It's been to more parties than a debutante and danced with more beautiful women than Fred Astaire. And today, the tuxedo turns 100 years old.
That venerable outfit of distinction was feted at a recent birthday party given by New Yorker magazine at an imposing Beverly Hills mansion called Kasteel Kamphuyzen. (The party was actually outside the mansion on AstroTurf-covered tennis courts.)
The invitation included a short history of the tux. In 1886 some nonconforming aristocrats turned heads at the Autumn Ball in New York when they arrived in tailless coats. What was supposedly a prank quickly caught on, and the shortened jacket became all the rage.
Guests were asked to dress "antique, new or inventive black tie," which sparked creativity in some and left others clinging to the basic black mock-penguin model. Even the magazine's Associate Publisher Rebecca Darwin was a bit thrown at the crush of conformity. "I thought L.A. would be a little funkier," she said.
Outfits of note included a green kilt with a tux shirt and jacket.
"It was either this or a cowboy tux," said Michael Henry, a salesman for Roffe ski clothes, who had borrowed the ensemble from a friend. (Henry also owns a tuxedo with Bermuda shorts instead of long pants.) "I have been getting an awful lot of looks," he said, "and compliments. The reactions have all been very positive."
Jerry Goldman wore the only tuxedo he owns, a vintage black velvet one trimmed in gray satin with lapels as wide as the Colorado River. He teamed it with a black-and-white striped Charmeuse shirt with ruffles down the front. The acquisition was made in the early '70s at a now-defunct Hollywood store that specialized in outrageous one-of-a-kind clothes for rock stars.
"I've been wearing this to every formal occasion," he said confidently. "Actually, most people compliment me on it. But somebody did ask me if I'd do a medley of Desi Arnaz hits."
On the modern end of the spectrum was this look: a cropped waiter's jacket with big shoulders worn with a high-collared shirt and baggy pleated pants. Rick Beach, a designer for Anne Cole sportswear, added his own touch: a long braid down his back tied with a black ribbon.
Sammy Gugliotta, a visual merchandiser for Bullock's, wore his short jacket with a molded-silver-metal bow tie he picked up in Mexico.
"I never wear a conventional tux," he sniffed. "And I do not wear rented clothing."
Some women opted for tuxedos in the spirit of the evening. Joanie Flynn was decked out in a tuxedo to match her fiance's. Despite the similarities in their styles, Flynn was quick to point out one major difference between the sexes: "It's such a heart flutter to see a man in a tux. They're so much more gorgeous."
As jazz singers crooned "Happy Birthday, Dear Tuxedo" and waiters sliced up an enormous chocolate cake shaped like you-know-what, one guest explained his favorite way to go black tie.
"At the end of a party," said Jay Remer, New Yorker's national advertising manager, "I like to untie the tie, unbutton the shirt and go out. People know you've been someplace special."