Rewriting History: Dinner Jacket Origins

Posted on March 8, 2012

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The Henry Poole & Co ledger showing the order for the “original” dinner jacket.

It appears that Henry Poole & Co has rewritten history.

For years the web site of these preeminent tailors proudly proclaimed that they created the original dinner jacket for Edward, Prince of Wales in 1860.  The London College of Fashion appears to have accepted this claim at face value when they partnered with the Savile Row firm to create a much-hyped exhibition last year marking the 150th anniversary of the jacket’s origin.  Personally, I wasn’t so sure as I knew that in the past Henry Poole & Co representatives had stated through other channels that the date was 1865.

Well, it would seem that all the attention around the anniversary has prompted someone to investigate a little further because very recently the tailors’ web page was revised  to state that the year was indeed 1865.   And they have also clarified that the blue silk jacket (and matching trousers) they constructed for the Prince was really a prototype and not a dinner jacket as we know it today, a fact I had originally pointed out in The Black Tie Guide and this blog.

Furthermore, they are suggesting that the first Tuxedo Park resident to import the jacket to America may not have been James Brown Potter in 1886 as they (and I) previously stated based on an archived interview with the last surviving original member of the exclusive country club.  Firstly, they have not been able to locate any record of Mr. Potter having been a client of Henry Poole & Co.  Secondly, they have located evidence of other Tuxedo Park founders having been customers  in the 1860s which makes it possible that one or more of those gentlemen copied the Prince’s jacket prior to Potter’s visit.

I’m not so sure I agree with this conjecture.  It would imply that the garment was kept a closely guarded secret for two decades as the eponymous club was not founded until 1885 and the earliest references to the garment in the United States didn’t appear until a few years later.

Thanks to AfterSix.com for posting a recent CBS news report that brought this new information to my attention.

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Postscript

March 14, 2012

I recently had the privilege of corresponding with Deborah Harmon, the executive director of the Tuxedo Historical Society who appears in the aforementioned CBS report.  She confirmed my suspicions that the recent exhibition raised a number of questions about the jacket’s origins that resulted in further research.

She also pointed out that in addition to the Tuxedo Park founders listed above, many other prominent American gentlemen travelled to England in the years between the prototype’s 1865 creation and Potter’s 1886 visit and may well have copied the style as it spread through the Prince of Wales’ social circles.  This, and the lack of definitive proof of Potter’s purchase of a dinner jacket from Poole, do not necessarily disprove the Potter theory but they make it impossible to state definitively that Potter was the first American to ever import a dinner jacket.  What does remain uncontested is that Tuxedo Park members were the first to wear the jacket in large numbers and in public as attested to by its eponymous name.

Posted in: History