Monday, June 5, 2017

Have Tux, Will Travel


The first tuxedo I ever acquired was when I was fifteen. Although I was definitely not a member of the elite upper crust, I was a student at a public high school (Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar) at which a considerable number of scions of well-to-do families were enrolled. It was the custom of these well-heeled young people to honor themselves from time to time throughout the school year with formal balls, usually held at the River Oaks Country Club, situated at the opposite end of the boulevard on which the high school faced.

Consequently, I was invited to a number of gala events that were several notches above my natural social station. My mother, a divorcée struggling to support her aged father, her feckless son, and herself on a secretary’s salary of $300 per month, soon found it was more economical to purchase a formal outfit for her social-climbing teenager than to rent all that gear several times a year.

At a discount clothing emporium known as SchwoBilt, now no longer with us, we purchased for a relatively modest sum a black jacket with faux-silk lapels, black trousers with a silk stripe down each leg, a white formal shirt, a maroon bow-tie and cummerbund (that color was the fashion then), a pair of cheap mother-of-pearl cufflinks and matching set of studs. Voilà! I was in high society!

That tuxedo, cheap as it was, lasted me through graduate school, after which I acquired a new one for my wedding. During my days at the Society for the Performing Arts, a tux constituted my ordinary evening workclothes, so I acquired yet another monkey suit, which has lasted me to this day.

The name tuxedo stems from Tuxedo Park, a summer resort for the wealthy in upstate New York, where the short black dinner jacket was first worn by daring young blades around 1886. Known in England as a dinner suit or simply a dinner jacket, the tuxedo coat was a departure from the long tailcoat that had been customary in formal dress. In France and most European countries, the tuxedo is known as a smoking, derived from the English smoking jacket, which was the first manifestation of a short coat for evening wear, introduced by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII).

Tuxedo is etymologically derived from the Algonquin p’tuck-sepo, which means “crooked river.”

While we're on an etymological kick, I might as well mention that cummerbund has its origin in the Hindi kamarband, derived from Persian kamar ("waist") and band ("something that ties").

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou often appears in a tuxedo, so that he won't scandalize the neighbors by walking around in his skivvies while his overalls are at the cleaners.

            Tuxedoed, black-tied, cummerbunded,
            Too bad I’m also under-funded.


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