Tuxedo Origins: Early Names

Part six of a series featuring newly discovered first-hand accounts of the tuxedo’s earliest appearances.

Rogers, Peet & Company ad, 1902

Rogers, Peet & Company ad, 1901

As is no doubt obvious by this point, there were many names for the new tailcoat substitute.  Here’s a summary of those names along with their origin dates as per my latest research:

  • the first term used in the US was “dress sack”, premiering in 1885 (although the coat it initially applied to is not necessarily what is considered the conventional dinner jacket)
  • “tailless dress coat” was another early American term, first appearing in 1886; it was often used interchangeably with other names
  • the first known term used in England was “dinner jacket” premiering in 1887
  • “dress lounge” debuted in England in 1888
  • “Cowes coat” was another English term that first appeared in 1888 although this is according to US sources as I did not find it in actual British periodicals
  • 1888 was also the year that “Tuxedo” first appeared in the US (and was capitalized until the 1930s)

This updated etymology requires not only a revision of The Black Tie Guide but also of its related source, the authoritative Unabridged Oxford English Dictionary.  Granted, having found a printed occurrence of “tuxedo” dated one year earlier than the OED’s stated debut is not particularly earth shattering.  However, the appearance of “dinner jacket” five years prior to the OED’s 1891 claim is indeed significant, if only to formalwear purists previously irked that the colloquial American nickname apparently preceded the genteel British moniker.

Next installment: wrapping up the series with miscellaneous notions and sundries 

5 Comments

  1. Hal

    The 1902 ad lists ‘The Newport’ as a name too. Was that used elsewhere too?

    I presume it is an American version of the Cowes coat name – both being yatching destinations for the well heeled.

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      I have not come across any other reference to the jacket by this name. However, I do have a first-hand account of the dinner jacket being sighted in Newport in the summer of 1886 worn by “half a dozen boys barely out of bibs.” This is the earliest reference I’ve found to the conventional dinner jacket in the US, even earlier than the Tuxedo Park “tailless dress coat” accounts, so it is not surprising that some people would associate it with the seaside playground of the ultra wealthy.

      Reply
  2. Anis Habib

    Excellent, investigative reporting on the tuxedo origins!

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      Thank you. I feel very much like a detective sorting through heaps of raw data to find pieces of a puzzle then figuring out how those pieces go together. I have also been corresponding with representatives of Henry Poole and Co. and the Tuxedo Park archives which might yield further insights down the road . . .

      Reply
      1. Duncan Pike

        Indeed! This series has been a fantastic read. I’ve keenly anticipated each installment, and I’m certain I haven’t been the only one. I hope the book is going well, too, as I will be sure to buy a copy!

        Reply

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