The Not-So-Black-And-White History Of The Tuxedo

By Karen Harris
(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The tuxedo is a man's go-to outfit for weddings, proms, and evenings at the opera, but who's responsible for this uniquely stylish suit? It has something to do with the town of Tuxedo ("crooked river" or "crooked water" in the local native language), New York, but beyond that, the details are far murkier than the getup's crisp shades would let on.

James Brown Potter

It's possible that the tuxedo was popularized by a man named James Brown Potter (not to be confused with the father of soul or Harry Potter) of Tuxedo, New York after he was said to have encountered the future King Edward VII at a ball during a trip to England in summer 1886. The then–Prince of Wales was something of a fashion designer, so the story goes, and he boasted of a snug, short black jacket he'd designed based on contemporary British military uniforms that he insisted Potter simply must snag for himself. After getting suited up by the royal tailor at Henry Poole & Co. on Savile Row, Potter returned to New York and wore his new threads to that year's lavish Autumn Ball in the ritzy village of Tuxedo Park, where it was an instant hit and new disciples began calling it simply "the tuxedo."