Thursday, May 27, 2021

Tuxedo Junction, What's Your Function? - Men's Wear or Women's?


[Tuxedo Junction, Erskine Hawkins and his Orchestra, 1939.]

Surprisingly, perhaps, during the first few years of existence of the men’s fashion now known as a “Tuxedo,” the meaning of the word “Tuxedo” was in limbo; stuck at the junction between men’s formal wear and women’s informal wear.  Men’s wear won out in the end, but the earliest uses of “Tuxedo,” as the name of an item of clothing, are for women's active wear.

The “Tuxedo” jacket is widely believed to have been introduced at Tuxedo Park, New York in October of 1886.  See, for example, “125th Anniversary of the American Tuxedo, Part I: Origins,” Peter Marshall,

The style was not new, but borrowed from England where it had been known as the Cowes Coat.  The Prince of Wales is believed to have recommended the style to Edward Brown Potter in the summer of 1886, and he is believed to have worn it at Tuxedo Park’s first formal Ball in October of 1886.

The jacket was a “radical” departure in formal dinner wear in fashionable social circles in New York City at the time, where long tails had been de rigueur as evening dinner dress for a number of years.  The jacket came to be known as the “Tuxedo” due to its association with Tuxedo Park and its members who adopted the fashion.

The earliest reference to the jacket, by that name, however, does not appear in print until two years later.



The short coat has got to come!

It has been scoffed at and derided.  So eminent an authority as the major domo of the Grand Union Hotel ballroom at Saratoga, Summer before last, refused to permit that incontrovertible authority on all that is correct in attire, Mr. Evander Berry Wall, upon the dancing floor when he sprang the innovation upon his less tutored gaze.

This rebuff traveled the length and breadth of the land, and afforded solace to a large majority of the swells who had openly declared against it from the first.

Despite ridicule and hostility the curtailed dress coat has fought its way into a vacant niche in the gentleman’s wardrobe and may tritely but truly be described as filling a long felt want.

In England the new garment has been known for some time past as the “Cowes Coat,” and in this country it has taken the aristocratic title, the “Tuxedo.”

Clothier and Furnisher, Volume 18, Number 3, October 1888, page 29.

But during the intervening year, from as early as April 1887, the word “Tuxedo” took on a completely different meaning in the fashion world, as a trade name of women’s and girls’ sportswear manufactured by James McCreery & Co. of New York City.

Picturesque Suit for Out Door Sports.

Numbered with new costumes entirely original in design and very attractive in appearance is the Tuxedo suit, introduced this spring and especially adapted for out door exercises.  The Tuxedo is a regularly knitted costume, in which are employed the finest of worsted materials, showing contrasting colors.

The Richmond Item (Richmond, Indiana), April 21, 1887, page 3.

New York Tribune, May 24, 1887, page 10.

The “Tuxedo” is a complete costume, consisting of a full undraped skirt, a sash, a blouse waist, and a cap, all “regular knit” of the finest wool in a variety of colorings and in patterns to match throughout the costume. . . . lawn tennis, yachting, rowing, gymnasium, or athletic suit, for all out-door sports, and for mountain and seaside wear.

New York Sun, May 29, 1887, page 13.


Leslie’s Illustrated, August 27, 1887, page 31.

The Magazine of American History Illustrated, Volume 18, Number 2, Advertising supplement page 24.

The following year, McCreery sold an item of women’s sportswear named for another resort frequented by the sorts of people who also went to Tuxedo Park; the “Lenox Suit,” after Lenox Massachusetts, in the Berkshires.  The new suit appears to have been modeled on the “Tuxedo Suit.”

A most desirable dress for little girls for everyday wear is the knitted Lenox suit suggested by the Tuxedo suit.  They come with close fitting waist of one color, revers, sashes and skirt of another, and are very pretty dresses for school and general wear.  The combinations are cardinal and brown, navy and cardinal, with the colors reversed.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 8, 1888, page 1.

The new name for the similar model may have been a reaction to the name “Tuxedo” becoming more familiar as a name for men’s formal wear, as opposed to women’s active wear.   

But nevertheless, they were still selling the girls’ version of the “Little Tuxedo Suit” two years later, alongside the “Lenox Suit” and the “Atlantic Bathing Suit.”

“The Little Tuxedo Suit.”

“Lenox Suit No. 1.”

“Ladies’ and Misses’ Lenox Suit No. 2.”

“The Atlantic Bathing Suit.”

Catalog: Information Regarding Knitted Suits, 1890, James McCreery & Co.


In 1904, you could buy McCreery’s “Lenox” “pedestrienne suit” at Filene’s in Boston – but no ladies’ “Tuxedo.”

McCreery’s “’Lenox’ pedestrienne suit” (far left) at Filene’s, Boston.  The Boston Globe, October 2, 1904, page 29.

The association of the name "Tuxedo" with formal men's wear and athletic women's wear may not have come as a surprise to the cartoonist for Puck magazine who portrayed a couple at home at Tuxedo Park a few months before McCreery introduced his women's "Tuxedo suit."  The cartoon plays off the then-prevalent stereotype of the men at Tuxedo Park as "Dudes"; wealthy, weak, lazy Anglophiles.  

[See, for example, my earlier posts, "Dude, Dodos and Fopdoodles" and "Knickerbocker Dudes."] 

Many of the class of people who joined the Tuxedo Park club were also among the sorts of people who had been labeled "Dudes" a few years earlier.  The cartoon places a Tuxedo Park husband in a traditionally feminine, inactive role, and his wife in a traditionally athletic, masculine role.  She invites him to go on a hunt with her; he declines, preferring to stay home to do the sewing.

Mrs. J. Rodolph Smithley. - My dear, will you not join us in the bag to-day?  You haven't been out with us this week.

Mr. J. Rodolph Smithley. - No - aw - thanks, me deah; really - aw - cawnt.  Must stay 't home to do the - aw - sewing, you know.

 Puck, Volume 20, Number 518, February 9, 1887, page 393.

Activities suited to wearing McCreery's "Tuxedo" and "Lenox" suits. 1890.