Friday, December 4, 2020

THE TUXEDO

By Monte Lazarus 

It was difficult leaving Chicago. Life was comfortable there, and Chicago is a wonderful place to live, except in November, December, January, February, March, part of April, and some very hot and humid days in July and August.

One of the really good reasons for leaving Chicago was that I could finally dump my tuxedo after it haunted me for many years. No more corporate dinners, charity dinners and other formal social affairs. Free at last! Or, so I thought.

There are several versions about the origin of the tuxedo. The British story is that it was invented in the Victorian Era as an “informal” replacement for the tailcoat. It was reportedly produced by Saville Row tailor Henry Poole for the Prince of Wales. The American story is parallel, but slightly different. Purportedly the tuxedo was introduced by Pierre Lorillard, the tobacco magnate, who lived in Tuxedo Park, New York. I say that both versions are RUBBISH!

According to the definitive history of the tuxedo by the well-respected Spanish historian Luis Torre-Posada y Ramirez- Rodriguez y Cabrera-Pujols-Reyes y Soriano-Gonzalez, the tuxedo was a product of the Spanish Inquisition. Tomas de Torquemada, appointed Inquisitor General in 1483, was apparently frustrated that his primary torture devices – garrucha, toca and potro – were slow and unreliable. So, he ordered one of the Torture Device staff to devise something new and utterly horrible. Thus, the tuxedo was invented in Spain only for torturing male suspects. The female story is another fascinating chapter.

By binding prisoners in identical, incredibly uncomfortable black suits the Inquisitors deprived subjects of their human identity, choked them unconscionably and converted them to a corps of penguins. By adding stiff, cardboard shirts the Inquisitors made the torture unendurable. The ubiquitous black tie identified the suspect. The device worked. Adding to the misery, Phillip III of Spain, in 1608, decreed that all Inquisitors must have a background in law. It was soon evident that, between the black penguin suit and a legally trained Inquisitor, a prisoner had no option but to confess quickly and completely. The tuxedo device spread to the Western World, particularly Great Britain where the accused commonly chose the chopping block in the Tower of London rather than face the dreaded black suit. In France the guillotine was preferred by the poor condemned males.

Although the Inquisition was abolished in 1843, the idea of continuing the tuxedo as a torture for men was retained by the Brits. They made it appear respectable by cloaking it in the guise of making it appear “informal”, but to those of us who continued to be subject to wearing tuxedos it is still an instrument of torture.

For me arriving in Marco Island seemed to mean freedom. However, it soon developed that there were still some ancient torture rites known as “charity dinners” and “weddings” where some males were required to wear the device AND look happy at the same time. (Meanwhile, females gleefully chose comfortable gowns of glowing colors and truly were happy). In time the torture proved too much for me and I quietly disposed of my tuxedo forevermore, and resorted to my sincere navy blue suit.

However, there are limits on freedom. I have been privileged to be asked to serve as an usher at the marriage of two dear friends (to each other) in October. This is to admit that I shall be measured for my tuxedo in September so that I may join my fellow penguins in the wedding party. Friendship trumps torture.

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