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.
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.
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.”