Sometimes the freedom of choice that a man takes for granted in life exists no more, when tradition and customs prevail, and rightly so. Situations where the choice is narrowed to one, when the only answer is to wear a tuxedo.
An evening suit for men whose birthright places it in the highest echelons of a man’s wardrobe, the formal and ceremonial section. Composed of a single-breasted jacket with satin lapels and trousers with matching satin stripes along the outside leg seams, it demands a shirt with a detachable shirtfront, cufflink sleeves and a bowtie shirt collar. A pair of patent leather shoes add the final polish to the whole ensemble, which, except for the obligatory white shirt, is all black.
Nevertheless, a man can take comfort in the range of tuxedos on offer, choosing his model according to cut, nuance and fabric. The more classical models are the “Deauville”, which has just one button and a shawl collar, and the “Capri”, which can have either one or two buttons and pointed lapels.
But when did the tuxedo first make its appearance? Several authoritative sources trace the first version to 1865, when Henry Poole & Co., a London tailor with historical roots in Saville Row, created it for an illustrious client, the Prince of Wales, who later ascended the British throne as Edward VII. However, other sources indicate that the tuxedo made its debut in 1880, probably at the famous casino synonymous with the Monegasque city of Monte Carlo. So, just as the tuxedo is enveloped in a haze of smoke, also the way that this particular suit is referred to in the different parts of the world may create confusion.
Especially in Italy and France, where the tuxedo is called a “smoking”, a famous example of which is the acclaimed “Le Smoking”, the seductive female tux designed by Yves Saint Laurent in 1966, immortalised by Helmut Newton in a black-and-white photo of a mysterious and androgynous model smoking a cigarette in a Parisian alley. But this often gets mixed up with a smoking jacket, a lounging jacket traditionally worn after dinner to protect the suit from the smell of cigar smoke.
In British English the correct term for a tuxedo is dinner jacket.
In the United States and other English-speaking countries across the pond, the term tuxedo is used in honour of a certain James Potter, an American gentleman who, so the chronicles of history have it, was the first to wear this epitome of elegance at a fateful evening in 1886 at the Tuxedo Park Country Club in New York. Also called by its shorter form of tux, the word tuxedo has now become current usage in Great Britain.
The tuxedo: let’s uphold tradition and wear it on those special occasions when nothing else is acceptable, even if we usually ignore the dictates and demands of fashion. But is there room to bend the rules just a little bit, to send a cheeky message of rebellion, while still respecting tradition? Well, here’s one suggestion: wear a flower in your buttonhole, any flower will do as long as its white. A small transgression, given that tradition dictates that a white flower should only and exclusively adorn the lapel of a tailcoat.
For a list of boutiques select from the following:
Gieves & Hawkes
Gieves & Hawkes, epitome of traditional tailoring
The Pal Zileri made-to-measure label