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Former US president Ronald Reagan toasting in a dinner suit, i.e., a tuxedo with peak lapels, turnover collar dress shirt with double cuffs, and a black bowtie

A tuxedo (American English), also called dinner jacket (in British English) or smoking (in many European languages) is a semi-formal black two- or three-piece suit for evening wear, distinguished primarily by satin or grosgrain jacket's lapels, and similar stripes along the outseam of the trousers.

As traditionally prescribed ever since the 20th century by the semi-formal Western dress code "black tie", the suit is typically black, midnight blue or white, worn with a white dress shirt with standing or turnover collar and link cuffs, black bowtie, black waist coat, black patent leather dress shoes, and other accessories.[1] The correct hat would be a semi-formal homburg, bowler, or boater hat.

The dinner jacket evolved in late 19th century out of the smoking jacket – originally 19th century informal evening wear without tails designated for more comfortable tobacco smoking – following the example of the then Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII (1841–1910). Thus in many non-English languages, it is known as a "smoking". In American English, its synonym "tuxedo" was derived from the town of Tuxedo Park in New York State, where it was first introduced following the example of Europeans.


Dinner jacket in the context of menswear first appeared in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland around 1887[2] and in the US around 1889.[3] In the 1960s it became associated in the United States with white or colored jackets specifically.[4]

Tuxedo in the context of menswear originated in the US around 1888.[5] It was named after Tuxedo Park, a Hudson Valley enclave for New York’s social elite where it was often seen in its early years. The term was capitalized until the 1930s and traditionally referred only to a white jacket.[6] When the jacket was later paired with its own unique trousers and accessories in the 1900s the term began to be associated with the entire suit.[7]

In French, Italian, Catalan, Portuguese, German, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, and other European languages the style is referred to with the pseudo-anglicism smoking (esmoquin). This generic colloquialism is a false friend deriving from its similarity with the 19th century smoking jacket.

The suit with accompanying accessories is sometimes nicknamed a penguin suit given its resemblance to the bird's black body and white chest. Other slang terms include monkey suit and, since 1918, soup and fish.[8][9][10]


Illustration of British peaked lapel and shawl collar dinner jackets, 1898. As substitutes for tailcoats, dinner jackets were originally worn with full dress accessories, including white waist coat.

British origins[edit]

In the 1860s, the increasing popularity of outdoor activities among the middle and upper classes of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland led to a corresponding increase in the popularity of the casual lounge suit (standard suit in American English) as a country alternative to the more formal day wear that was traditionally worn in town. Men also sought a similar alternative to the formal evening tailcoat (then known as a "dress coat") worn every evening.[6]

The earliest record of a tailless coat being worn with evening wear is a blue silk smoking jacket and matching trousers ordered by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII of the United Kingdom) from Savile Row tailors Henry Poole & Co. Henry Poole never saw his design cross the Atlantic and be "baptized" as the tuxedo; he died in 1876 leaving behind a powerful and well respected business to be run by his cousin Samuel Cundey. The jacket was tailored for use at Sandringham, the Prince's informal country estate and was described as a smoking jacket.[6]

Other accounts of the Prince's experimentation appear around 1885 variously referring to "a garment of many colours, such as was worn by our ancestors" and "short garments coming down to the waist and made on the model of the military men's jackets". The garment as we know it (suit jacket with tailcoat finishes) was first described around the same time and often associated with Cowes, a seaside resort in southern England and centre of British yachting that was closely associated with the Prince. It was originally intended for warm weather use but soon spread to informal or stag winter occasions. As it was simply an evening tailcoat substitute, it was worn with all the same accoutrements as the tailcoat, including the trousers.[11]

Introduction to the United States[edit]

1888 American tuxedo / dinner jacket, sometimes called a dress sack.

The earliest references to a dress coat substitute in America are from the summer and fall of 1886 and, like the British references from this time, vary between waist-length mess-jacket style and the conventional suit jacket style.[12] The most famous reference originates from Tuxedo Park, an upstate New York countryside enclave for Manhattan's wealthiest citizens. A son of one of the community’s founders, Griswold Lorillard, and his friends were widely reported in society columns for showing up at the club’s first Autumn Ball in October 1886 wearing "a tailless dress coat".[13] Although it is not known whether this garment was a mess jacket or a conventional dinner jacket, it no doubt cemented the tailcoat substitute's association with Tuxedo Park in the mind of the public.

