Tuxedo Park Autumn Ball 2014: The Ball

Tuxedo_Ball_save_the_dateTuxedo 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.

A Tuxedo Club ball as illustrated in Harper’s Weekly.

A Tuxedo Club dance as illustrated in Harper’s Weekly in 1895.

Rear of the original Tuxedo Club designed by Bruce Price. (Museum of the City of New York)

Rear of the original Tuxedo Club designed by Bruce Price. (Museum of the City of New York)

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.

Henry Poole & Co owners  Angus and Simon Cundey at the 2011 Autumn Ball.  (Rich Donnelly)

Henry Poole & Co owners Angus and Simon Cundey at the 2011 Autumn Ball. (Rich Donnelly)

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.

Um, yeah.

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.

Our formal accoutrements laid out on the night of the ball, most important of which is the glass of 15-year-old Scotch.

Our formal accoutrements laid out on the night of the ball.  My personal favourite  is the glass of 15-year-old Scotch.

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.

The evening's program.

The evening’s program.

(Annie Watt)

A 1959 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith limousine and 1959 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud made for a perfect backdrop to the evening’s refinement. (Annie Watt)

(Annie Watt)

Lake Tuxedo at sunset as seen from the clubhouse. (Annie Watt)

(Annie Watt)

My husband and I with London College of Art students Daniel Pascal Tanner and Charlotte  Knowles. We thoroughly enjoyed the time spent with them at a number of events over the course of the weekend.  (Annie Watt)

(Annie Watt)

Equally charming was the company of our tablemates at dinner.  Here we are listening to the evening’s MC between courses. (Annie Watt)

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.

4 Comments

  1. CharlesM

    While fully recognizing the right to privacy of the guests at a private affair, might you care to venture an opinion as to the general state of contemporary vs classic dinner attire at the purported progenitor of it all?

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      You can see the attire for yourself at the official photographer’s site here and here. There were two things that stood out to me overall. First was that many if not most tuxedos had notched lapels. Secondly, as I learned long ago, wealth has nothing to do with sophistication. While some men with self-tied ties and well-fitting suits looked completely at home in their attire as you would expect of a millionaire, others looked as awkward as over-aged prom dates in their badly fitted, pre-tied, sophomorically accessorized formal wear (that includes jackets worn wide open and undersized wing collars). In general, though, the attire was very conservative especially considering that the dress code was “21st century black tie” which could easily be interpreted as an excuse to flaunt the traditional rules.

      Reply
  2. Hal

    It sounds like a great fun affair. It also seems particularly american to combine an event that might normally be seen as escapist entertainment – a dinner and dance ball – with a little bit of light learning and culture. It really isn’t something I could often see happening this side of the pond.

    Incidentally, did you ever cover the 2011 exhibition? What, if any, innovations in the world of dinner jackets did the students’ designs suggest?

    Reply
  3. Bill

    Noticed to look good in tux one has to maintain physically fit – another benefit from dressing formal.
    Unfortunately the trend is going informal. Ten years ago we used to have 2-3 black tie optional events a year, now only once, and this may even disappear in next ten yrs. People in Jos Bank and Mens Wearhouse are under educated in formal dressing, Brook’s Brother only slightly better, but the price is crazy.

    Reply

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