October 12, 2012

The Tuxedo Through American History Pt. 1

Early advertisements for the tuxedo (via blog.blacktieguide.com)

Many historians agree that the tuxedo was created in 1886 by Pierre Lorillard IV, a resident of Tuxedo Park, a town located just outside of New York City. American males, specifically those of the affluent variety, witnessed a momentous change in men’s formal wear with the addition of this new look.

No longer would men dazzle their peers with customary Victorian waist coats (vests) or tailcoats – instead a shift was made to a black jacket that has for over a century, and until now, been the staple of what a gentleman must wear during special occasions. It’s incredible how long this article of clothing has lasted, and it doesn’t appear to be going out of style anytime soon.

Before tuxedos, it was widely accepted for men to sport fancy waist coats inside of their tailcoat as their formal clothing. In fact, a tuxedo jacket was seen as second-rate, and a reluctant after-thought! These vests would come in absolutely any color and cloth combination imaginable; red and nylon, black and silk, navy blue and wool, the possibilities were seemingly endless.  In conjunction with a vest, gentlemen would sport long tailcoats: the tail of the jacket would stretch down to the knees, and became narrower as the tail elongated down toward the legs. For informal events, men would wear “sackcoats”, which resembled its more formal counterpart. These coats were short-lapelled, single-breasted, and small-collared. While the waistcoat and the tailcoat was the norm with regards to formal wear, the tuxedo would gradually take precedent over the previously accepted coat by the turn of the 20th century.

The tuxedo, when it was born, was seen as the compromise between a formal dress jacket and a sackcoat. However, when tuxedos became the standard they discarded the previous dress jackets and sackcoats, and they were primarily worn in addition to a white or black waistcoat until about 1910, when black became more acceptable. What’s funny is that despite the growing acceptability of tuxedos, it was still seen as a no-no when going to a formal event with a female decked out in her finest clothing. However, that would change as more prominent and famous figures, like the Prince of Wales, started to wear them.

By the 1930’s, double-breasted tuxedo style, and white tuxedos came to the forefront. These tuxedos were to be worn primarily during the summer months, which is still a general rule of tuxedos today. Along with these style of tuxedos, came cummerbunds and dress shirts that have turned-down collars. It was at this point that America as a society allowed the tuxedo to stay due to its popularity, and as we have seen through the years, the jacket never went out of style.

In part two we will go into tuxedos through the war years to the rebellious 1960′s period, which saw the prominence of bright colored tuxedos as a popular option. If you liked part one, stay tuned for what’s next.

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