Pierre Lorillard IV
The story, as I first heard it, was that tobacco mogul Pierre Lorillard ‘invented’ the tuxedo when he decided to cut off the bothersome tails of his dinner jacket before attending the 1886 autumn ball held at the Tuxedo Park Club. Although this supposedly caused an uproar among the other guests, the shortened jacket style soon caught on and was christened the “tuxedo”. It turns out that although some of the facts have been
rearranged and distorted as this story moved into the category of an urban legend, much of it is based on fact.
As the great-grandson and namesake of the founder of America’s oldest tobacco company, Pierre Lorillard IV inherited a 13,000 acre estate around Tuxedo Lake in Orange County, N Y and in 1885 developed it into a luxury retreat for himself and his wealthy friends. Lorillard hired famed architect Bruce Price to design the Tuxedo Park Club and several “cottages” on the magnificently landscaped grounds. Included among the other Tuxedo Park co-founders was William Waldorf Astor, Grenville Kane (Director of the Erie Railroad) and Mr. James Potter Brown.
It turns out that it was Potter Brown who, on a trip to England, had first noticed a short formal dinner jacket being worn by the Prince of Wales. He inquired of the young royal where he might have one made for himself and the prince directed him to his Saville Row tailor. The American businessman then promptly had a copy made which he brought back to Tuxedo Park. The new style was an instant hit with his neighbors and all in turn had their tailors make copies for themselves. It was so popular with the group that they wore it virtually everywhere they went to dinner even in to town. When other diners at such exclusive haunts as Delmonico’s in Manhattan inquired about the new style, they were told “that is what they are wearing in Tuxedo Park” and before long, the new jacket had its’ name. Ironically, the men from Tuxedo Park disliked the term and never referred to it as a “tuxedo”.
Although the gentlemen of Tuxedo Park were greatly enamored with the new style formal jacket, the younger set saw all of this as silly slavishness to fashion and on an October night in 1886, they set about to deflate it all. Pierre Lorillard’s youngest son, Griswold and his rambunctious, young cohorts came upon the idea of lampooning the new English-style jackets at the annual Autumn Ball and herein lies the basis for the urban legend which grew up around the “invention” of the tuxedo that night. The Autumn Ball was considered a major social event at Tuxedo Park and required formal tailcoats be worn by all the gentlemen. However, young Griswold and his friends decided to lop off the tails of their dress coats, and, sporting scarlet waistcoats underneath, waltzed into the grand ballroom to the sheer astonishment of all present. Although all of this was meant as a joke, the next day, newspapers in New York headlined the story and condemned the young pranksters for their outrageous behavior. One reporter went so far as to suggest that the boys “ought to have been put in straightjackets long ago”. Today, all of this grave attention to the incident seems a bit over the top but the legend of the tuxedo lives on.