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“What is it about wearing a tuxedo or that little black dress, that makes us feel confident, beautiful, splendid, even invincible? We put on formal wear and suddenly we become extraordinary.” – Vera Nazarian
The tuxedo, or the dinner jacket as it is widely known in the UK, has been an integral part of gentlemen’s wardrobe for nearly 150 years now.
The ultimate in men’s formal evening attire, with online specialists such as Dobell on the market, every male should have a cool tux in his wardrobe. But while most men could identify one instantly even if they have never actually worn one, the history of the tuxedo is less well known. Here’s how it came to be.
Tuxedos originated in the late 1880s. The name derives from a high society enclave of New York’s Hudson Valley called Tuxedo Park, where American high rollers would congregate and often peacock the latest fashions from home and abroad. The generally accepted theory is that one of these socialites, one Mr James Brown Potter, visited England in 1886. He met the then Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, and upon admiring the prince’s short black formal jacket, which unusually for the time, didn’t have coattails, was recommended to his tailor, Henry Poole and Co of Savile Row. There he purchased several items, one of which was similar to the prince’s jacket, which he took back to New York with him to wow his friends.
By the 20th century the tuxedo was all the rage as an alternative to formal evening tailcoats. One button had become standard, and men would wear their tuxedo in black, grey, or midnight blue. Over the years various styles such as notched lapels, peaked lapels, centre vents and two/three button combinations on the jacket have come and gone, and grey tuxedos are rarely seen nowadays, but the general look remains consistent. The tuxedo is a suit distinguished by a strip of black satin or grosgrain on the lapels and up the sides of the trouser legs. There are six standard components:
This is usually single lapel, but that lapel can be peaked, notched or shawl depending on the wearer’s tastes. Generally peaked lapels are seen as more formal.
Most tuxedo trousers have no belt loops. Instead, they’re held up by a pair of suspenders. These can be customised to allow an extra flourish of colour.
Dress shirts are usually white, but as with the arrangements of the other components of a tuxedo, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. The front is normally pleated, with narrow pleats the current vogue. Wider pleats (think George Lazenby in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) can be quite frilly and look dated nowadays. Back in the day, collars had to be attached to the shirt manually, making the process of getting dressed for dinner a lengthy one!
Most people associate the tuxedo with bow ties, but a long straight tie can also be worn. However, nothing breathes style more than the classic look of black tuxedo, white dress shirt and black bow tie.
While not essential, many men choose to wear a waistcoat or cummerbund with their tuxedo, to cover shirt bunching (they can also make you look slimmer).
Shoes are often neglected, but should really conform to the following rule: lace-up oxfords, or pumps, in black leather or, increasingly, calfskin. Anything else is not really appropriate with a tuxedo.
Rule are made for the breaking
While tradition dictates that the tuxedo is for evening wear only, it is nowadays often seen in the USA being worn by groomsmen for daytime weddings, and as such, will probably become more common in the UK soon as well.
There’s nothing to say that women can’t wear a tuxedo too – Marlene Dietrich famously caused quite a stir, and looked amazing, when she dressed in a dinner jacket back in 1930, and in modern times, Angelina Jolie has also popularised the look.
And just a note on white dinner jackets, as worn by that most legendary of tuxedo aficionados, James Bond. It takes a certain panache to pull this off, and they may be best-suited to climes other than the UK, such as the casinos of the South of France. If you’re going for it, remember – it’s just the jacket that is white; the trousers stay black.