Life in the Ville by Jimmy Del Ponte
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I recently treated myself to a new pair of leather gloves. The new leather smell brought back strong memories of the first leather jacket I ever had. I was actually amazed and surprised that a simple pair of new gloves could uncork so many feelings.
The year was 1968 and I was 15 years old. I had just successfully escaped from eight painful years of parochial school and my new freedom was blossoming. I was a musician in a band, I had long hair and I was from Somerville.
Let’s face it, back then a leather jacket definitely made you feel special in a cool sort of way. When you are an awkward teen going through growing pains, anything that made you feel better was important to you.
The older kids had leather jackets and to me they looked cool, so I wanted one. Paul McCartney and Marlon Brando wore them, and I had to have one. I thought it would change my life. I actually became obsessed with it.
I know it seems superficial but back then it was a big deal. The problem was that my parents felt that a leather jacket would turn me into a thug, a gangster, a punk, and a juvenile delinquent (by the way, the jacket had nothing to do with that!).
I couldn’t believe that my folks actually caved in and bought me a beautiful zip up, dark brown leather jacket from Anderson Little, formerly in Medford. The jacket was my prized possession for many years and I haven’t been without one since.
I know a simple jacket does not make you any different, but for the little kid coming from “sister school” to a public junior high (Western Junior) where I didn’t know too many students, it was a real morale boost. It sure beat that grey wool tweed nerdy jacket I had before! Imagine gaining confidence from a simple hunk of cowhide? Somehow I felt different when I put that jacket on. But I have to add that the bully who made my life miserable that first year at the Western wasn’t impressed by the jacket. He didn’t back off until I made friends with a couple of football players! RIP Joe Lutoff!
The following is a story one of my friends shared: “I was 14 and I had my eye on a cool leather jacket in Jordan Marsh at Assembly Square Mall. I tried to drop subtle hints to my parents that this particular jacket would make a great birthday present. My birthday comes and my mom DID buy me a jacket at Assembly Square Mall at Kmart because she said she got the same coat for half the price. This jacket looked like someone had skinned a couch (vinyl or pleather). I would wear it to the end of the street then roll it in a ball and freeze the rest of the way to the Southern (Junior High). One day I threw it on the tracks behind Lincoln Park School. I told my parents that the neighborhood bully started a fight with me because she was jealous of my cool jacket and then threw it on the tracks. I can’t help but chuckle when I drive over the Washington Street Bridge all these years later. I bet the coat is still down there.”
There were many different styles and colors of leather jackets that we wore back in the day. One gal remembers hers as a black maxi that was so long she actually used to get her heels caught on the bottom and trip. She admitted that she did not pay full price for the coat, and it was purchased from a shady character who sold them out of his trunk. We used to say this type of merchandise “fell off the truck.”
Other styles were big buttons with wide lapels, belted car length, short biker style, full, waist length, ¾ length, fringed, and suede.
This testimonial comes from a lifelong Somerville guy: “I bought a three quarter long black leather. I bought it in Brighton at a leather company near the Skating Club of Boston (Snyders?).” Another friend’s first leather was dark green from Cummings in Davis Square. A lot of my friends got their leather biker and bomber jackets at the Army Navy store in Central Square. An old friend of mine tells me that she got her short, waist length purple leather when the Cambridge side Galleria first opened and she still wears it and loves it! Another young lady got hers at the Bargain Center in Davis Square and was ashamed to tell anyone where it came from. Here’s a good one: “I got my maroon 3/4 length (or fingertip length) as a surprise from my parents one Christmas back around 1977-78. I loved that jacket!”
We got our first leathers at Tellos, Ann and Hope, Jordan Marsh, Filene’s Basement, Mickey Finns (Davis Square) and the other stores mentioned above. A lot of our leather jackets outlasted the stores. Many of us still have them. I still can’t really put my finger on why those leather jackets made us feel a little more confident, more comfortable in our surroundings, and generally cooler. But one thing is for sure, back in the day when we were teenagers in Somerville, when we looked in the mirror and saw ourselves in those leather jackets, we looked “Pissah.”