Flashback: The Powder Blue Tuxedo

Posted on November 10, 2011

When researching the tuxedo’s history for the Guide I thoroughly enjoyed reviewing vintage menswear magazines and observing the tuxedo’s elegant evolution through the decades.  However, once I got to the late 1950s the research became somewhat nausea-inducing.  Each year the formalwear pictorials and advertisements featured progressively more awful tuxedo separates (ostensibly for summer or less formal occasions) beginning with simple patterns and subdued colours then devolving into dizzying decorations, obnoxious hues and modern synthetic fibres.  The only redeeming factor during this period of research was the anticipation of the debut of history’s most infamous “formal” garment: the coloured tuxedo suit.  The anticipation grew as I advanced from the 1960s into the 1970s but then turned to puzzlement as I progressed through the decade’s GQ and Esquire issues without a single sighting.

How could that be?  How could the iconic powder-blue suit or any of its kitschy cousins that were so prevalent in ‘70s prom and wedding photos not appear once in the hundreds of tuxedo ads and articles found in those leading menswear magazines?  The answer seems to be that the aberrations of the ‘50s and ‘60s set the stage for the formalwear market to split into two very different categories by the start of the disco era.

The formal suits appearing in the men’s periodicals were generally conservative and targeted towards sophisticated, mature guys who preferred to purchase their formal wear. The trendy and unorthodox coloured tuxedos, tailcoats and cutaways, on the other hand, were clearly intended for naïve youth who dominated the market for prom and wedding rentals.  Modern photos of these novelty garments reveal sloppy workmanship indicative of mass production and industrial-strength polyester indicative of durability required for frequent use.

Detail of a vintage 1970s rental jacket.

As the rental demographic was not likely to be reading GQ or Esquire I have long suspected the corresponding tuxedo models were marketed either in-store or in periodicals aimed specifically at that consumer group.  This theory was bolstered by a recent discovery of a 1975 ad for a bona fide powder-blue tuxedo, the first in the history of my research.  Sure enough, it came from a bridal magazine.

(If you’re interested, click the image at the top of the page to see this complete 2-page ad.  Bonus points if you can identify the model portraying the bride.)