Class of ’16: Great-Grandpa’s Raccoon Coat

How many posts are we going to do on raccoon coats? Answer: as long as we keep getting fresh material, which in this case was supplied by Yale undergrad Riley Ford, who wore his great-granddad’s coonskin coat to The Game. Yeah, we realize that was six weeks ago: The kid had to finish finals.

For Bulldog fans, the 2009 edition of The Game was one to forget. Off the field, however, there was plenty to celebrate: Regardless of outcome, the annual Harvard-Yale football game presents one of the best opportunities of the year to put together traditional preppy ensembles and turn out in force.

My great-grandfather graduated from Yale in 1916, and I’m the proud owner of several sartorial artifacts from his time in New Haven, among them a pipe, a smoking jacket embroidered with the Yale crest, and his ankle-length raccoon coat. The latter appeared on my doorstep in 2007, just after I matriculated at Yale; it had been passed from attic to attic until a distant relative heard I was heading to New Haven and graciously handed it down to another generation.

Although the coat is in remarkably good shape, I wasn’t bold enough to ship it the 1,000 miles between home and school during my freshman year. I was similarly unwilling to risk its health in the alleys of Cambridge in 2008. This year, however, I decided to brave the tailgates and constant threat of rain in true Old Yale fashion, and invoke the spirit of Yale legends past in the process.

My homage was in vain, but the weekend was not lost. I attended the Mory’s brunch tent with friends. While we found it rather sad to be posing for pictures on makeshift tables and chairs, rather than at the famed eating club itself, it was wonderful to taste the Baker’s Soup after the year-long drought brought on by the club’s temporary closing. Furthermore, we were able to continue exercising our love for the 1920s at Yale’s Prohibition Party (formerly Casino Night), and channeled Zelda and F. Scott all evening as flapper and philosopher.

Of course there was the potential for backlash from other undergraduates, indignant that their peers held Old Yale in such high regard. Save for a few catcalls from PETA devotees, we emerged unscathed. It was not nearly as cold as previous years, so fewer alums were sporting their own coats, but I bumped into a handful at the Mory’s tent who were more than willing to reminisce about the golden age. Those undergraduates who knew of the tradition found the revival genuinely cool, while those who didn’t simply scratched their hoodies in confusion.

It was the first time in almost a century that the coat had seen the inside of the Yale Bowl, and while I regret it didn’t see victory, as in 1916, it made an already special event even more memorable. Perhaps next year, my last at Yale, it will make the trip with me to enemy territory, and we shall see if the Cantabs respect the tradition of Ivy League fashion as much as their Yale brethren. — RILEY FORD

Riley Ford is an English major from Harbor Springs, MI. A member of the varsity polo team, he also rowed lightweight crew his freshman year and is involved with the Tory Party, the Yale Political Union’s most sartorial-minded and bow tie-heavy party. He’s an aspiring novelist and devoted acolyte of Fitzgerald, Rand and Wolfe.

13 Comments on "Class of ’16: Great-Grandpa’s Raccoon Coat"

  1. Very cool story. The raccoon coat was definitely an icon its era — and not only was worn without protest, but sought as a sign of success. It is amazing Riley’s coat has withstood the years in different attics, as such gems usually are neglected and permitted to dry out

    But what makes the story so rich is the both the family heritage of the coat, but the fellowship of the alums as they toast days gone by.

    Great story — Riley, and take care of that coat. It’s a true treasure.

  2. Great story. This year at Princeton, it will be my 25. Our theme is the 1920s so there should be some great coon coats. If I can tear myself away from the parties,I try and snap some shots.

  3. Very cool across the board – with one possible problem. After reading the above post, I searched for “Stover” and got zero results.

    Start here:

    And note Fitzgerald’s take on the book. Then cancel all plans for a week and read the book. You’ll find yourself repeating phrases like “Say, Schley – weren’t you at Hotchkiss?” and you will know what the wearers of the original raccoon coats truly felt like.

  4. I’ve been into the vintage collegiate thing for ages, and tried reading Stover maybe 10 or 15 years ago and couldn’t get into it.

    I found a cheap paperback from the ’30s set at Princeton I was all excited to blog about, but the thing was absolutely unreadable.

    Are you sure Stover’s worth reading?

  5. How far did you get in Stover? I like the beginning — Dink’s enchantment with Yale/the society system — but his jaded bit towards the end is less fun to read, and it’s football-heavy at times. I think it’s an important read, though, especially for those interested in traditional Ivy League culture.

  6. I’ll give it another shot. Just read 10 stories of Cheever and it’s time for a change.

  7. Hello Christian, I just ordered a copy of Stover from the lib. I’ll let you know what I think. I am currently reading The stories of John Cheever. I can relate to quite a few.

    I have you linked to my site your site is loading slow, I don’t know if it is me or you. You are listed in Class Acts.

    Always Bumby

  8. Hello Christian, Your site is loading just fine now .

    Always Bumby

  9. Thank you, Bumby. I’m sure it was just a temporary server overload brought on by referrals from your Class Acts link.

  10. Your so kind, I have only just started to find my voice in this new world.

    Thanks again.
    Always Bumby.

  11. For the record, Stover at Yale is completely worth reading. Yale has changed a great deal in the past 99 years, but some things remain. Many of the personalities and internal struggles still exist. The book was much more accessible than I expected it to be.
    Y ’11

  12. Well Christian, I received my copy of Stover from the public lib. And I must say that I did give it a go. I don’t doubt that many of the struggles still persist, I know that they do at Princeton.( I am a fourth generation ) But because of the style of writing by Mr. Johnson, I too could not see clear to read all 386 pages. And to any that can my hats are off to you. I only could make it to pg.35

    Always Bumby

  13. Riley – nice story, thanks for sharing. So sorry you missed Mory’s; but especially sorry the Doodle is no more. Sad.
    Best for the rest of your term.

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