, check out "The Four Seasons" with Alan Alda. Very similar style and mood.

Joshua said...

Muffy,

Why do not the LL Bean designers get a clue, and return to the vintage specs? I mean, they have the technology and sourcing power to get exactly what the people want. What gives?

BlueTrain said...

Two comments here; One is about blends of either rayon, nylon and polyester. They all improve the strength and durability of garments, usually, if the garment is otherwise well made. Sometimes, however, the resulting fabric pills badly and looks awful. It never looks clean after that happens, either, though never at a cost of less durability. It is more suitable for work clothes. Yet some fabric made as a blend does not pill, which either suggests a better proportion of the different blends or simply better manufacture. Moths will still happily destroy a wool blend.

I am always mildly amused when people make references to some year in the past. The year 1965 is a good base year, style-wise, partly because style took a nose dive a year or two later and anyway, it's still a bright memory for me. But even then some styles were ancient history, possibly even some very preppy styles. Surely someone here fondly remembers plus-fours, double breasted suits, fedoras, straw boaters and sweaters worn tucked inside your pants.

John said...

@Muffy7:44: Baxter State Parka -- the real one -- is another product they should bring back. My 32-year old BSP is doing fine, other than one velcro patch coming off. The new one isn't as thick and is too large even with sweater underneath. And I prefer the 4-pocket layout of the older model.

Donald said...

My wife and I each have the cardigan version of this sweater, purchased from Bean in 1985 (anyone else have it?).

I admit I don't wear it much because more than one person has asked me if I was wearing a girl's sweater!

Anonymous said...

I do hope LL Bean reads your posts religiously and changes these minute details accordingly...

Lollyg said...

Hi,
Please discuss the cords you are wearing - they look wonderful. Are they the tailored LLB ones discussed in an earlier post?

Thanks!

Silke said...

Hi Muffy, loving your work!

My parents gave me a pearl necklace for my birthday - the pearls are between 9 and 10mm each.

They want to get me pearl stud earrings for christmas but I was wondering, should the pearls be the same size as the ones in my necklace? I am worried that might be too big to be managable, but it might look silly to be wearing studs which are smaller than the pearls in my necklace?

What do you think?

Anonymous said...

If I were to buy one of the old Norwegian sweaters, I would have to buy them secondhand on eBay. Muffy, is it preppy to buy secondhand or not? On one hand, you're recycling someone else's clothes, which is good for the environment and you wrote here on your blog that environmentalism is preppy. On the other hand though, buying someone else's used items just feels strange. What do you think?

Anonymous said...

Muffy:

I'd like to get the Baxter State Parka but the latest iteration, aside from technical questions, is a lot uglier than yours. After some...weather related problems while traveling in Scotland and Russia during winter, I need a warm AND waterproof coat.

Have any ideas?

p.s. Barbours won't do. I destroyed two Bedales ( w/fur lining & hood) in said climates.
p.p.s. You always look so pretty, Muffy.

BlueTrain said...

I sometimes buy secondhand clothes but you'll notice I don't use my real name here. Thoreau said no one is so poor they need sit on a pumpkin when every garret in town has a chair that can be spared. Usually, however, when someone dies it comes out of one attic to be stored in someone else's attic. So when a person passes on, they literally kick the dust.

HWIT BLOGG said...

Great pictures!
Take care...

Titti

j.mosby said...

Winter must haves: LL Bean Norwegian sweater & Hunting boots and flannel lined khakis, a true New England winter look and timeless classics!

Janjan said...

Dear Lord, how I miss that old LLBean catalogue! That corduroy wrap skirt reminds me of the long gone ( and missed) Talbots six button skirt! I love the homey unpolished look of the old catalogue, too. Does anyone else remember there was a spoof of it called, I think, "Items from our Catalogue", and it had.......an inflatable cheese parachute, or something, on the cover?

Janjan said...


I don't know where I got that inflatable cheese idea from.....but maybe it's one of the "products".
http://www.amazon.com/More-Items-Catalog-Alfred-Gingold/dp/0380846578

Also, I bought the Countryman's Sweater from Woolovers foy my husband for Christmas, and it is wonderful! Thank you for recommending this company.

Bill Smith said...

Great piece, I always wanted the Navy and white Norwegian crewneck sweater but, was slow off the mark when LL Bean switched to Chinese production. In the end I wound up inheriting dad's 25 year old charcoal and red sweater made by Devold in Norway wear it a fair bit on weekends in the winter.

Anonymous said...

A number of people have mentioned the old catalogue.

I used to love reading the thing. Can you say the same about the current LL Bean catalogue? (and, of course the Lands End catalogue now is just a Sears deal, also missing charm).

I used to get a hoot out of some of the things the old Bean was selling: especially the wood firestarter sticks. It was always fun to see the tchockes (heck, how do you spell that word) and what-not that they could dig up, especially for Christmas, and we can all recall the famous lobster trap coffee tables. Somehow there was some humor in this.

Would be nice to get some comments from a professional graphic designer on the old catalogue. It's style virtually MADE you read it.

Anonymous said...

I remember Ralph Lauren used to make really nice and good quality sweaters long time ago. No matter what it is, they remade it better all the time, but I don't think that's happening now. The only place you can find them is now ebay, I guess. Woolover has some nice stuff, but not exactly. when I see you wearing old version ralph lauren sweater, I say, "I should've stocked them when I could." But, it's too late. How do you think of that, Muffy?