An essay in the Tuxedo Park archives[14] attributes the jacket's importation to America to resident James Brown Potter, a merchant banker who had worked in London for Brown Brothers. However this claim for Potter cannot be verified through independent sources.[15] Period newspaper accounts indicate that at first the jacket was worn by young mavericks to gatherings considered strictly formal. This led the American establishment to reject it out of hand. It was only by 1888 that polite society accepted its role solely as a summer and informal evening substitute, at which point it became very popular.[16]


The earliest tuxedo jackets were of the same black material as the dress coat with one, two or no buttons and a shawl collar faced in satin or ribbed silk. By the turn of the twentieth century the peaked lapel was equally popular and the one-button model had become standard. When trousers were sold with the jacket they were of the same material. Edwardian dandies often opted for Oxford grey or a very dark blue for their evening wear.[17]

By World War I, the grey option had fallen out of favour but the "midnight blue" alternative became increasingly popular and rivalled black by the mid 1930s. Notch lapels, imported from the ordinary business suit, were a brief vogue in the 1920s.[18] A single stripe of braid covering the outseam on each leg was an occasional variation at first, but became standard by the 1930s. At this time double-breasted jackets and white jackets became popular for wear in hot weather.[19]

Colour, texture and pattern became increasingly popular in warm-weather jackets in the 1950s.[20] In the 1960s, these variations became increasingly common regardless of season or climate. Notch lapels were once again a fad.[18] By the 1970s, mass-market retailers began offering white and coloured versions of the entire suit to its rental customers.[21][22] The 1980s vogue for nostalgic and retro styles returned evening wear to its black tone.[23] Notch lapels returned for good in the 1980s, and in the 1990s tuxedo jackets increasingly took on other traits of the business suit, such as two- and three-button styling, flap pockets, and centre vents. These trends have continued into the early 21st century, and midnight blue is now once again a popular alternative.[24]

Composition and accessories[edit]

The tuxedo's accompaniments have also evolved over time. The most traditional interpretations of these elements—formal shirt, formal low cut waistcoat (in the "V" or "U" shape), black bow tie, formal shoes—are incorporated in the black tie dress code.

Etiquette: "black tie"[edit]

In traditional Western dress codes etiquette for tuxedo, known in English as "black tie", it is intended for adult men's evening wear.

Etiquette and clothing experts continue to discourage wearing of black tie as too informal for weddings, or indeed any event before 6 p.m.,[25] such as by Emily Post (1872–1960) and Amy Vanderbilt (1908–1974). The latter arguing that "no man should ever be caught in a church in a tuxedo."

As a general rule, boys do not wear dinner jackets much before they are fifteen, or dress coat before they are about eighteen.[26]

Examples of dinner suits for women (1960s) by Yves Saint Laurent in a M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, United States.

While "black tie" dress code traditionally implies evening dress for women, in 1966 famous couturier Yves Saint Laurent[27] proposed Le Smoking, a tuxedo designed for women. Most initial reactions to the collection were negative.[citation needed] The designer took bits and pieces from both men’s suit and women's clothing and combined it with new ideas. As this tuxedo was designed for women, it was different from the normal male tuxedo. The collar was more feminine, as the shape and curve were more subtle. The waistline of the blouse was narrowed to show the body shape, and pants were adjusted to help elongate the leg. It pioneered long, minimalist, androgynous styles for women, as well as the female use of power suits and the pantsuit in modern-day society. Some described Saint Laurent's initative as empowerment of women by giving them the option to wear clothes that were normally worn by men with influence and power.[28][29] Fashion photography echoes the influence of this suit in shoots that feature androgynous models with slicked-back hair in a mannish three-piece suit, a style that was first popularised in photographs by Helmut Newton.[27][28] This suit has continued to influence fashion designers' collections through the 2000s.[29][30]

In practice, however, tuxedos designed for women have never achieved the popularity of evening gowns, as properly encouraged by dress code interpretators.

