Tuxedo Origins: First-Hand Accounts

Posted on November 7, 2013

"Clothier and Furnisher" October 1888

Clothier and Furnisher, October 1888

I was long aware that many newspapers maintain digital archives but last week I discovered the existence of vast consolidations of such archives containing tens of millions of scanned pages dating all the way back to the 1700s.  Out of curiosity I decided to look further into the origins of the dinner jacket.  Because dress was a matter of serious etiquette for polite society in the Victorian era, and because columnists reported extensively on all aspects of said society, these archives turned out to be a treasure trove of invaluable first-hand accounts of the garment’s introduction.

After many days (and very late nights) of combing through these amazing resources, I’ve assembled a “behind the scenes” story that greatly expands on the history offered in The Black Tie Guide.  For the sake of convenience, the story has been broken down into chapters that will appear over the coming week:

  • English Beginnings: New research supporting the jacket’s previously reported connections with the Prince of Wales and new evidence of alternate originators and (surprising) alternate designs.
  • The American Dress Sack: The appearance of hybrid “dress sacks” in the US that predate the jacket’s supposed Tuxedo Park debut in 1886.
  • The “Tailless Dress Coat” Puzzle: Evidence that the tailless tailcoat famously associated with Tuxedo Park’s Griswold Lorillard may be the original dinner jacket after all and not a faux mess jacket as the name would imply.
  • American Backlash: Why American Society initially ridiculed the jacket . . . then later embraced it en masse.
  • Early Names: Was the Oxford English Dictionary wrong to date the appearance of “tuxedo” earlier than “dinner jacket”?  (Anglophiles take heart.)
  • Formal Sundries: First-hand insight into what it was like to dress up in Victorian full dress every single evening, the introduction of early tuxedo champion Berry “king of the dudes” Wall and evidence that James Brown-Potter may never have had that fateful dinner with the Prince of Wales.

As always, our story will be embellished with interesting illustrations such as American dinner jacket models dating back to 1888, six years prior to any similar drawings I’ve previously encountered.  To start things off, I present the above excerpt from the October 1888 issue of the American trade journal Clothier and Furnisher.  It is now the earliest known illustration of an American dinner jacket as well as the first printed appearance of its “Tuxedo” moniker.*

Stay tuned for more . . .



November 25, 2013

*Okay, make that the second oldest.  Research subsequent to this post has uncovered a reference in the Chicago Daily Tribune from two months prior: “The Tuxedo coat has become popular with a a great many men who regard its demi train as a happy medium between a swallow-tail and a cutaway.”

Posted in: History