When I was in the third grade, I received for Christmas an ID bracelet with my first name engraved on it. It was a simple design, much in the vein of those that century-old jewelry company Speidel has sold a bazillion of, which were especially popular in the 1970s. I had never owned an item of jewelry before then, and the personalization of it with my given first name made it seem all the more special. I remember feeling a bit weird about it at first, and asking my parents if it was okay for boys to wear jewelry.
I remember the answer being along the lines that men and boys sometimes wear certain kinds of jewelry, and that an ID bracelet was a popular accessory for males (probably delivered in my mom’s typical “boys-do-this-and-girls-do-that” manner). I loved that thing. I remember that when I looked at the “JOSEPH” inscription on its front, those were among my first conscious experiences of feeling ownership of myself at that young age. I was Joseph, I was me, and my life was going to be great.
I don’t remember what ended up happening to that bracelet, but I can say with certainty that it was gone by the fourth grade. I’m assuming I simply must have lost it, and also that this made me very upset. I’ve been on something of a journey of personal reclamation over the past year or so, and recently, I purchased another ID bracelet for myself, almost forty years after I owned the first one. It is, again, inscribed with my full, given first name, and is very much in the simple style of that bracelet I owned as a kid. I am Joseph, I am me…
In searching online for what I wanted, I discovered that there is a proliferation of designs and styles of ID bracelets available for purchase. I wanted something that looked clean and basic enough to wear casually, but classic enough not to look out of place when wearing clothes that were a little bit nicer. There were other designs that featured links that resembled those of a bicycle chain, or like a modern watchband without a watch, or even with beads, skulls or other embellishments that didn’t necessarily speak to my own personal style.
I ended up finding exactly what I wanted, which was a more traditionally styled item of jewelry that harkens back to a different time. Our featured 1986 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham, of which roughly 49,000 were produced, embodied this same type of idea in its day, having been manufactured in only the second year of the concurrent, front-wheel-drive DeVille that had been introduced for 1985.
Stated another way, the big D-Body Fleetwood Brougham had originally been the first downsized DeVille when it was introduced (in pre-restyled form) for ’77, but by the time this ’86 was on the lot, there were now two model years of overlap between the old- and new-style mainstream Cadillac. For buyers who wanted the kind of simple elegance they were used to, they could choose the larger car with the older design, instead of opting for the unfamiliar modernity of the new one.
The new-style DeVille seems more like the sartorial equivalent of the newest style of suit for young professionals, versus a more traditional cut that would withstand the passing of trends a bit better. The ’86 Fleetwood Brougham looks much more elegant and purposeful to me than does the same-year Sedan DeVille. There were a few examples of ID bracelets I had found that tempted me with their unique, modern interpretations of design, but ultimately, I wanted something that was going to look as timeless as the childhood piece I wish I still owned. The rear-wheel-drive D-Body for ’86 also looks timeless; The front-drive C-Body does not. Granted, an ID bracelet or the brightwork on the large ’86 isn’t for everyone, but for some, it’s just enough.
New Cadillacs looked like this ’86 Brougham when I was a young elementary school student, and I had a chance to ride in one that was owned by the parents of one of my dad’s students from the university. When I look at Cadillac D-Bodies of this era, I often recall just how special it felt to be riding in a new one (even if I was on someone’s lap), with the look and smell of the leather, the quiet isolation from the world outside, and simply the fact that I was riding in a new Cadillac, as if I somehow belonged or deserved to be there in that moment.
My new ID bracelet may not make me anything that I’m not already, but I’m glad to have it as a simple visual reminder of who Joseph Dennis is. My hope is that the owner of this Fleetwood Brougham feels as special every time he or she sits inside this nice example of what was once considered a premier traditional American luxury automobile.
Edgewater Glen, Chicago, Illinois.
Saturday, January 2, 2021.