Late Victorian (1880s, '90s)
Period etiquette guides noted that Frenchmen would often
dress to formal daytime weddings.
Master and Servant
1891 Punch cartoon
use of the tailcoat in the livery of waiters and
servants caused much confusion by the 1880s. Demand arose
for a radical redesign of evening wear according to historian
Brent Shannon. In response, a fashion journalist wrote in 1900 that "If a
gentleman is a gentleman, no one is likely to mistake him for a
waiter, and if he is not a gentleman, what does it matter if the
mistake is made?"
► The Henry Poole & Co Dinner Jacket Prototype
Henry Poole & Co's original ledger entry for the Prince's dinner jacket
prototype can be seen in this CBS
Sunday Morning report on the origin of the tuxedo.
The record is also reproduced in Alan Flusser's 2002 book
Dressing the Man.
The Smoking Jacket
1868 pattern for smoking jacket of
brown velvet with blue cashmere trim.
Introduced around 1850, the smoking jacket was a shawl collared,
double- or single-breasted coat that men
traded with their tailcoat after dinner when
leaving the ladies for drinks and cigars. The jacket
ensured that their evening coat would not be
burned by ashes nor absorb the smell of tobacco
which the women found distasteful.
What’s in a Name:
Tuxedo Park's Tuxedo Club, home to the annual Autumn Ball.
The village of Tuxedo Park takes its name from a Native
American word which, according to most sources, means either "place of the bear" or
flowing water", "Bear" being the name of an Indian chief who
ruled the region. Likely in reference to its geographic namesake, the noun "tuxedo" was capitalized
from its inception in the late 1880s until the 1930s.
its early English names, the
new jacket also became
known as a “Monte Carlo” on the Continent
(particularly in the French Riviera) and a "smoking" in
France and many other European countries, the latter
term attesting to the coat's smoking jacket
Quebec francophones prefer the
more casual "tuxedo".
Youth Formal Wear
Victorian boys' dress clothes prior to the dinner jacket.
According to The Complete Bachelor,
by 1896 the dinner jacket was being worn by boys
from the ages of 12 to
17 at which point they
were considered old enough to "assume the toga
aka the tailcoat.
Late Victorian Era (Pt 1): Dinner Jacket
Evening dress is the proper attire, winter or summer,
on all occasions after candlelight.
There are two kinds of evening dress, formal
as it is sometimes vulgarly called) and informal.
Complete Bachelor (1896)
The last two decades of the
nineteenth century saw the continuation of many of the themes of the
earlier Victorian era.
In particular, England continued to dominate men’s
fashion and dress codes became increasingly precise.
At the same time, casual developments in day wear began to
creep into conservative evening attire setting the stage for the
two-tier dress code we know today.
Evening Dress Code
The division of
the social day remained as strict as ever:
the dinner hour marked
the end of “morning” pastimes and the beginning of evening
Consequently, polite society was expected to change into
evening dress before dining so that they may be prepared for any
function they might attend afterward.
Also as before, evening dress
was not to be seen prior to the seven or eight o’clock evening meal.
Considering how often American etiquette authorities harped
on this rule it appears that their countrymen still could not grasp
that the only formal attire acceptable for daylight was morning
Sundays continued to be an
exception to the full-dress rule as polite society dressed more
modestly on these evenings. And
it was still best to avoid the custom altogether among groups who
considered it an affectation. This included the middle
classes, according to one British manual, who often viewed it as
legitimate only for special occasions.
New to American etiquette
guides of the late nineteenth century was an allowance for less
formal attire when appropriate.
Full dress remained mandatory for gentlemen at the most
formal of evening affairs – weddings, the
and formal dinners – but was now optional
for social calls, small gatherings and public entertainments where ladies chose to forego
full dress. In these latter
situations it was acceptable, even appropriate, to follow the
women’s lead and opt for morning dress instead.
English gentry were also
seeking an informal alternative to full dress but had no intention
of appearing in day wear after candlelight.
Instead, they modified existing evening dress by replacing its
most impractical aspect with a more comfortable alternative.
