Tuxedo Park was the epicentre of New York’s social calendar each fall, the highlight of which was the Tuxedo Club’s Autumn Ball. This prestigious affair marked the beginning of debutante season and the very first occurrence in 1886 is also said to have witnessed the American debut of the dinner jacket. While the date of the inaugural ball has been widely reported since the 1950s as being October 10, this was a Sunday and throwing a lavish party on the Lord’s Day would have been a serious breach of propriety in that era. (In fact, entry to the Park was actually prohibited on Sundays which means no visitors could have attended the ball even if they wanted to.) Instead, a review of period newspaper reports reveals that the date was actually Friday October 15.
As I reported in my previous post, Tuxedo Park fell on hard times after the Great Depression. One of the unfortunate consequences was the cancellation of the prestigious ball in 1971. It remained nothing more than a memory of bygone glory until a fortuitous set of circumstances arose in 2011.
In that year the London College of Fashion partnered with Savile Row tailors Henry Poole & Co to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the dinner jacket’s creation. The College’s students were tasked to reinterpret the tuxedo for the modern age and the best creations were displayed first in London then in selected cities around the world. The first stop on the tour was Tuxedo Park where the Tuxedo Historical Society cannily revived the Autumn Ball as a glitzy launch for the exhibit’s run as well as a fundraiser for their own organization. The affair was sponsored by Armani and attended by the owners of Henry Poole, members of the fashion industry, students from the college, and residents of Tuxedo Park.
The 2011 ball was such a success that it was decided to continue the tradition, albeit every three years in light of the substantial amount of work involved. And so the Historical Society once again partnered with the London College of Fashion to display students’ work at the next ball in 2014. This time the travelling exhibit, titled “Art of Dress”, consisted of modern interpretations of women’s dresses.
At the time that the event was being planned in 2013 I happened to be corresponding with Deborah Harmon, executive director of the Tuxedo Historical Society. She was impressed with the amount of detail I had recently unearthed on the connection between Tuxedo Park and the eponymous jacket and asked if I would like to attend the ball and give a presentation on the evening prior.
So it was that a year later I found myself dressing up in our Tuxedo Park guesthouse for a trip back in time. My husband Brandon opted for the glamorous old-school take on black tie with his Brooks Brothers detachable collar shirt and full-dress waistcoat underneath his grosgrain peaked-lapel suit. I went with the trusty Rat Pack look for reasons of practicality and sentimentality. Pragmatically, we wanted to avoid looking like twins and the only other distinctive option I had – my midnight-blue Black Lapel dinner suit – was out for repairs. Romantically, my trusty shawl-collar tuxedo has been a part of virtually every formal function I’ve attended since I began my black-tie journey a decade ago and it just seemed wrong to omit it from this historic occasion.
As usual, there were a few new accessories to debut with my kit. This time it was silk shoelaces, bona fide silk socks, and a Marcella shirt.
As for the affair itself, it was expectedly elegant but also refreshingly intimate as the Club’s ballroom only seats about 150 people when a band and a dance floor is factored in. The evening began at 7:00 with swank cocktails and a viewing of the featured dresses. Next came dinner accompanied by live music, then a few welcoming remarks and finally dancing to classic swing-time tunes. I have to say that the band really added to the sophistication of the evening and was a big hit with the guests who hit the floor the moment they noticed the upturn in tempo and volume.
I’m glad there was an official photographer on hand to document the evening (a New York “society photographer,” no less) because I still find it hard to believe it actually happened. It remains as surreal now as it did the day that I received the unexpected invitation. I am eternally grateful to Mrs. Harmon for providing the opportunity not only to live the experience but to also meet some truly wonderful residents of the legendary little village.