The L.L.Bean canvas bags known as “Boat and Totes” have been around since 1944 and have generally been worn by people who are preppy, Waspy, and almost certainly a mom. Now that the bags have been taken up by the people, they are being embroidered with trendy phrases such as “flop era” and “Fuck Greg Abbott” instead of the more traditional initials or name inscription. It’s called irony, honey. And the internet is obsessed.
Still, not everyone loves ironic Boat and Totes. TikTok user @smoranooo expressed concern that the trend was ruining the sustainable preppy staple. She urged those who purchase one to “learn how to use a seam ripper” so as to not brand a timeless bag with a short-lived slogan. Some backstory: These bags are known for their functionality and longevity. Will you really want to carry a bag that says “Lexapro” in five years? As the people we interviewed say: probably.
This all started with the social-media account @ironicboatandtote. Gracie Wiener, who has used Boat and Toes her whole life, started crowdsourcing images of the beloved bags with snarky phrases. “I got my first one that said ‘psycho’ last July,” Wiener said. “I saw someone post a photo of a stranger on Instagram carrying one, and I had to get one for myself.”
Just as Wiener’s love for Boat and Totes started online, so did the rest of those hopping on the trend. Wiener’s account has nearly 40,000 followers, and #llbeantote has 1.3 million views on TikTok. Now, an L.L.Bean spokesperson told Vogue, the company is having its highest summer sales in almost a decade. “I know people who didn’t feel like they would be able to carry a Boat and Tote,” Wiener said. “This trend is something that turns the bags on their head and is poking fun at itself, so now more people feel like they can buy one.”
According to Wiener, Boat and Totes are the same old functional bag (which she uses all the time — to go to work, to pack for vacation, or even to go to formal events) but now with a flair. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are less sustainable, though. “I actually no longer really love carrying my bags that have my name on it, but I still carry them. I think these are so much more fun because they show personality — especially with what we’ve gone through with COVID, there’s no time to be boring.”
Wiener keeps a list on her phone of phrases that describe her and could work for future bags — though, at seven ironic Boat and Totes and three regular ones, Wiener said there’s no need for another. “These bags truly last forever, so I can just rip out the stitches and redo it,” she said. “There’s always ways to give it a new life if you get tired of it. But, for the most part, I don’t see myself ever getting tired of a $30 tote bag that says ‘Prada.’”
We asked six other people how they came up with their phrases.
Tahirah Hairston, New York: “The Row”
Why did you decide to order an ironic Boat and Tote? I’ve always wanted to get an L.L.Bean Tote, and I was then influenced by Ironic Boat and Tote to put my favorite designer.
Had you heard of these bags before the ironic trend? Yes, everyone in my high school had them.
Why did you choose that phrase? I think the idea of putting a designer name on a regular item to make it “designer” is hilarious and questions what is luxury. I immediately knew I wanted to do “The Row” or “Rimowa” (which would have been funny because the brand doesn’t make tote bags).
What advice do you have for people trying to pick the right slogan for their Boat and Tote? Pick something that will mean something to you five years from now because that’s how long you’ll have the bag.
Austin Riggle, Cleveland: “Gay Panic”
Had you heard of these bags before the ironic trend? Yes, my mom had one — possibly from a different company — that she used as a carry all for family trips. I think it just had our last name on it.
Why did you choose that phrase? I chose “Gay Panic” because it sums up my personality — I’m gay, and I’m most likely panicking. It was also a caption for a reaction GIF and meme, so it’s a relatively known phrase among millennial and Gen-Z queer people. My partner’s bag says “Hi, Gay!” after the Meg Stalter video, and my friend’s says “Wellbutrin,” which is self-explanatory.
What advice do you have for people trying to pick the right slogan for their Boat and Tote? It should make you smile when you look at your bag.
Do you think this will still resonate with you in years? Oh, definitely! It’s a well-made bag with a fun saying that I’ve made memories around.
Diana Yovera, Dallas: “Chismosa”
Had you heard of these bags before the ironic trend? I had heard of L.L.Bean in the past due to the coastal-grandmother trend this summer. I had never purchased anything from L.L.Bean until I realized I could personalize totes for an affordable price.
How did you pick your phrase? I chose the phrase chismosa, a popular cultural saying for Latinas. Since the L.L.Bean brand is traditionally aligned with Waspy culture, I thought it would be the perfect ironic phrase.
Do you think this will still resonate with you in years? I will be a chismosa until the day I die.
Sadie Loving, Richmond, Virginia: “Fake Birkin”
How did you decide your phrase? When I first saw the trend, I knew I wanted to do a designer name as my first one. Gucci is my favorite, so that was the obvious first thought — although, due to trademarking, L.L.Bean would not put “Gucci” on it, so I had to get an Etsy shop to do it. I also loved “Fake Birkin” because it gives more ironic vibes.
What advice do you have for people trying to pick the right slogan for their Boat and Tote? I think you have to do what your gut instinct says because that will show your personality the most. Also going on the Instagram account will give you ideas and shows how the bags look in person. On L.L.Bean’s website, you can type out what you want and see what it will look like. I spent more hours than I want to admit typing those out!
Do you think this will still resonate with you in years? Considering I still have my bag from childhood with my name on it, I think I will have these bags forever. It is a great durable bag, and the slogans will be funny for many years to come. I think they will become the new classic — people will get words that represent them instead of their monogram. I have seen posts of people who got funny slogans on their bags before this trend, and I think that shows that it will age well.
Carson West, Hilo, Hawaii: “Dumb Idiot” and “Ugly Hag”
Why did you choose your phrases? I chose each after seeing some funny phrases and others who had “Dumb Idiot,” and I also saw a “pea brain” and loved that phrase. They’re so funny.
What advice do you have for people trying to pick the right slogan for their Boat and Tote? Pick something you love! If I get any others, I think I’ll go the food route. Maybe something like “spicy marg” or “chickpea.”
Do you think this will still resonate with you in years? Possibly! But if I don’t love it down the road, I’ll just get a stitch remover and take the embroidery off and rock it plain or get it redone by a local seamstress. The bags are made really well, and it is part of why I took part in the trend.
Moe Black, Detroit: “Amy Dunne”
Had you heard of these bags before the ironic trend? I had! I grew up in suburban Michigan, so L.L.Bean was huge here. Although mostly teachers and moms carried them.
Why did you choose your phrase? I wanted to get “Amy Dunne did nothing wrong,” but of course that was too long, so I just got her name. It’s an homage to the woman who raised me. Gone Girl is my favorite movie. I know it’s cliché, but it’s true.
What advice do you have for people trying to pick the right slogan for their Boat and Tote? Pick something silly and fun. Trust me, something like “Lexapro” in pink lettering will still be funny in ten years, and I think my bag will continue to resonate. I still watch Gone Girl to fall asleep.