In Part 1 of our 2 part series, we discussed the unusual origins of the word “tuxedo” which has become a familiar term relating to men’s formalwear. In Part 2 of the series, we will discuss the men at the heart of this origin story and how the tuxedo became part of formal fashion.
The Emergence of the Tuxedo Club
When we left off with the history of the tuxedo, we learned about Tuxedo Park and a country club established in New York for wealthy aristocrats by one of their own, Pierre Lorillard IV. From Tuxedo Park emerged a number of homes surrounding the country club, cementing the club as an important landmark for this community. Eventually, the society of Tuxedo Park developed an elite group of wealthy men that formed what was eventually known as the Tuxedo Club.
This club revolved around a social calendar that included formal events, like balls, and sporting events that allowed the men to enjoy leisure time in the community. The club even established a golf course, tennis courts and allowed for members to enjoy boating on the grounds.
The Rise of Fashion Rebellion
Before the tuxedo became a larger player in aristocratic circles in Gilded Age America, men who attended the country club would typically wear a formal white coat and tie. However, the way in which the tuxedo emerged is hard to discern because there are multiple tales about who exactly wore the first one to a formal event at the Tuxedo Club.
Some of the lore surrounding the tuxedo attributes Lorillard’s son Griswold to bringing the fashionable, new outfit to the first Autumn Ball of 1886, which later became an annual event. According to this story, Pierre Lorillard, his father, commissioned a modified “tail-less” black jacket to wear to the ball inspired by a dinner jacket designed by Savile Row tailor Henry Poole & Co., who was England’s Prince of Wales’ tailor at the time. In this version of the story, Pierre decided last minute not to wear this radical new fashion, but Griswold and his friends modeled their outfits on his and made a splash at the ball.
Another version of the tuxedo story, which comes straight from the Tuxedo Club itself, attributes the tuxedo to Tuxedo Club member James Brown Potter. The summer prior to the first Autumn Ball, Potter and his wife Cora, while visiting England, received an invite from the Prince of Wales to join him at Sandringham, his country estate, for the weekend. Mr. Potter was unsure of what to wear for the dinner, and after asking the Prince, was instructed to visit his tailor in London to get fitted for a short jacket, rather than a tailcoat, for dinner, as the Prince had personally adopted this style and had grown to like it. After Potter returned to the United States and showed other Tuxedo Club members this new fashion trend, they embraced it and had their own tailors copy his style.
Visit Jim’s Formal Wear’s blog next time for Part 3 of the history of the tuxedo, where we discuss how the formalwear spread beyond the Tuxedo Club.