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The Gatsby-esque Village That Brought the Tuxedo to the USA

Published on 3 minutes read
Words by Hannah Brinberg, Imagery by Courtesy of the Tuxedo Park Library, NY
"Tuxedo Park wasn’t named after the Tuxedo — rather, the Tuxedo was named after Tuxedo Park."

In the early 1880s, tobacco heir Pierre Lorillard IV bought up land in Orange County, an area an hour north of New York City, to develop a planned community exclusively for the country’s upper classes. It was to be an exclusive place — a country getaway for its old and emerging rich, their wealth boosted by the economic boom which followed the American Civil War.

Tuxedo Park, as it was named, began as a hunting and fishing retreat for the affluent to enjoy country life, come together at the local members’ club, and host extravagant balls. It was considered a rustic utopia of exclusivity where notable New Yorkers would go to summer, or escape the city for the weekend. Over time, it filled with grand architectural homes that had opulent gardens and magnificent lake views.

Tuxedo Park came to epitomise the ‘Gilded Age’ — a term believed to have originated with author Mark Twain, referring to a period whose glittering surface concealed greed and corruption. Twain, not coincidentally, is thought to have been a resident of Tuxedo Park. Perhaps the village provided the source material for one of his searing satires about the era?

Today, Tuxedo Park looks and feels like it’s been frozen in time, thanks largely to the municipal by-laws which fiercely protect its architectural integrity and green space. The town has a timeless quality to it, as if it remains successfully removed from the modernity of the 21st century.

The Architecture

Bruce Price was the American architect commissioned by Lorillard in the late 1880s to develop most of Tuxedo Park. But Price’s Tuxedo Park stands apart from other architecture of the Gilded Age, thanks to his embrace of natural material and his ability to play into the architectural environment. His work was celebrated for its innovative use of wood shingles, while structures also included local wood and stone, brick and Tudor-style trim with timber and stucco framing. All of which reinforce the feel of country living.

The second phase of development came around the turn of the 20th century. Unlike Price’s multi-cottage commission, this development had many architects, and a less cohesive vision. The homes were far larger, grander and more opulent, fitted with all the modern conveniences of the time, and feel somewhat less in tune with their surroundings. Due to the popularity of revival architecture in the early 1900’s, the Park saw a plethora of architectural styles, these new homes ranging from Georgian and Jacobean to Gothic Revival and Queen Anne.

If you visit today, you’ll be struck by the village’s transportive quality. The grand architecture remains, a time capsule of ambition and wealth, and feels removed from the reality of contemporary America. Which, to some degree, it is: to this day, Tuxedo’s community remains gated, and the houses unnumbered. The village is private and has never been open to the public. There are no leash laws, nor any commercial spaces — residents benefit from a private, motorless lake. The air of exclusivity remains.

The Tuxedo

As for the namesake formalwear? Tuxedo Park wasn’t named after the Tuxedo — rather, the Tuxedo was named after Tuxedo Park.

While history has conjured up many versions of the story, the legacy tied to James Brown-Potter remains the most renowned. On a transatlantic trip in the summer of 1886, James and his wife Cora traveled to England and met the Prince of Wales at a Court Ball. Cora’s ethereal beauty won them both an invitation to stay with the Prince at Sandringham for the weekend. When enquiring on the formalities and what to bring, the Prince spoke of wearing a short dinner jacket in lieu of a tailcoat. The Prince suggested Potter take a trip to his preferred London tailor to have one made for the country weekend.

The popularity of the American tuxedo came with Potter's return to New York. Potter's new, shorter and less formal jacket and the Sandringham stamp of approval ensured it was an instant success with the men at the Tuxedo Club. Legend has it that the long tailcoat interfered with sitting and dancing. A man’s gotta boogie, right?

The tuxedo really became part of the zeitgeist when a few daring members of the club ventured into Manhattan to take their new tail-less coats for a spin at none other than Delmonico’s, New York City’s first fine dining establishment. Confused but curious chatter flooded the room as patrons were told that these unusual coats were all the rage in Tuxedo Park. The name Tuxedo was coined by association.

What greater incentive to visit could you wish for? And if you do succeed in charming your way through Tuxedo Park’s gates, no doubt you’ll step directly into the glittering glamour of fin-de-siècle America. Be sure to leave your tailcoat behind.

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