Glossary – Canadian Tuxedo?

I don’t think most Canadians have ever heard of this reference but apparently Americans call an outfit consisting of denim jacket and jeans a ‘Canadian Tuxedo’ — I think we are being insulted!

Bing Crosby donning his denim tuxedo jacket, June 30, 1951

Bing Crosby in his denim tux jacket, June 30, 1951

There is a story that may be the origin of the term stemming from an incident that happened in 1951. Bing Crosby and a friend had been on a fishing trip near Vancouver B.C. when they went to check into a local hotel. They were refused entry for not being properly attired as they were wearing jeans and denim jackets. However, before being kicked out of the lobby, the hotel manager recognized Crosby and let them stay. The story was reported in the local news and went viral (in a 1951 kind of way.)

A few months later, on June 30, 1951, when Bing Crosby was to appear at the Silver State Stampede in Elko, Nevada, Crosby was presented with a denim tuxedo jacket, made by Levi’s. The mayor of Elko was wearing an identical jacket, and on the inside of each was an oversized leather patch signed by D. J. O’Brier, the president of the American Hotel Association that read “Notice to hotel men everywhere – This label entitles the wearer to be duly received and registered with cordial hospitality at any time and under any conditions.”

A reproduction of Levi's tux jacket, 2014

A reproduction of Levi’s tux jacket, 2014

That September, Paramount Pictures released Crosby’s latest film ‘Here Comes the Groom’, and executives took the opportunity to have Crosby wear his denim tux again at the premiere. Paramount also commissioned Levi’s to make replicas of the tuxedo jacket for promotional displays as the film opened in other cities. Levi’s made 200 replicas again in the spring of 2014 all of which were quickly snapped up by collectors.

Denim jackets and jeans, Sears, 1975

Denim jackets and jeans, Sears, 1975

While this may be the historical background for the Canadian Tuxedo, the term doesn’t seem to have entered the common lexicon until the early 21st century. The look (which is more American in origin than Canadian) dates back to late 1930s dude ranches and was made iconic by American teenage rebels like James Dean in the 1950s. Probably every American (and Canadian) under the age of thirty wore a denim jacket and jeans at some point during the 1970s or 1980s. So why the sudden ‘Canadian Tuxedo’ attribution?

The Urban dictionary, which although I don’t trust as a reliable source, cites the earliest reference for the term coming from the film ‘Super Troopers’ (released early 2002 but filmed fall 2000) “…Look who’s talkin’, Denim Dan, you look like the president, chairman and C.E.O. of Levi Strauss. Where’d you get the Canadian Tuxedo?”. I suspect the term was made up as a quip by the writer for this film and bears no relevance to the Bing Crosby story.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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8 Responses to Glossary – Canadian Tuxedo?

  1. Daniel says:

    I often wear a denim jacket and jeans….! Do get some snarky comments on it but I just tell them “It’s a Canadian tuxedo, b*tches” and sashay away. 😉

  2. John Buckberrough says:

    Then there’s the “Full Nanaimo” – white slacks, white belt, white shoes. Noted as worn by an older male demographic, but (thankfully) not too often.

    • Jonathan says:

      I have never heard of the Full Nanaimo, although I have heard of the Red Deer (alternatively Sudbury) dinner jacket – being a red buffalo plaid shirt

  3. liz says:

    Clearly the snark is international, as I knew only of the Full Cleveland – white belt and shoes.

    The buffalo plaid shirt or “lumberjacket” (as it was known when I was in high school) has always been the Kenora dinner jacket to me. You wear your Kenora dinner jacket when you driving your Edmonton limousine (pickup truck).

    Jon, I wish you would do a study of a couple of mystifying but popular male dress trends that are currently seen all over Toronto. One: floods are back (why?), including suit pants, worn with very brightly patterned socks. The other: brown shoes and belts with everything. EVERYTHING. Brown shoes and belt with grey suits. Brown shoes and belt with navy suits. All of this combined with too-short trousers and brilliantly patterned socks. Please make them stop.

    • Jonathan says:

      KENORA – that’s it! I was thinking Sudbury… I knew it was somewhere in Northern Ontario…

      I haven’t noticed the brown accessories but I have noticed the floods – in those skinny pant legs too – very Peewee Herman… I blame those ridiculously skinny cut suits that only 1 in 100 men actually wear, and only 1 in 1000 should.

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