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What Is the "Ironic Boat and Tote" Trend?

How TikTok reinvented this preppy accessory.

<p>Getty Images</p>

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Imagine a quintessential New England summer day: The air is filled with the scent of blooming hydrangeas, and a classic Land Rover Defender cruises by, a golden retriever eagerly peering out the window. A chic group, reminiscent of a Ralph Lauren campaign, makes their way to a sailboat, each clutching a distinct tote bag essential for their maritime adventure.

This tote bag, of course, is the iconic L.L. Bean Boat and Tote, a symbol of coastal life and style. Initially introduced in 1944 as an “ice bag,” it was re-released in its current style in 1965 and remains one of the brand’s most popular items. Starting at $24.95 for a small bag with an open top to $49.95 for an extra large bag with a zipper. Crafted from durable, double-layered canvas, these bags are designed to last for years.

<p>Getty Images</p>

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For about 80 years, the L.L. Bean Boat and Tote has connotations of preppy, old-money New England style—think Kennedy. In fact, Carolyn Bessette was notably a fan. So, you might wonder, how did a $30 tote end up in closets surrounded by Birkins? The answer lies in its alignment with the old-money aesthetic. While understated in design, the option to monogram allows for a subtle display of one's initials, adding a touch of pedigree. Moreover, its durability makes it an ideal companion for a range of activities, from sailing and traveling to horseback riding. The Boat and Tote isn't just practical; it symbolizes a lifestyle.

Now, the L.L. Bean Boat and Tote isn't just reserved for the Kennedys or exclusive to New England's shores. Our modern-day HWIC (head WASP in charge), Gwyneth Paltrow, has been spotted using the tote on multiple occasions. In all seriousness, it has found its way into the modern fashion landscape, embraced by style icons and everyday individuals alike. From fashion darling Chloë Sevigny to Reece Witherspoon, Sarah Jessica Parker, and your sorority sister on her Whole Foods run.

The Boat and Tote's universal appeal lies in its blend of classic style, practicality, and a touch of personal flair, making it a favorite across generations and lifestyles. Yet, it wasn't considered "cool" in the trendsetting sense for the longest time. Yes, it's a staple of Americana style, peak prep, but "cool?" Historically, no. However, the tides have turned, and the L.L. Bean Boat and Tote has captured the attention of the "cool" crowd. But how did this style shift happen? We're about to dive into that.

<p>Getty Images</p>

Getty Images

Thanks to the $8 monogram tool and the power of TikTok, a new generation is redefining the L.L. Bean Boat and Tote, but with a unique twist. If there's one thing about Gen-Z, it's their penchant for doing things their way. Rather than simply adopting the tote's old-money aesthetic, they're reinventing this preppy staple to express their individuality. This has given rise to the “Ironic Boat and Tote” trend. Gone are the days of traditional initial monograms; now, these totes are emblazoned with phrases like “delulu” in swirly orange script, “Psycho” in bold red letters on a black bag, or “hot mess” and “spooky” in an array of fonts and colors.

A particular hit among the fashion-forward crowd are playful, fashion-related phrases like "Old Celine" or "Birkin 25," which cheekily acknowledge the bag's origins as a symbol of affluent style. This ironic makeover not only breathes new life into a classic but also reflects a shift in cultural perceptions of luxury and personal expression.

This fresh take on personalization has resonated widely, as evidenced by the hashtag #LLBeanTote, which has amassed over 13.5 million views on TikTok. The snooty staple got well an ironic makeover, this trend signifies a shift from tradition to a more creative and personalized approach, reinventing the tote for a new era. Leveraging this rising trend, TikTok user Gracie Weiner launched the Instagram account @ironicboatandtote in 2021, showcasing the most creative and unique customizations of the Boat and Tote. This account quickly resonated with a broad audience, amassing over 55,000 followers.

<p><a href="https://www.instagram.com/amanda.lauro/" data-component="link" data-source="inlineLink" data-type="externalLink" data-ordinal="1">@amanda.lauro</a></p>

A brief exploration of the account reveals a stark contrast to the traditional image of the Boat and Tote. The posts display a vibrant, diverse array of personalized totes, signaling a departure from its association with exclusivity and the upper echelon. Now, the Boat and Tote emerges as a canvas for self-expression appealing to a broader demographic. This shift underscores a significant transformation: what was once a symbol of a particular social class is now a versatile accessory for the masses.

The L.L. Bean Boat and Tote, initially a practical "ice bag," has evolved into an emblem of American style, crossing boundaries from old-money New England aesthetic to broader, modern appeal. Recently, social media, especially TikTok, has redefined it further. Younger generations have transformed it from a symbol of exclusivity to a canvas for self-expression, using customization options to inject personality and contemporary flair. The Instagram account @ironicboatandtote exemplifies this trend, highlighting the tote's shift from a conservative accessory to a versatile, inclusive fashion statement. We are obsessed with this trend and want to order ten bags to monogram; what would you put on your Boat and Tote? 

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