From proms to weddings to James Bond conventions the world over, the tux is undisputedly the smartest, most stylish dress "uniform" ever devised.
The male equivalent of the Little Black Dress, it's an indispensable outfit that makes (almost) any man look their absolute best. Or, as the inestimable -- and modest -- Dean Martin once put it:
"In a tuxedo, I'm a star."
The origins of this famous Dino-approved garment, however, are a bit murky.
Like a classic melodrama straight out of the Victorian era, the suspects include a wealthy magnate, his beautiful wife, a royal British womanizer, and a rebellious young New York swell by the name of Griswold Lorillard. Think romance! Intrigue! (Downton Abbey!)
Originally created as a modernizing alternative to the aristocratic Victorian tailcoats that were the standard evening wear of the mid 1800’s, there are no less than three “definitive” versions regarding the birth of this sartorial luminary.
Definitive Version # 1:
In 1865, the Prince of Wales (and future King of England Edward VII) asked his tailor Henry Poole to fashion a suitable option to the tailcoat – something more appropriate for informal gatherings at the royal retreat in Sandringham. Poole came up with a shorter, yet still sophisticated celestial blue concoction. Bertie, as the Prince was known, was enthralled.
A legend was born.
In a delicious bit of Britishness, the still in operation Henry Poole & Co. (of Saville Row, naturally) report that no similar garment was ever detected in their ledgers dating back to 1846. Therefore, with glorious certainty, they proclaim their founder’s design as the original blueprint for the “Dinner Jacket”, i.e. tuxedo. End of story.
Definitive Version # 2:
In the summer of 1886, the Prince who would be King’s notorious roving eye fell upon one Cora Urquhart Brown-Potter -- the ravishing actress wife of visiting American coffee baron, James Brown-Potter. Wishing to inspect English/American relations up close and personal, the Prince invited the couple to visit him at Sandringham for dinner and some light adultery.
In this Victorian version of “Six Degrees of Prince Bertie”, Mr. Potter asked his tailor -- the venerable Henry Poole, of course – for his advice for such a visit. Mr. Poole's reply? Why, my newfangled dinner jacket, of course!
When Potter returned home to the United States (minus Cora, as it turns out), he took to wearing his fancy new garment at upstate New York’s swank Tuxedo Park Club… and the rest is history.
Definitive Version # 3:
Pierre Lorillard IV was a wealthy New York tobacco magnate and social circle supernova of the late 1800's. He owned prime country property in Tuxedo Park, a rich enclave on the banks of the Hudson River forty miles north of Manhattan. (Tuxedo comes from the Algonquin word "p'tuksit", which means "animal with the round foot" -- a wolf.)
In October 1886, with an Autumn Ball in full swing at the Tuxedo Club, Pierre’s enterprising son Griswald and his youthful pals decided to make an enterprising, youthful fashion statement. Inspired by the shape of short red riding jackets worn on fox hunts, they made their grand entrance in “butchered” coattails and red waistcoats.
No matter which story grabs your fancy, the tuxedo still remains the pinnacle of men’s fashion – smart, stylish, and timeless. After all, as humorist Fran Lebowitz once noted:
“(The tuxedo is) the most flattering garment ever designed. Even waiters look good in it.”