History of the Tuxedo: Rebellious Trend to Timeless Tradition

Ever curious about the story behind the tuxedo? Or how this special black and white ensemble, casually referred to as a “tux,” or a”penguin suit,” became men’s expected attire for special occasions? There are several theories about the “invention” of the tuxedo, but popular belief credits a man with a name as fancy as his creation — Pierre Lorillard IV.

Pierre Lorillard was a wealthy tobacco magnate during the 19th century. He and his family lived 40 miles northwest of New York City in a residential colony called Tuxedo Park, founded on land acquired from the Algonquin Indian tribe. The land was originally called P’tauk-seet-tough, named after the tribal chief and meaning “home of the bear.” The town’s founders kept the phonetics of the name and christened the area Tuxedo Park.

The Lorillards circulated among the highest social circles and Pierre Lorillard helped establish Tuxedo Park as an elite hunting and fishing destination. A large, Italian labor force comprised of skilled artisans was used to construct a series of elegant homes within the walled area which remain part of a designated historical area. Tuxedo Park became a high profile residence and resort for the world’s rich and famous. And, as would be expected, an extravagant social scene soon followed. Tuxedo Park’s residents and regular guests even established their own social organization called the Tuxedo Club.

The Tuxedo Club’s first annual Autumn Ball was held in October of 1886, when men’s formal wear consisted of long tailcoats and white ties. However, the assumedly dashing Pierre Lorillard commissioned a modified “tailless” black jacket to wear to the ball. Some say Lorillard was inspired by a dinner jacket designed by Savile Row tailor Henry Poole & Co., tailor to England’s Prince of Wales who later became King Edward VII. Others claim he simply had the custom-made jacket styled according to the shorter shape of the red jackets then worn for formal fox hunts. No matter the source of inspiration for the new formal attire, it was a small, but radical departure from the traditional long tailcoat.

56_catalogDespite his intent, Pierre Lorillard did not go through with his fashion plans for the ball. However, his perhaps more rebellious son Griswold Lorillard, along with several of his friends, did wear the short jacket to the ball. Due to the lofty social status of the young men, the short jacket was instantly admired as a fashion statement, rather than condemned as a fashion faux pas. Pierre Lorillard’s short jacket, donned by his son Griswold, was quickly copied and when gentlemen wearing tuxedos were admitted to the Dress Circle of New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1889, the success of this new fashion was confirmed. The “tuxedo,” so dubbed after the town of its debut, thus went from fashionable trend to timeless classic.

The tuxedo is a standard in American formal attire and is a ubiquitous symbol of celebration and special occasion for men of any and all levels of society. It is the quintessential men’s attire for formal affairs and an obvious choice for all but the most formal of weddings, galas, balls, formals, and high school proms. Pierre Lorillard’s fashion deviation has become the enduring standard for men’s formal attire. Nothing says tradition and elegance like the tuxedo.

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