Bing Crosby in his denim tux jacket, June 30, 1951
There is a story that may be the origin of the term ‘Canadian Tuxedo’ stemming from an incident that happened in 1951. Bing Crosby, who often came to British Columbia to hunt and fish, was even awarded a key to the city in the shape of its skyline from mayor George Miller in 1948. On one of those trips in 1951 he and a friend went to check into the Vancouver Hotel. However, they were refused entry for not being properly attired as they were both wearing jeans and denim jackets. However, before being kicked out of the lobby, a bellhop recognized Crosby and the situation was quickly resolved.
The story was reported in the local news and went viral (in a 1951 kind of way.) According to the Madeira Tribune in August 1951, Art Cameron, the hotel clerk who initially refused entry to Crosby, said “He looked like a bum”. Crosby fans wrote Cameron asking why he didn’t recognize “…the most famous singer in the world?” WHen Bob Hope heard the story, he invited Cameron onto the set of his film Son of Paleface in California. “He’s the world’s number one hotel clerk,” Hope joked, cited the Tribune. “Anybody who can spot a real bum like that deserves some kind of recognition.”
A few months after the initial incident, on June 30, 1951, when Bing Crosby was to appear at the J Bar Ranch for 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
In September, 1951, 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
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 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.
BTW – Art Cameron eventually became the resident manager of the Hotel Vancouver…