Rhodri Marsden's Interesting Objects: The Tuxedo

No 30
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Indy Lifestyle Online

* This week in 1886, an autumn ball was held at the country club in Tuxedo Park, 40 miles north of Manhattan. Town Topics, a scandal sheet that breathlessly reported the errant behaviour of New York's elite, noted that 22-year-old Griswold Lorillard, the son of the club's owner, had shown up wearing a "tailless dress coat... looking for all the world like a royal footman". The writer, outraged by this breach of dress code, suggested that Griswold and his pals "ought to have been put in straitjackets long ago".

* Grizzy was actually taking the mick out of some older club members who had recently taken to wearing shorter dinner jackets to informal occasions. One of said members, the millionaire coffee magnate James Brown Potter, had spent time that summer at Sandringham with his wife, Cora, at the invitation of the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII). The Prince's fondness for this new style of jacket, made for him by Henry Poole of Savile Row and known as the homburg jacket, prompted Potter to place an order immediately.

* The jackets accompanied Potter on his return to Tuxedo. Cora, however, did not. She'd decided to forge a career as an actress and remain in London, much to Potter's fury. He may have derived solace, however, from becoming a trendsetter; he and his friends began wearing the new jacket to restaurants in New York City such as Delmonico's.

* A few weeks after the autumn ball, Cora sent a letter to her husband. "Let Tuxedo go," she wrote. "I cannot live there with those stiff-necked people." The New York Times reported their divorce on the grounds of Cora's "wilful desertion" on 5 June, 1900, by which time the jacket, now known as the tuxedo, had become accepted by New York society.