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The Tuxedo

In 1865, the Prince of Wales and future King Edward VII, known to his family and intimates as Bertie, asked his tailor and friend Henry Poole to cut a short celestial blue evening coat to be worn at informal dinners at Sandringham. No earlier reference to any similar garment has been found in the historic Henry Poole & Co ledgers, which date back to 1846—or the surviving ledgers of any other tailor or period illustration. This royal evening coat was the blueprint for what we now know in England as the dinner jacket.

 

The Americans christened the British DJ a tuxedo. The well-known story from the Tuxedo Park Club, north of New York City, offers the theory that a James Brown Potter met the Prince of Wales in 1886. The Prince had a notorious wandering eye, and it fell upon Brown’s devastatingly gorgeous wife, Cora. This frisson of Royal lust led to an invitation to dine and sleep at Sandringham. Potter, not knowing the form for a Royal informal evening, asked his tailor, Henry Poole, what he should wear. Poole answered with no little confidence that a short celestial blue evening coat was appropriate—because he had already made the very thing for the prince to wear at Sandringham.

 

The story continues that Potter ordered the short evening coat from Henry Poole and, on his return to the United States, introduced this new dinner jacket to the Tuxedo Club and New York’s fashionable social scene. Unfortunately, due to damage and loss, any record of an American customer named James Potter has disappeared from Henry Poole’s ledgers. However, the founding fathers of the Tuxedo Club, Messers William Waldorf Astor, Robert Goelet, Ogden Mills and Pierre Lorillard, are all well-documented as Poole customers in the 1860s, when Bertie first ordered his prototype dinner jacket. It is therefore more than likely that these social peacocks copied the Prince of Wales and introduced the dinner jacket to New York society (and subsequently the Tuxedo Club) a full twenty years before the apocryphal Potter incident. However it got to America, the tuxedo started at Henry Poole. Today, known by different terms around the world (to Germans, it is a ‘Smoking’), the Henry Poole dinner jacket, in black or midnight blue, remains the universal standard for men’s eveningwear.