Evening Lounge Jacket
Just as the tailcoat had
evolved from country riding attire to town day wear and finally to
formal evening wear, so too did its substitute begin life on
horseback. During the Victorian era Britons and Americans were
becoming more active in outdoor recreation such as shooting, riding
and walking and they required more comfortable clothing for their
new pastimes. As a
result, English tailors in the 1850s produced the short
(the predecessor of today's suit jacket)
to provide men with more freedom of movement than the long frock
coats and morning coats customarily worn during the day.
Eventually the lounge jacket
found its way indoors
as a smoking jacket when country squires had it made from the same
soft velvet as their dressing gowns
so it could absorb the odor of cigars that were smoked after
dinner once the ladies had retired. “After this,” writes
menswear historian Nicholas Antongiavanni, “it was a short step for
them to ask that it be made in black wool, with tailcoat trimmings,
so that it was dignified enough to be worn in the dining room.”
new dining jacket's legitimacy was assured when it was adopted by Queen Victoria’s eldest son, the Prince of Wales,
who had a penchant for elegant but comfortable clothes.
In 1865 legendary Savile Row tailors Henry Poole & Co. provided the
Edward VII with an early prototype which their Web site
explains was worn for informal dinner parties at his Sandringham country estate. According to the
company's original ledgers the Prince commissioned "a blue silk smoking jacket"
and trousers of a matching fabric.
Another version of
the Prince's first encounter with the tailcoat alternative is
proffered by menswear historian Nicholas Storey:
According to Lord Dupplin, his
ancestor the late Victorian Lord Dupplin was a good friend of the
Prince of Wales and, after one Season, he was invited onboard the
Royal Yacht. He consulted the tailor Henry Poole over what to wear
and an early version of the dinner jacket resulted. Apparently, he
was lightly ribbed over it - but the Prince of Wales adopted the
style for informal events the next Season and so, naturally, it
started to catch on.
Regardless of how or when
the Prince discovered the evening jacket, we do know that
he was in the habit of wearing it by the summer of 1886
as that is when history records its introduction to an
impressible American dinner guest.
The only known record of the jacket's export from England is an
essay from the Tuxedo Park archives about an 1886 summer
visit to that country by
two of its residents, millionaire coffee broker
James Brown Potter and his actress wife Cora. Upon being
introduced to the couple at a court ball, the womanizing Prince of Wales was
apparently taken with Cora’s renowned beauty and invited the couple
to dinner at
When Mr. Potter asked his host for advice on what to wear for such an
occasion, the Prince referred him to his tailors Henry Poole & Co to
be fitted for a short evening jacket.
Mr. Potter then brought the innovation back home to
Tuxedo Park, a
private residential country club established a year prior by a group
of prominent New Yorkers.
The dinner jacket's
subsequent introduction to the nation at large
can be definitively traced to Tuxedo Park thanks to its popular
American name but the specifics of its premier have long been
clouded by sartorial lore.
The confusion originates from an 1886 article in the society newspaper Town Topics which reported that
of one of the Tuxedo Park founders, showed
up to the wealthy enclave's Autumn Ball that year wearing “a
tailless dress coat and waistcoat of scarlet satin, looking for all
the world like a royal footman”. According
to second-hand sources dating back to at least the 1930s, the coat style was
then adopted by
Society as the
popular evening jacket we know today.
In actual fact, the Town
Topics article has been misinterpreted
because the “dress coat”
mentioned was a period reference to the tailcoat.
the removal of the tails from a coat that is cut above the waist, worn
open in front and fitted tightly would
have produced the equivalent of a
mess jacket sported by military officers and aforementioned royal
servants. It certainly
would not have resembled a dinner jacket which is cut below the seat,
designed to be buttoned in front and loosely
The true story of the dinner
jacket's broader debut can be found in another
the Tuxedo Park
archives. According to the last surviving
founder of the club, the public introduction was a low-key affair much more
befitting of the jacket's aristocratic status:
Eventually, after wearing the new
jacket for dinner in Tuxedo, some of the early members were bold
enough to wear it one evening at a bachelor dinner at Delmonico’s,
the only place in New York where gentlemen dined in public at that
time. Needless to say, the other diners at
Dell’s were astonished, and when they asked
what it was the men in short coats had on, they were told, “Oh that
is what they wear for dinner up in Tuxedo”. Hearing Tuxedo
mentioned, the curious diners quite naturally starting calling the
new jacket by that name.
