The History Of Men’s Formal Wear
July 23rd, 2014
If you’ve found yourself in need of men’s formal wear at some point in your life, you’ve probably wondered who ever even came up with the idea. While it’s tough to say just exactly when formal dress became a requirement, there are some interesting facts regarding the history of men’s formal wear that will at least make for good reading.
The Invention of the Tuxedo
While historians debate who invented the tuxedo, they generally agree that one of two gentlemen are responsible for it. The first is King Edward VII, who ruled from 1901 to 1910. While the tuxedo certainly has British origins, here’s little evidence that suggests King Edward VII actually did much to contribute to the invention of the Tuxedo.
Most men’s formal wear experts agree that that distinction goes to one man – Pierre Lorillar, who wore the first documented tuxedo in October of 1886. His family was composed of wealthy tobacco magnates who owned a property known as Tuxedo Park.
When he wore his tailless black jacket to the event, it had never been seen before. He named it after his family’s country estate, and the fashion trend caught on rather quickly.
Men’s Formal Wear Before the Tuxedo
While the tuxedo was first seen in 1886, men’s formal wear dictated black suits long before. Edward Bulwer-Lyttonn, a British writer alive in the nineteenth century, is credited as having said in 1828 that only distinguished people look well in black.
Shortly after his statement made the rounds of high society, invitations began to declare that events were “black tie” affairs. From that point forward, the two phrases became eponymous.
What About King Edward VII?
If you’ve done any research on the origins of the tuxedo, you’ll notice that few ever provide any detail as to why King Edward VII receives any mention at all. Before he became the king, Edward was the Prince of Wales – in 1886, he met an individual known as James Brown Potter, who had an upcoming event for
which he wasn’t quite sure how to dress.
While Potter and the Prince of Wales were attending a court ball in London, they began conversing about the fashion trends of the time. Potter indicated he had to attend an event in just a few months at the Tuxedo club, and wasn’t quite sure what to wear.
The Prince referred potter to his personal tailor on Saville Rowe – Henry Poole & Co. – who provided potter a short black jacket and a black tie, which was completely unlike the formal wear popular in the United States.
The tailor gave credit for the design to the Prince (King Edward VII) who had been inspired by the uniforms worn by the British military during that time. When Potter returned to the Tuxedo club, Pierre Lorillard fell in love with it.
He had the suit modified by his own tailor and wore it to the autumn ball. That’s when he named it and the rest, as they say, is history.
What Does the History of Men’s Formal Wear Have to Do with Anything?
While the history of the tuxedo is interesting, you might be struggling to understand why it’s all that important. What it shows isn’t the creation of arbitrary rules of fashion that exist only to annoy and agitate men around the world.
Instead, it shows that formal fashion, as it stands today, is the culmination of hundreds of years of creativity. Men should see their opportunities to wear formal suits not as a necessary evil, but as a pleasant and enjoyable way to demonstrate their personality to the world.