The tuxedo is the most recognized formalwear for men in modern fashion, but its origins are not as commonly known to people as the style of the outfit. We will discuss where the tuxedo came from, its evolution over time and the tuxedo we are familiar with today.
Origins of the Word
The word “tuxedo” has deeply American roots and originally did not have to do with formalwear. The word P’tauk-seet-tough, which shares its phonetics with the word we use today, was an Algonquin word given to land in New York by the Algonquin Indian tribe.
The word that evolved into “tuxedo” has been attributed both to an Indian chief with the name P’tauk-seet-tough and to the meaning “home of the bear.” In some circles, the word tucsedo came from the Lenape language of the Delaware Indians. The word we know today as “tuxedo” in its current spelling may have been translated by the Dutch when they were granted the land we know today as southern New York State in the 1700’s. Regardless of its true origins – Lenape, Algonquin or Dutch – it is a certainty that the word “tuxedo” truly evolved from multiple cultures as history brought people from Europe into America.
The Rise of Tuxedo Park and the Tuxedo Club
Fast forward to the 1800’s, and Tuxedo, New York, a town in the same land the Indians had claimed before, grew in population. The Gilded Age was approaching, and American tobacco manufacturer Pierre Lorillard IV developed the idea behind the Tuxedo Club in 1886.
This planned community was a country club that southwest of Tuxedo Park, a village associated with the larger town of Tuxedo. Lorillard had inherited 13,000 acres around Tuxedo Lake, and with help from other wealthy New Yorkers, he developed the prestigious club that became the birthplace of the formal outfit we know as the tuxedo.
The Emergence of the Tuxedo Club
When we left off with the history of the tuxedo, we learned about Tuxedo Park and a country club established in New York for wealthy aristocrats by one of their own, Pierre Lorillard IV. From Tuxedo Park emerged a number of homes surrounding the country club, cementing the club as an important landmark for this community. Eventually, the society of Tuxedo Park developed an elite group of wealthy men that formed what was eventually known as the Tuxedo Club.
This club revolved around a social calendar that included formal events, like balls, and sporting events that allowed the men to enjoy leisure time in the community. The club even established a golf course, tennis courts and allowed for members to enjoy boating on the grounds.
The Rise of Fashion Rebellion
Before the tuxedo became a larger player in aristocratic circles in Gilded Age America, men who attended the country club would typically wear a formal white coat and tie. However, the way in which the tuxedo emerged is hard to discern because there are multiple tales about who exactly wore the first one to a formal event at the Tuxedo Club.
Some of the lore surrounding the tuxedo attributes Lorillard’s son Griswold to bringing the fashionable, new outfit to the first Autumn Ball of 1886, which later became an annual event. According to this story, Pierre Lorillard, his father, commissioned a modified “tail-less” black jacket to wear to the ball inspired by a dinner jacket designed by Savile Row tailor Henry Poole & Co., who was England’s Prince of Wales’ tailor at the time. In this version of the story, Pierre decided last minute not to wear this radical new fashion, but Griswold and his friends modeled their outfits on his and made a splash at the ball.
Another version of the tuxedo story, which comes straight from the Tuxedo Club itself, attributes the tuxedo to Tuxedo Club member James Brown Potter. The summer prior to the first Autumn Ball, Potter and his wife Cora, while visiting England, received an invite from the Prince of Wales to join him at Sandringham, his country estate, for the weekend. Mr. Potter was unsure of what to wear for the dinner, and after asking the Prince, was instructed to visit his tailor in London to get fitted for a short jacket, rather than a tailcoat, for dinner, as the Prince had personally adopted this style and had grown to like it. After Potter returned to the United States and showed other Tuxedo Club members this new fashion trend, they embraced it and had their own tailors copy his style.