Tux Britannia

Britannia_Tuxedo

The British “Tuxedo”: contradiction or evolution?

I had a glimpse into the current state of black tie in England when I received the latest copy of Square Mile, a lifestyle magazine aimed at the professionals working in London’s financial centre.  The Autumn/Winter Style Special features dinner suits in two ads, one article and a title page and even as the prize in a reader contest.  The prominence and conservative styling of the formal suit seems to bode well for its status in London.   The magazine’s referral to the garment as a tuxedo and tux, though, may herald a darker future for its traditional dinner moniker.

When I first researched comparative formalwear terminology in 2006, British formalwear Web sites rarely employed the American label except in occasional references to white jackets.  Since that time a number of rental (“hire”) sites have been using the Americanism either interchangeably with conventional English wording or exclusively. Some, like My Tuxedo and Johnny Tuxedo, have gone so far as to incorporate it into their business’ name.

mytuxedo2

English online formalwear retailer MyTuxedo adopted its current name in 2006, three years after the original company was established.

Curious as to the reasoning behind this linguistic development, I contacted Johnny Tuxedo’s managing director.  An enthusiastic Austen Pickles was more than happy to share the three primary considerations behind the newly formed company’s marketing plan:

First, we have focussed the brand on the 16-25 year old school/college/uni guy, giving him the wardrobe for his prom/uni dinner/grad ball etc. Our pre-launch research showed that, even in the UK, this guy will associate with the word tuxedo rather than dinner suit. Also the whole ‘prom’ idea is North American and so using the American word seemed appropriate.

Second, we did a bit of digging into its history. It appears that in the UK the word tuxedo was first used to describe this heroic suit in 1889, 3 years before any mention of a ‘dinner suit’. I guess if we have been talking about tuxedos in the UK for 124 years, we aren’t breaking too many rules calling our brand Johnny Tuxedo!!

Having said all that, the biggest reason is that the name ‘Johnny Tuxedo’ was such a hit with our team that we couldn’t resist it! Who would want a Dave or Derek Dinner Suit after all?!

While the historical justification offered by Mr. Pickles is stretched a bit thin (my research shows that dinner jacket first appeared in Britain two years prior to 1889 and has been by far the preferred term since then) his company’s contemporary findings are very illuminating.  It certainly makes sense for a business to speak to its demographic in the language they use among themselves.

Even the venerable Henry Poole & Co use “tuxedo” to headline their Web page dedicated to their proud claim of having produced the very first dinner jacket.

Even the venerable Henry Poole & Co use tuxedo to headline their Web page that proudly stakes their claim as the makers of the very first dinner jacket.

But what does the esteemed English tailoring establishment think of today’s youth casting aside 125 years of the country’s sartorial tradition in favour of American lingo?

“The English language has always been under attack from an influx of American terms and spellings,” says James Sherwood, author of Savile Row: The Master Tailors of British Bespoke.  “Now we’re being attacked from within with a whole new generation using text and Twitter abbreviations.”  Mr. Sherwood is vehemently opposed to American spellings and terms and believes that “the nation who first cut the dinner jacket has the right to call their name for it the correct one.”

Savile Row tailors Henry Herbert aren’t as alarmed.  The company utilizes only conventional vocabulary on their web site and spokesman William Field thinks that if it is ever replaced it would be a gradual process over a long period of time.  However, he admits that “Yes, it would be a shame. We are proud of our history and traditions as bespoke tailors.”

6 Comments

  1. Arend Hamming

    There is a very different reason to use Tuxedo…. As a single unique word it works better in search engines! This makes it easier for the public to find a shop, inspiration or information. I advise you to use the word abundantly on your website! !!

    Reply
  2. Hal

    Tuxedo has become increasingly common as a term in the UK. It isn’t just those hiring a suit for their prom either (another term that has arrived from the US recently replacing dances or discos). Some of my friends – late 30s – call a dinner jacket a tuxedo too. On the web, I see references to tuxedos on British sites more frequently than I see the term dinner jacket.

    I don’t think the dinner jacket is dead though. Most people still understand it and use it interchangeably with tuxedo and in my experience the more frequently people wear one the more likely they are to use the term dinner jacket.

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      Thanks for the additional insight Hal.

      Reply
    2. Arend Hamming

      Not dead. But slowly becoming less common maybe? American TV shows and movies in combination with the not to be underestimated advantages of using tuxedo on the internet, must form a potent threat to dinner jacket.

      For those that dislike the development, remember that in my country, The Netherlands, it’s called a smoking as if it’s only purpose is for an after dinner cigar in the smoke room :-s And i have yet to hear the first Dutchman use the word tuxedo…

      Reply
  3. BW_UK

    Hmm. Interesting. As far back as I can remember, the dinner jacket was always abbreviated and referred to simply as one’s “DJ” or, more formally, “black tie.”

    “Tuxedo” still strikes me as a much more North American term. I don’t dislike it (after all, it has it’s own legitimate historical roots) but it’s just not a term I’ve ever heard used with any frequency in the UK.

    Reply
  4. Andrew

    Sadly just another example of Britain losing its’ way. I’m not a xenophobe but the British are their own worst “enemy”

    Reply

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