Susan R said...

I had quite a few of these Birds Eye sweaters (I think that's what they're called, I may be mistaken, I have since developed a wool allergy and gave them all away to the Goodwill. I wish they made a cotton version, but then again, that would probably corrupt their purpose. I can't even wear cashmere. I couldn't bring myself to part with a couple of those sweaters, so I just keep them in my closet.
I do have to say, I hated how itchy those sweaters were though. Is that the mark of a good wool sweater? The itchier the better?

binker said...

The dollar/economy tanks. Fewer American products than a few decades ago. Years back, no one would have dreamed that LL Bean would possibly lower their standards on most items. Sad. Maybe, if we don't fall over the fiscal cliff....AND....they start really listening to Muffy and her many devoted followers...they will understand that most of us would rather own fewer quality clothes, than a closet jammed full of inferior products. Then again, there are some who can afford closets full of quality clothing. But for me, I will take quality over quantity any day...and, most definitely Made In America when I can find it.

Question - Is the Norwegian sweater from Woolover better quality (stripes aside)?

Janjan said...

@Binker, if the Huntsman's sweater is anything to go by , I am sure the quality is excellent. I don!'t care for the stripes either.

monica said...

Hi Muffy,
Interesting article. Just ordered the two1912 Heritage women's sweaters. The fisherman cardigan and bird's eye cardigan were sold out in the catalog. I found both at two different LLB stores and they waived shipping as well as honoring the 10% off. They also just emailed me receipts like Nordstrom does. Very impressed, can't wait to get them. Have you ordered the new women's birds eye?

BlueTrain said...

Alas! There was a time when a good sweater could be found almost anywhere, even at Montgomery Ward. No, not all sweaters were alike but moths eat the expensive ones as quickly as the cheap ones. Same with wool shirts. The wool shirt from Penny's was just as edible as the nice ones (still available) from Pendleton. The better, more comfortable, cozier sweaters were lambswool. More ordinary ones were, I guess, adult sheep's wool. Cashmere was apparently from another planet, judging from the cost. Some sweaters were especially for outdoor use and some are still available, though other products seem to be used more these days, like fleece. And like a wool sweather, not all fleece is the same but a starving moth won't touch it.

Anonymous said...

I came across North Sea Clothing online and thought that their sweaters were worth a share. Here is the link http://www.northseaclothing.co.uk/ They do ship to the United States.

R.A. Sasayama said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil in Portland, OR said...

Thanks so much for providing the manufacturer names. I have been looking for a sweater similar to the ones I saw in Norway. While the LL Bean sweater was close, it wasn't exactly right. When I looked at the Devold website, though, I found exactly what I was looking for. Never would have thought to look at their products. I appreciate all the information you provided!

Phil in Portland, OR said...

Ah ha, after reading some comments, looks like there's a little more to the Devold manufacturing. Anyway, great to have other options such as Janus. I'm certain I'll find something great. Perhaps I'll follow up here if and when I do. Regardless, I'm definitely going in the right direction.

Wasp Decor said...

Great post!

I recently drove up to Maine to visit with friends and family ( and to check on the houses, finally ). I'm so glad I brought along my Norwegian sweater. It was bitter cold up there!
I don't care how it looks on me, it's big, bulky etc, but it serves it's purpose well and that is to keep one warm! I have the red and white one from back in the day, too.

Anonymous said...

Muffy, can you or one of your readers advise on the best laundry products and methods to wash wool sweaters? Woolite is the most obvious detergent, but I wonder if there's a better alternative. Thanks for your input.

Adam R said...

Hi Muffy,
I came across North Sea Clothing Company while looking up Norwegian Sweaters online. They look like they may be worth an order.
Here is the link to there web page- http://www.northseaclothing.co.uk/

Paul Connors said...

I was in the L L Bean store at the Paramus Park (NJ) store yesterday and was surprised to see so soon after the Christmas shopping season that they still had a very good selection of the Norwegian Fisherman sweaters (marked down to $99). Conversely, the ragg wool and other sweaters of various styles and materials were all but sold out with nothing but Small sizes remaining.

This store is located in Bergen County, NJ, the only county in the state that still observes Blue Laws requiring retail stores to be closed on Sundays. This store was fairly empty when I was there, with the exception of the shoe department. I went to the store to return a purchase of shoes that were too narrow and exchanged them for the 10 inch high unlined Bean Boot. The service by the staff was up to its usual high standards and if youlive in northern NJ or NYC, a trip to this store is well worth the time and effort.

Anonymous said...

Looks like the Bean sweaters are sourced from Norlender: http://www.norlender.no/collections/jumpers-1

And the Irish versions you linked to are from here: http://www.aransweatermarket.com
Although, that may be a reseller too.

Anonymous said...

Hi!

What do you think about wearing the loden/white patterned norwegian sweater during the spring/summer months?

I thought about going with the navy/white sweater but alot of my friends already got that one so I guess I'd prefer to be a bit original.

Cheers

Anonymous said...

Should the sweater be baggy or is made for a tighter fit. I recently came into a vintage one but it seems a little large

Endre said...

Go check out Devold, beste wool sweater you can find on the market, islender and nordsjø. Quality frome Norway. Frome å Norwegian

Anonymous said...

Also check out norwegian sweaters from Norwool. Very reasonably priced, produced in Norway etc. Not so good internet presence, though.