Contemporary use[edit]

United States[edit]

The most popular uses of the tuxedo in the United States in the early twenty first century are for weddings, galas, balls, proms and formal nights on cruises. In these circumstances the tuxedo's styling and accessories are most commonly chosen according to the wearer's tastes. Less popular are black tie events, such as gala fundraisers, where men typically wear more traditional tuxedos and accessories as dictated by the dress code. They are also often worn by male musicians at concerts.



  1. ^ Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition, Stuart Berg Flexner and Lenore Crary Hauck, editors, Random House, New York (1993).
  2. ^ ”Dinner-jackets have for some years been worn in country houses when the family are en famille” Huddersfield Chronicle, September 20, 1887 quoting Vanity Fair
  3. ^ ”Fastidious Englishmen don’t seem to be able to get along without a dinner-jacket” The Inter Ocean, October 8, 1889
  4. ^ The Black Tie Guide original research.
  5. ^ "The Tuxedo coat has become popular with a great many men who regard its demi train as a happy medium between a swallow-tail and a cutaway.” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 19, 1888
  6. ^ a b c "History: Late Victorian Era". Black Tie Guide. Retrieved 2011-04-01.
  7. ^ "Tux Britannia". Black Tie Blog.
  8. ^ Korach, Myron; Mordock, John. Common Phrases: And Where They Come From. Globe Pequot. pp. 167, 182. ISBN 1-59921-683-3.
  9. ^ Ayto, John; Simpson, John (2010). The Oxford dictionary of modern slang (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 296. ISBN 978-0-19-923205-5.
  10. ^ Hollander, Anne (1993). Seeing through clothes (1. California paperback printing ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 384. ISBN 978-0-520-08231-1.
  11. ^ "Tuxedo Origins: English Beginnings". Black Tie Blog.
  12. ^ "Tuxedo Origins: The Tailless Tailcoat Puzzle". Black Tie Blog.
  13. ^ reprinted in "The Saga Of American Society: A Record Of Social Aspiration 1607–1937". 1937.
  14. ^ "The Prince and Mrs. Potter" (PDF). Tuxedo Park FYI.
  15. ^ "Tuxedo Origins: Formal Sundries". Black Tie Blog.
  16. ^ "Tuxedo Origins: American Backlash". Black Tie Blog.
  17. ^ "History: Edwardian Era". Black Tie Guide. Retrieved 2011-04-01.
  18. ^ a b "Spotlight: The Notched Lapel". Black Tie Blog.
  19. ^ "History: Depression Era". Black Tie Guide. Retrieved 2011-04-01.
  20. ^ "History: Postwar Period". Black Tie Guide. Retrieved 2011-04-01.
  21. ^ "History: Jet Age". Black Tie Guide. Retrieved 2011-04-01.
  22. ^ "History: Counter-culture Era". Black Tie Guide. Retrieved 2011-04-01.
  23. ^ "History: Yuppie Years". Black Tie Guide. Retrieved 2011-04-01.
  24. ^ "History: Millennial Era". Black Tie Guide. Retrieved 2011-04-01.
  25. ^ Ford, Charlotte; DeMontravel, Jacqueline (2001). 21st century etiquette: a guide to manners for the modern age. Barnes & Noble Books. p. 210. ISBN 978-1-56731-629-2.
  26. ^ "Black Tie Guide – Etiquette: Tradition". www.blacktieguide.com.
  27. ^ a b Alexander, Hilary. "Smoke Without Fire." The Telegraph (Dec. 12, 2005). Archived February 13, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  28. ^ a b Menkes, Suzy. "A toast to Yves for 'le smoking.'" The International Tribune (Oct. 10, 2005). Archived February 19, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  29. ^ a b "Paris honours the Tuxedo, Yves St. Laurent's fashion favourite." Agence France-Presse (Oct. 3, 2005). Archived December 21, 2005, at the Wayback Machine.
  30. ^ "Le Smoking". Dazed Digital. Archived from the original on February 7, 2009.

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Tuxedoes at Wikimedia Commons