Dual Identity: "Dinner Jacket" vs. "Tuxedo"*
Which brings us to a bone of
contention for black-tie purists: its proper name. Despite over a century of
insistence by etiquette and sartorial experts that tuxedo is less
correct than dinner jacket,
the fact is that the
latter term did not appear until a couple of years
after the supposed nickname did. Specifically, the Oxford
English Dictionary cites the first written reference to tuxedo in
the August 1889 issue of Sartorial Arts Journal while the first
recorded appearance of dinner jacket is dated to
Gerard: or, The World, the Flesh and the
the OED is incorrect; the use of "dinner jacket"
actually dates back to at least 1844 but it originally referred to a
The misconception about the
catchy term's legitimacy likely stems from the fact that it was
adopted largely by the American general public whereas the more
refined dinner moniker was preferred by the American elite and, of
course, the British.
Regardless of its name, the
new evening jacket caught on quickly among the fashionable upper
classes and by the late 1880s was appearing in haberdasher
publications and menswear catalogs on both sides of the
Atlantic. Following closely on the garment’s
expanding popularity were corresponding rules for where and how it
was to be worn.
matter of "where" was
fairly cut and dry:
only in the most casual of settings. As its early British name implied, the
dress lounge was very much an informal alternative to the
tailcoat just as its daytime progenitor
was formally inferior to the long morning coat or frock coat. As such,
it initially had no place in mixed company where women
were dressed in their full evening finery
and was appropriate only for socializing amongst other men.
But sartorial conventions
soon changed as the middle class developed a distinct and casual
fashion sense thanks to the
availability of mass-produced clothing and the craze for all things
Whether they were unaware of the formal rules of dress or simply
didn't care, the late Victorian bourgeoisie routinely broke them until their transgressions
became the norm. Occasion-specific clothing
became less common as the lounge suit replaced morning dress during
the day and the new evening jacket increasingly usurped the
tailcoat. The trend is evident in
the 1897 English conduct manual Manners for Men:
The dinner jacket has very
largely superseded the dress-coat for home wear and at dinners in
houses where one is a familiar guest.
It is occasionally seen at the play, too, but it would be
incorrect to wear it when accompanying ladies.
Etiquette is not now nearly so strict as it used to be in the
matter of evening dress
in the stalls, private boxes, and dress circle of the theatres.
I think this is rather to be deplored but the wave of
democracy that has poured over society of late has left its impress
in this as in other matters.
The 1896 book
The Complete Bachelor: Manners for Men
tells a similar story from an American
The dinner coat . . .
is the badge of informality. Formerly it was worn only at the
club and small stag dinners and on occasions when ladies were not
present. Now it is in vogue during the summer at hotel hops,
small informal parties to the play, at bowling parties, restaurant
dinners, and, in fact, any occasion not formal.
Explaining the "how" of wearing a dinner jacket
centered upon the recognition of two distinct categories for evening
Formal evening dress was defined as a black tailcoat and trousers,
black or white waistcoat, white bow tie, white dress shirt, white
dress gloves and black patent leather shoes.
In both Britain and America this was the only evening
kit that now qualified as full dress.
Informal evening dress differed from formal
"in the wearing
of the Tuxedo or dinner coat in place of the ‘swallowtail’",
explained The Complete Bachelor, "and the
substitution of a black silk for a white lawn tie."
In addition, "White evening
waistcoats and Tuxedo coats do not agree; black is only allowable.”
The essence of modern White
Tie and Black Tie was now firmly established. Or at least it
was in conduct manuals. In practice,
the distinction between formal and informal evening attire
would take some time to catch up with the theory.
American version of evening dress, circa 1890.
In America morning dress became acceptable attire
for informal evenings.
Edward, Prince of Wales in 1866:
unofficial royal patron of the dinner jacket.
1888 "dress jacket":
The British solution to the informal evening
Turn-of-the-century diners at Delmonico's, home
of the dinner jacket's (actual) American debut.
1894 "full dress suit" and
the new "Tuxedo"
from a Chicago department store advertisement.