That little black jacket has a big birthday

| 15 Feb 2012 | 09:55

Tuxedo Historical Society is one of only four worldwide venues honoring the tuxedo’s 150th birthday TUXEDO — International men’s fashion experts knew there could only be one appropriate U.S. venue to commemorate the tuxedo’s 150th anniversary as an icon in men’s wear: Tuxedo Park. And this past weekend, the Tuxedo Historical Society opened an exhibition that will only be shown in four locations worldwide. “The Little Black Jacket - Celebrating 150 years of the Tuxedo,” offers exhibit-goers an opportunity to see the history and evolution of the garment that was first made in England 150 years ago but was eventually named “the tuxedo” after the Tuxedo Park community. “Anybody who has put on a tuxedo or who has an interest in the garment knows it denotes influence and affluence,” said Tuxedo Historical Society Executive Director Deborah Harmon. “But in America, it’s not just something the upper class wear. It symbolizes what we wear to special events.” Project 'takes on life of its own’ The exhibit, designed by the London College Fashion (LCF), one of the world’s leading providers of fashion education, has already been extended through Nov. 6 and will be the only U.S./North American showing. The exhibit recently completed its London tour and will travel to Brazil, India and Japan in 2012 for its only other installations. The exhibit’s significance, she added, is on par with the Smithsonian’s permanent exhibit of First Ladies’ inaugural gowns because of its importance to the fashion world, culture and historical connections. Harmon said the college purposely declined having a New York City locale “to collaborate in the celebration but rather turned to the community where it all began.” The college contacted the historical society last February to ask it to be its American partner in the exhibit that would team LCF tailoring students with internationally renowned Savile Row tailor Henry Poole & Co. and French fabric supplier Dormeuil on a project to re-invent the Tuxedo for the 21st century, according to Harmon. Digital slide show At the historical society, Harmon said, visitors will have the opportunity “to chart the tuxedo” from its invention by London’s Henry Poole & Co. in 1860 to its first being worn in domestically by Tuxedo Club members to “the legendary status that is has today as the gentleman’s choice of attire for significant events.” “Re-inventing” the tuxedo for the 21st century were a group of LCF honors tailoring students partnered with actors from the Drama Centre at LCF’s Sister College Central Saint Martin’s to create tailor-made tuxedos. Students vied in a competition to choose the best design with the winner receiving an internship with Henry Poole & Co. To illustrate the creative process, a documentary and black and white fashion short film have been produced. Both will are on view to THS visitors. Additionally, several examples from the LCF student tuxedo design competition as well as black and white portraits especially commissioned for the project are also on display. The historical society is also displaying vintage formal wear from its own collection as well as diverse objects that chose the word “tuxedo” as a marketing tool. The group is also seeking photos of Tuxedo wearers throughout the years for its archive and will be showing many of them in a digital slide show throughout the exhibition. “We have marveled at how a Native American word for the lake in our town so quickly came to evoke quality and sophistication,” said Harmon. “We’re also working with LCF for a permanent formal wear exhibit here. This project has taken on a life of its own and the interest has been tremendous. This is a blockbuster show.” If you go To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the tuxedo, the Tuxedo Historical Society presents: “The Little Black Jacket - Celebrating 150 Years of the Tuxedo.” Due to its popularity, the exhibit has already been extended to run through Sunday, Nov. 6 Admission is free. Hours: Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday: 1 to 5 p.m. Friday: 3 to 7 p.m. Special showings can be arranged for schools and other groups. The historical society is located off of Route 17 at 7 Hospital Road (the former Methodist Church) in Tuxedo Park. To learn more, call 351-2926 or e-mail to: We suggested that they have a New York City venue to get more traffic, but they said they didn’t want to do that. They told us 'you are the organic root of the name in the United States. We would not be calling it the tuxedo had it not been for members of the Tuxedo Club. We’d be calling it something else. Short dress jacket is not a catchy marketing phrase.’” Deborah Harmon, Tuxedo Historical Society executive director Have you worn a tuxedo? TUXEDO — A tuxedo or dinner suit/dinner jacket is a semi-formal suit distinguished primarily by satin or grosgrain facings on the jacket’s lapels and buttons and a similar stripe along the outseam of the trousers. The suit is typically black and commonly worn with a formal shirt, shoes and other accessories, most traditionally in the form prescribed by the black tie dress code. The tuxedo’s history dates from 1860, when Henry Poole & Co. (Savile Row’s founders), created a short smoking jacket for the Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII, to wear to informal dinner parties. In the summer of 1886 the prince invited New York millionaire James Potter to his Norfolk hunting estate. When Potter asked for a dinner dress recommendation, he sent Potter to his tailors, Henry Poole & Co., in London, to obtain the new style of jacket. Potter then brought the dinner suit home with him to Tuxedo Park Club, a newly established residential country club for New York’s elite. The dinner suit proved popular; the club men copied him, soon making it their informal dining uniform. According to second-hand sources dating back to the 1930s, the coat style was then adopted by New York society when Griswold Lorillard, son of one of the Tuxedo Park founders, wore it to the wealthy enclave’s 1886 Autumn Ball. Other accounts say the jacket’s American debut is one provided by Grenville Kane, one of the original founders of Tuxedo Park. His explanation is that the club’s members began to wear the jacket in public when they would dine in public in New York City and that curious onlookers came to associate the jacket with the club’s name. Following World War II the tuxedo began to take on traits that deviated from the strict black-and-white interpretation maintained by the black tie dress code. Color, texture and pattern became increasingly popular in warm-weather jackets to the point where Americans associated the term dinner jacket solely with these separates rather than as a general synonym for tuxedo. Beginning in the 1980s tuxedo jackets increasingly took on traits of the business suit such as two- and three-button styling, flap pockets and center vents. Most notably, the notch lapel had become the most common lapel style by the turn of the millennium. The most popular uses of the tuxedo in North America are for weddings, proms and formal nights on cruises and even for formal fund-raising events. Source: Compilations from