The History of the Tuxedo
It's not often we can date precisely the start of a whole new style of clothing. However, the tuxedo is unique. We can pinpoint exactly when and where it started, as well as by whom.
In upstate New York lies Tuxedo Park, a beautiful retreat for the rich, developed in the 1880s. A supporter of the Tuxedo Park Project, James Brown Potter, went to England on vacation in the summer of 1886. Potter and his wife, Cora, met the Prince of Wales at a court ball in London. The Prince invited them both to visit him at Sandringham, his 11,000-acre estate in Norfolk.
At Sandringham, James Brown Potter realized he had absolutely no idea how to dress for their formal dinners. Potter summoned up the nerve to ask the Prince of Wales for his advice. The Prince immediately put Potter at ease and sent him to his own Saville Row tailor, Henry Poole & Co. to be fitted for a type of short black jacket which the Prince had lately taken to wearing. Potter's new jacket was something like a short black blazer...quite different from the formal "tails" worn at elegant American occasions.
Potter made it through his Sandringham visit in style, and when he returned to Tuxedo Park, this new style of dinner jacket caught on quickly. Soon all the fashionable young gentlemen of Tuxedo Park were running off to their tailors for a copy of Potter's smart British jacket. This new style eventually became known in New York City as "the Tuxedo."
The immense popularity of the tuxedo, however, is due largely to another character, the colorful prankster of Tuxedo Park, Griswold Lorillard. At the Autumn Ball in Tuxedo Park on October 19, 1886, Griswold decided to parody the new shorter English dinner jacket that was all the rage. He and his friends dressed up for the Ball in striking red vests and the standard black dinner jacket with tails...and then cut off the tails. Their appearance in the butchered tails created a tremendous commotion at the Ball, and enormous publicity in New York City. The story of Griswold Lorillard's wild crew was "tailor-made" for Manhattan's gossipy society press. And the story of the tuxedo spread through East Coast society and across the country like wildfire. A new formal fashion was born!
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