The tuxedo suit is black-tie eveningwear for men in American and international fashion. It is characterized by black trousers with one or two stripes of satin running down the side of each pant leg, and a black waist-length jacket with satin-lined lapels. Sometimes these suits are made with a waistcoat, but, in American tradition, they are more frequently worn with a pleated cummerbund.

The stylings of the tuxedo are a mystery to most. Of course, black has been the color of Western eveningwear for centuries, but the lining and the cut of a tuxedo is, relative to typical sartorial design, quirky -- to say the very least. Why do tuxedos look the way they do? Who invented the tuxedo, why did he do it, and where? From what did the term "tuxedo" even come? To answer these questions, one must know a bit of one's history.

In the 17th century, Algonquin Native Americans contolled expansive areas of land in the northeastern quarter of the North American continent. Tribes ruled regionally, and regions were often named for the tribal chiefs, called sachums, who ruled them. One of these regions, just forty miles northwest of modern-day New York City, was controlled by a chief called P'tauk-Seet ("Round Foot," the Algonquin metonym for the bear), and he lent his name to this region, whose most outstanding feature was its lake. New York, however, was conquered, and divided into twelve counties in 1683, and in 1707, the Cheescock Patent, a large parcel of land containing that lake, was granted by Queen Anne to a party of Englishmen who never arrived in America to claim it. It was thence forth called by mutations of its original name, P'tauk-Seet-Tough ("Home of the Bear"), until much of it was repossessed on a defaulted loan by Pierre Lorillard III, son of the legendary New York City-based tobacconist, in 1852.

Upon the death of Pierre Lorillard III, P'tauk-Seet-Tough was inherited by his son, Pierre Lorillard IV. With the collaboration of wealthy associates such as Waldorf Astor, Pierre Lorillard IV made his 13,000 acres of wooded wilderness into an exclusive hunting and fishing resort, which he called Tuxedo Park. The property was walled, and in 1885, Lorillard IV contracted a corps of Italian artisans to construct residences on its grounds. Those who lived on the property and participated in its sport were the constituency of the socially elite Tuxedo Club.

Now, there is absolutely no doubt that the tuxedo suit owes its name to the Tuxedo Club, but there is some dispute as to how it actually came about. According to virtually all evidence, the story I will give to you here seems to me the most likely:

In 1885, a member and founder of the Tuxedo Club, James Brown Potter, befriended Prince of Wales and future King of England Edward VII. Edward VII had always been known for his fashions; it was he who popularized leaving the bottom button of a waistcoat undone, creasing trousers from side to side, and wearing a black tie in the evening. At a formal dinner which Potter attended with Edward VII, the Prince forewent standard white-tie attire for an abbreviated midnight blue jacket lined in satin -- essentially an English riding and hunting jacket (this is where the cut of most modern tuxedos comes from). He claimed that he had no care for convention, and that he liked the mobility that wearing a sportier jacket afforded him. Of course the royal family (with whom Potter and Edward VII were dining) were used to the Prince's antics, but Potter immediately admired this new fashion, and had the Prince's tailors at Henry Poole & Son (who are still on the Savile Row today) make him a black facsimile of the then- semi-formal jacket, to his measurements.

Later that year, Potter attended a Tuxedo Club formal dinner at Delmonico's Steakhouse in New York City -- wearing, of course, his brand new jacket. While many diners at the restaurant poked fun at Potter's dress, other Tuxedo Club members became enamoured with it, and, as those wealthy folk do, had copies of it made for themselves. According to popular lore, when people talked about the new Tuxedo Park fashion, they would say "That's what they're wearing tonight at Tuxedo," and eventually, the name "tuxedo" just stuck to the suit of that jacket paired with standard formal trousers.

There is another instance, more comical than the last, that has gone down in history as formative to the design of the modern-day tuxedo. In August of 1886, the Tuxedo Club was holding its first Autumn Ball, an entirely formal event. Even J.B. Potter would not wear his tailless jacket. But Griswold Lorillard, grandson of Pierre Lorillard IV, and a group of his friends, arrived in mockery of the Tuxedo Club wearing standard evening jackets whose tails had been sloppily removed, and scarlet red waistcoats (scandelous at the time). When it was remarked to Griswold that he and his young friends looked like Englishmen on a fox hunt, he riposted "Yes, we are hunting for foxes," and trotted off to hobnob with an attractive young lady -- only after shooting her a wry glare. The young men actually charmed the attendance of the Autumn Ball so that their style was soon emulated, and the colored waistcoat became a classic accessory to the American tuxedo (although, as also holds true in England, the cummerbund is the traditional tuxedo waist cloth).

References:

http://www.formalwear.org/public/resources/tuxedo.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Lorillard
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orange_County%2C_New_York
http://www.advantagebuyer.com/
http://www.invisibleheroes.com/hero.asp?issue=124
http://www.cigaraficionado.com/Cigar/CA_Archives/CA_Show_Article/0,2322,814,00.html

Tux*e"do coat`, or Tux*e"do (?), n.

A kind of black coat for evening dress made without skirts; -- so named after a fashionable country club at Tuxedo Park, New York. [U. S.]

 

© Webster 1913

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