Fit for a king: How Henry Poole created the tuxedo
by Peter Howarth
There are some things that every man should have in his wardrobe – let’s call them cornerstone pieces. I’d nominate a great navy blazer, white shirts, a sturdy overcoat, a cashmere crew neck, a stout pair of brogues… and so on. Then there are those items that for the cognoscenti possess a special allure on account of their claim to being “the original”.
My list here would include the Burberry trench coat, the Belstaff Trialmaster motorcycle jacket, Levi’s 501s and the Kent & Curwen cricket sweater. Where the wardrobe essentials and originals meet, intersecting in a type of sartorial Venn diagram, we have a very sweet spot indeed: something that you should own, where the daddy of all versions is still available and still made by the people who really know how to make it.
The Henry Poole tuxedo is such a piece. The origins of the tuxedo – or if you prefer the more British term, the dinner suit – are somewhat convoluted. However, it all seems to lead back to Henry Poole and a jacket the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) commissioned from his tailor – said Mr Poole of Savile Row – in 1865. The future king wanted a short blue evening coat that he could wear at Sandringham for informal dinners. One of his guests, an American named James Brown Potter, had another made for a royal invitation to Sandringham and exported it back to the States, where he wore it to the first autumn ball of the Tuxedo Club, a private country club in New York state, in 1886, hence the name we tend to know it by today.
That first jacket was, according to Henry Poole today, made in “celestial blue”, and that colour echoes down the years in the form of the contemporary midnight blue tux. While black is the usual colour of choice for the style, midnight blue is a stylish variation: when we first meet Sean Connery’s James Bond in 1962’s Dr No, he is wearing a midnight blue tuxedo at the chemin de fer table at a London casino.
Bond’s first screen tux had a shawl lapel. Some say a peak lapel flatters the shape of the torso by accentuating the top half, complementing the shoulder line. At Henry Poole, tailoring is bespoke so you can have pretty much whatever stylistic variations you desire. And by choosing to get this cornerstone of the male wardrobe made by the people who created the original model, you’ll be in good hands, joining a client list that has included Frank Lloyd Wright, Jean Cocteau, Robert Mitchum, Edward Fox, Serge Diaghilev and, of course, King Edward VII. As well as Boat International March guest editor David James Gandy.