The Yale bag endures


Back in the dark ages of my youth, a guy carried his stuff in a briefcase – masculine and dignified.

As a matter of fact, the ultimate gift for a male college graduate was a leather briefcase. Of course, graduates back then also wore wingtip shoes, pinstripe suits and fedoras. And girls referred to them as, “swell.”

Today, of course, it’s pretty much hoodies, jeans and tennies. And a quick look at any college campus nowadays will disclose the only guy wearing a suit is the dean emeritus of the law school. He’s also the only guy carrying a briefcase.

The whole scene probably shifted in the late 1950s when I got back to college after a stint in the army. I trotted on campus assuming everything was the same as when I left it two years earlier. Back then you could tell a faculty member by his suit and tie every time. No exceptions.

Then I showed up for German class. Our instructor, it turns out, was a long-haired academic from Yale. He wore baggy tweeds, a stocking cap, if you can believe it, and carried his stuff in a canvas satchel he called “a Yale bag.”

Every student in the class sat speechless as he swept into the classroom, pulled off his stocking cap and opened his Yale bag.  It contained two spiral notebooks, three textbooks, a folded newspaper, a container of pens and pencils, a thermos of coffee, and his lunch which turned out to be an egg salad sandwich and a sliced tomato. A lot to cram into a single bag.

We thought he was nuts. But he was a good teacher, and we learned a lot from him. By the end of the semester, three of the guys in the class were carrying Yale bags. I was one of them.



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