The 125th Anniversary of the Tuxedo, or Is It?

How many people, do you think, know that the Fall of 2011 marked the 125th anniversary of the tuxedo? Furthermore, how many people know that part of the history of the tuxedo is linked back to an area only 40 miles outside of Manhattan?  We think it’s safe to say this would be news to many readers across the world, but it’s true.  However, there’s more to the story than meets the eye, and unfortunately, even after 125 years, the exact origins of the tuxedo remain unconfirmed.  The story behind it all is quite intriguing.  Here are tidbits and facts that help account for the origin and first appearance of this avant-garde dress coat.  We’ll let you be the judge as to who should be the one credited for this amazing and timeless addition to men’s formalwear.

-It is said that in 1886, a “tailless dress coat” was first introduced into American society.  However, a pattern for this coat is found in the archives of the family run bespoke business, Henry Poole & Co, located in London, England.  The relic precedes the American appearance of the tuxedo, dating back to 1865.

-The tuxedo seems to implicitly be a combination of the long-tailed dress coat and shorter lounge jackets popular in the period, probably to allow for dressing for formal occasions while retaining the greater comfort of the shorter jacket.

-Prince Edward VII, future King Edward VII of the United Kingdom, is believed to be the first to have ordered this glorified formal jacket from Henry Poole & Co. in 1865.  The Prince, in turn, encouraged an American, Mr. James Brown Potter, to order one himself upon visiting him in Wales in 1886.  Potter did just that, and began to regularly wear the jacket to events at a new, exclusive country club in the then remote Orange County of New York.  The country club’s name?  Tuxedo Park.

-The tuxedo’s true coming out party occurred not long after, when Potter and his Tuxedo Park friends wore them one evening to a bachelor’s dinner at the famed Delmonico’s restaurant in Lower Manhattan, the only public dining restaurant in New York at the time.  The other patrons paid attention, and a legend was born, taking the name of the country club where it first found popularity.

-According to some advertisements dated back to the early 1900s, a tuxedo jacket AND a coordinating vest was a whopping $22.50!  What a steal!

-Traditional formalwear for men in the 19th century was a black tailcoat, paired with a white dress shirt and bow tie.  When the tailless tuxedo jacket made its debut, it was considered taboo and frowned upon for wearing to formal events.  The tux did not gain true acceptance among bluebloods until it was adopted in the 1920s by the dashing, young Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VIII.

-The colloquial phrase “black tie” actually comes from the summer versions of the tux that became popular in the 1930s, which caused the distinguishing of the tux from the more traditional long coat more obvious.  Long coats are worn with white bow ties, while tuxes were always worn with black.

-The tuxedo made its way out of the upper echelons and into the middle class in the 1950s.  Since then, it’s become a common sight at everything from dinners for foreign Heads of State at the White House to high school proms in rural Alabama and everything in-between.

Whether it’s 165 years or 125 years, we think it’s safe to say that the addition of the tuxedo into Western menswear is one of the greatest occurrences in fashion history.  The little details and overall style of the jacket have evolved over time, but it can still be said today that every man should have one hanging in his closet for the right time.

Here are a few of our own personal favorites.  We’re probably a little biased!

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