Dating back to Tom Wolfe’s essays I’ve been hip to the tyranny of style. Hip to them doesn’t mean immune. I drove convertibles with long fins when I was chasing perfect teenage tans. But as I grew to adulthood, I graduated to the vicissitudes of men of my era. Nehru collars and eventually: Burberry Trench coats. It was the perfect measurement of Madison Avenue and N.Y. city successful style. It was classy, with epaulets and bone collared buttons, belted, and with an ample collar that could be boosted up against the wind and rain. Morley Safer and Mike Wallace wore them for the taping of their news stories. The iconic coats implied being worldly, successful, and smart.
I thought I should have one. Well, I thought so until I saw how expensive they were. I breathed deep, lit the obligatory cigarette from back in that day too; and still believed that I should buy the coat. After all I visited the N.Y. Theatre scene every spring break, and those days were often windy and wet. I’d have the look of another sophisticated New Yorker. Which won the argument with myself? Function or style? I admit I was a sucker for the style. Thought it just too cool and classic to not buy. Madison Avenue here I came.
So I acquired an iconic Burberry Trench Coat. Buttons that buttoned, collars that had enough texture to stand up to the wind. An inner lining of wool and a recognizable cotton lining that could be seen as an accent. Not only texture, and warmth but panache against the wind. I led groups from Wisconsin taking “Bites of the Big Apple;” meaning Broadway shows, the Edison Hotel, and buses back and forth between 47th Street and LaGuardia. At the end of a 6 or 7 show week, at the end of evenings in restaurants and bars, all that remained was to get 45 or 50 people back on a bus, and back to the midwest.
I packed, and helped load the bus full of suitcases belonging to exhausted but happy townsfolk and theatre students. As I settled into my seat at the front of the bus, I realized my Burberry was still hanging on the hook in my hotel door. Could I run back up to the room. Impossible! Stay calm. I called the desk from the airport. No cell phones, remember? Denial is a powerful when losing something of value. I thought, maybe they’d send it to me. Nope. Nothing. Nada. (I knew. Who am I kidding?) Several phone calls and weeks later I admitted I would never see my Burberry again. Nor would I own one. Absolutely not! My style-conscious hip self smashed into that Dutch Calvinist and practical one. College professor economics ruled. Four decades later, I’m still a little angry at the hip guy and don’t entirely forgive him. That Burburry I had was the jam. I do still have a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses.