Dating back to Tom Wolfe’s essays, I’ve been hip to the tyranny of style – but hip to it 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. 

The Burberry coat was the perfect measurement of Madison Avenue and New York 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. The iconic coats implied being worldly, successful, and smart; Morley Safer and Mike Wallace wore when taping their news stories.

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 New York theater 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, and I thought the coat just too stylish and classic not to 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 six- or seven-show week, at the end of evenings in restaurants, 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 theater 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 cellphones, remember? I thought, maybe they’d send it to me. Denial is a powerful force when losing something of value. 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 ever own another one.

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 Burberry I had was the jam. I do have a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses.

Read more stories from Maine at www.pressherald.com/meetinghouse

filed under: