“Tuxes don’t come in a size two,” the shop attendant said after observing the two-and-a half-year old ring-bearer. “But we can alter a size three.” He smiled at my little grandson. “We need to measure you. Can you fly?”
Instantly Carter’s little arms made wings, his hands full of the Matchbox cars he never leaves home without. After the attendant measured his chest, he yelled confidently in his baby way, “Again. Again.”
The male-bonding occasion of father, son and grandson getting fitted for my daughter Christi’s wedding went swimmingly, with me along as historian to record the event. If you know the Steve Martin version of Father of the Bride, you’ll understand why my son and husband joked about not finding navy blue Armanis as they examined racks of suits.
Although the bride hoped her ring bearer would wear tiny Chuck Taylor sneakers with his tux (his daddy wore Chucks at his wedding five years ago), I don’t think Chucks stand a chance. When Carter tried on his tuxedo shoes, he said rapturously, “Oh, my shiny shoes,” and after they were off, held them tight against his little chest.
Well, whatever he wears on his feet, he’ll be adorable. But the whole excursion reminded me that I knew nothing about tuxedos. Why does the tuxedo look the way it does? Who designed it? And most of all, just where does the name “tuxedo” come from?
We owe the name to the Algonquin sachems, or chiefs, who in the 17th Century ruled vast areas of land in what is today the northeastern United States. Often they named regions after themselves. One region, 40 miles northwest of New York City, was named for Chief P’tauk-seet-tough, and meant “home of the bear.”
In 1852, the land came into the possession of the Lorillards, a wealthy New York City tobacconist family. Thirty years later, Pierre Lorillard IV made the 13,000 acres of lush wooded wilderness into an exclusive hunting resort. Keeping the phonetics of the original name, the “Tuxedo” Club was formed for the wealthy social elite who sported there.
Tuxedo Club member James Brown Potter traveled to London in 1885 and befriended the Prince of Wales. Foregoing standard eveningwear at a formal dinner, the Prince appeared in a tail-less “dinner jacket” lined in satin, essentially a version of the English riding/hunting jacket. Potter was smitten with the style and had his own made at Savile Row by the prince’s own tailor.
At first ridiculed back home, Potter’s new duds quickly became the trend among Tuxedo Club members, and the name “tuxedo” began to stick. However, no one dared ignore traditional coattails at the Tuxedo Club’s first annual Autumn Ball in October 1886.
Even Potter left his beloved tux at home. However, Griswold Lorillard—grandson of Pierre IV—brought a group of friends to the ball, all mockingly dressed in standard evening jackets whose tails they’d slashed off, and scarlet lapels and waistcoats. Red was an unheard-of color for the upper crust.
When criticized that they appeared ready for a fox hunt, Griswold retorted, “Yes, we are indeed hunting foxes,” and turned on his heel to hang out with a lovely young lady. Nonetheless, the young men so charmed the guests their style soon became the rage, rather than a fashion scandal. The waistcoats were the harbinger of today’s stylish vests. After that ground-breaking Autumn Ball, the “tuxedo” and its variations segued into the elegant garment worn ever after by men, rich and poor, at formal occasions and celebrations.
In 1920, the Prince of Wales, the future Duke of Windsor, was the first man to wear a navy blue tuxedo, beating Steve Martin by seventy years! We fillies even have our own tuxedo mascot…Charlene Sands’ adorable Skittles!
Share some tuxedo stories today! Your senior prom? A family member’s wedding, or your own? Tails? Cummerbund? Vest and matching tie? My brother-in-law wore an all-white tux at his wedding. A friend’s brother got married twenty years ago in one of lime green. Horrors! Come on! Surely somebody can top that!
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