Sometime in the late ’70s—my memory says ’77 and ’78, but I was 9 or so, so don’t hold me to it—lightweight, stylish leather jackets suddenly got fashionable. Or so I assume, because my Mom obviously thought so, purchasing one for my Dad for Christmas, 1977. Eventually, she or my sis will dig up a pic of him trying it on, but ’til then, you’ll have to be satisfied with the 2nd generation sporting the look.
As mentioned, I was young. Admittedly, my grasp on fashion was limited pretty much to whatever somebody cool in a movie or on TV wore. Rocky Balboa, bouncing his handball in his leather, circa ’77, was, of course, much more stylish than the sloppy Burt Young. True, no one in Queens, NY was wearing cloaks, so the Star Wars folks didn’t quite have a place, cool or not, but you get the idea.
Leather jackets have always been cool. Traditionally, though, we’re talking motorcycle jackets, which—no matter who manufactures them—scream: “biker.” They have the same cut, the same general appearance. The adornments (buckles, D-rings, straps, etc.) may differ greatly, but the jacket itself? Not much.
So, maybe it was the fact that we watched Happy Days, and my Mom liked the look of a non-traditional leather jacket like the one Henry Winkler wore. Whatever the case, during the fall of 1977, she decided to sock away the bucks for one, which she gave my Dad that same Christmas.
Fast forward. It’s at least ten years later. I’m around 20, and my favorite denim jacket (the one with Neil Young & Crazy Horse: LIVE RUST airbrushed on the back) has finally gotten to the point that Mom has damned it to the washing machine for its semi-annual wash. Into the front hall closet I go, hunting for an alternative.
At the time, I owned my own leather jacket. A Harley-style ‘cycle jacket. But I wasn’t in the mood to wear it. I was going to be hanging out with friends, which meant hanging out in the park, or on the Village Green, outdoors, where it was cool enough to need a jacket, but you wouldn’t want to wear anything that heavy. I had a different denim jacket, but that was new and nice looking and I only used it for occasions when Neil & Crazy Horse would’ve been frowned upon. Flip flip. Quilted flannel vest? Nope, that was strictly for late fall, over a thermal shirt rolled up to the elbows. Flip flip flip.
Dad’s jacket. He was never a big leather jacket guy in the first place, and so several years after the Christmas of ’77, his leather coat had found a slot at the far end of the closet. Hmnnn.
After trying it on, I asked permission to borrow it. Heck, Dad was happy to see the thing dusted off and being used. It fit nicely, too. And, it drove my friends crazy. No one was wearing anything like it at the time. No one I knew, in fact, even had anything like it. This jacket was smokin’, and thanks to Mom and the spin-cycle, it had a new owner.
Flash forward again. It’s 1994 or so, and I’m walking through Greenwich Village, checking out the shops before cutting through Washington Square Park to meet up with friends at the Waverly Diner. I’m wearing what I still refer to as Dad’s jacket (a moniker it retains to this day). I notice a guy running one of the shops starts eyeballing me. He steps out onto the sidewalk as I’m about to pass by.
“Dude. Nice coat.”
“Thanks,” I say. Because, he was right, and I appreciated it.
“What do you want for it?”
“I’ll give you a hundred bucks for it.”
Not a bad offer. But even though it was my coat by then and had been for years, I wasn’t going to sell it. So I smiled and turned him down.
Two hundred dollars. Serious money. I could buy two leather jackets for that. I looked down at it. It had accumulated the wrinkles you see on really, really old biker jackets. The elbows looked like black tin foil that had been crumpled and flattened out again too many times to count. It had more than its share of mileage on it. But it still looked good. I declined.
“Sorry, man,” I said, and started walking again. “Can’t do it.”
He smiled. He understood. No, maybe not about it being Dad’s coat or anything like that, but knowing that just because it was old, didn’t mean I’d give up on it. The friends I was meeting that night? They thought I was insane.
2013. Yep, you guessed it. That’s me, in the coat that’ll always be Dad’s coat even though Dad isn’t here anymore. 36 years old and still hangin’ in there. Still getting compliments when I break it out in what passes for Winter down here in South Florida. Musician I bumped into right before Christmas came up to me after a set.
“Sweet coat, man,” he said, walking off to get a beer before taking the stage again.
If he only knew.
What about you? Got a hand-me-down from way back that’s still central to your wardrobe? Ever been asked by somebody for the shirt off your back or the hat off your head? Inherit something from a parent or grandparent that maybe wasn’t cool when you got it, but you wouldn’t sell now at any price? Surely, I’m not the only one hanging on to history I can wear…