After years of micro-bags hogging the spotlight, it comes as no surprise that Gen Z is rebelling against the itty-bitty, impractical trend with a pivot to oversized totes. But what is surprising is their tote of choice, one I previously associated only with preppy New England middle schoolers and coastal grandmothers. Behold, the return of the L.L. Bean Boat and Tote — this time, with an ironic twist.
If you’re a human on planet earth, you’ve definitely encountered at least one L.L. Bean Boat and Tote in your life (the Land’s End Canvas Tote Bag also counts). The simple reinforced canvas silhouette comes in four sizes, with ten cheerful colorways and the option to personalize with your monogram, your name, or “Fake Heiress.”
Confused? I recommend heading over to TikTok, typing in “boat and tote,” and scrolling through the dozens of videos featuring the preppy staple reinvented as only Gen Z can. Ironic Boat and Totes are taking over, with users opting for short, quippy phrases instead of their actual names.
Gracie Wiener (@graciewiener) has been at the forefront of this particular resurgence, with multiple videos and an entire Instagram account dedicated to the most hilarious Boat and Tote styles. Some of my favorites include relatable phrases like “Not Well,” “Dump Him,” “Highstrung,” “Flop Era” and more. Thanks to Wiener, I’ve spent hours debating what my witty phrase should be (currently taking suggestions).
“Boat and Totes have been a part of my life for as long as I remember. I have one of my mom's totes that is probably as old as I am,” Wiener tells Bustle. “They are really practical, sturdy bags, so we use them for everything from carrying towels to the beach to packing for weekend trips.”
That said, she won’t take the credit for making ironic Boat and Totes a thing. “Last July, I saw Juliana Salazar post an L.L. Bean B&T she spotted in Paris emblazoned with ‘psycho’,” she says. “I immediately ran to order my best friend and me matching ones. The rest is kind of history.”
Wiener believes a myriad of factors combined to bring about the trend’s rise in popularity, but she cites the price point as an especially appealing factor. “On the side of TikTok I am on, there are always new designer ‘must have’ bags that are inaccessible in price,” says Wiener. “I am guessing a lot of people were excited about seeing a bag that is, for the most part, very affordable, practical, durable, and won't ever go out of style.”
What’s more ironic, is that a notable sub-genre of this trend includes faux designer branding. Shoppers are getting brand names like Prada and Gucci embroidered on their totes as an obvious, yet stylish joke. TikTok user @slim_sadyeeee even personalized her Hermes orange Boat and Tote with the words “Fake Birkin.”
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Beyond L.L. Bean, simple, nautical-inspired totes are also trending within the luxury sector. One can’t help but do a double-take at the Balenciaga Cabas Tote, which eerily resembles a Boat and Tote, from form to function. Dior’s embroidered canvas Book Totes, on the other hand, have become some of their best-selling and most recognizable handbags, with Prada’s new jacquard totes introduced as a clear response to Dior’s success.
Though I’m tempted to indulge in Ironic Boat and Tote culture, sustainability-minded shoppers have pointed out a flaw in the trend. Many are criticizing this practice for turning a bag famed for it’s timelessness and durability into a rapid-fire trend likely to be cycled out. This could result in shoppers buying totes for the trend and discarding them soon after.
“If you engage in this trend, please learn how to use a seam ripper,” urges user @smoranooo, who predicts many will grow tired of their sassy custom embroideries. “It’s like the fast-fashionification of the $30 L.L. Bean bag that, hypothetically, your grandmother, your mother, you and your future children could all wear if you didn’t put something silly on it.”
In response, Wiener has more than a few thoughts. While she disapproves of the current speed at which trends are bubbling up and fading out, she is confident that Boat and Totes won’t be a passing fad. Wiener points out, the ironic element can certainly be temporary, if the wearer so chooses. “If I do get tired of one, I will grab my seam ripper, as the creator suggested, take out the embroidery and give it a new life,” Weiner said.
Rather than focus in on the potential end of the trend, Wiener and Boat and Tote lovers everywhere (ironic or otherwise) instead choose to relish in the joy these beloved bags bring them now.