Friday, December 31, 2010


By Polly Guerin, Fashion Historian

Ever wonder what to wear come the holiday season? In short order, borrow from the men! No, I am not suggesting that you go out and purchase a formal tuxedo, but rather to adapt its timeless appeal in modified versions. The tuxedo, casually referred to as a “tux,” is a timeless classic that translates easily into women’s wear, and it’s a spiffy way to look sophisticated and chic. Fashion designers have interpreted the tuxedo in a variety of ways that makes the style ready for any black tie event. Even show Biz personalities, like Josephine Baker and Marlene Dietrich adopted the “tux” to give that androgynous style to their stardom. The idea wearing black and dressing up for evening events is truly an American inspiration.


A fashionable, nipped in the waist tuxedo jacket with satin lapels, is like a short black blazer. Worn with a red glitter bustier underneath and skin curving velvet tights it cuts a dashing figure at a cocktail party. When the occasion is even more casual, wear the jacket over denim pants. The bolero style, like a waiter’s short tux jacket has youthful flair when worn with Capri pants. This short tux also pairs well, as does the classic tux jacket, with a white satin blouse and a long; side slit velvet or satin skirt for theatre or opera events. Either jacket worn with black, chiffon palazzo pants is hostess staple.


In early 1800s most gentlemen at that time dressed in a traditional white tie and tails, and it wasn’t until the late 1800’s that the “black dinner jacket” became fashionable. In the summer of 1886 James Brown Potter, went to England on vacation with his wife Cora and met the Prince of Wales at a court ball in London. The Prince invited them both to visit him at Sandringham, his sprawling 11,000-acre estate in Norfolk. James Brown Potter had no idea how to dress for dinner. So asked the Prince of Wales for his advice who put him in touch with his own Saville Row in London, Henry Poole & Co. where he was fitted with a short black blazer, which was quite an innovation from the formal “tails” of the time.


At an autumn ball, October 1886, in the tony enclave of Tuxedo Park, New York, the guests at the Tuxedo Club were confronted by an unexpected shock. At that time, men’s formal dress consisted of the traditional white tie and tails. However, the Lorillard family, tobacco magnates and members of Tuxedo Park’s high society changed men’s formal wear with riveting results. Legend has it that Pierre Lorillard’s son Griswold and his spunky friends dressed up for Ball in striking red vests and the standard black dinner jacket with tails, and then cut off the tails. The butchered new short jacket created a sensation at the Ball, and garnered unrivaled fashion publicity in the papers. The story of the Tuxedo spread like wildfire across the country and new formal fashion was born.

The new style eventually became known in society circles as “the Tuxedo,” obviously named after the Lorillard’s birthplace Tuxedo Park.♥

Polly Guerin honed her skills as a fashion writer at Women’s Wear Daily where her accessories columns dominated the Friday pages. She is a former professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Currently her historical “THE TALE OF TWO SISTERS,” will be featured in Vintage magazine’s fall/winter issue. Visit her at

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