The History and Return of the Canadian Tuxedo
Written by Nia Beckett
Photographed by Lynne Khouri
Unsophisticated getup or sartorial brilliance? No one seems to be able to make up their mind about the Canadian tuxedo — the pairing of a denim jacket with jeans. The ensemble was a fashion faux pas for as long as most of our generation can remember, and now it has popped back into everyone’s closets, leaving a number of fashion consumers conflicted and confused.
It may be named for the Great White North, much to the dismay of many Canadians, but the story of the Canadian tuxedo begins with an American crooner dressed in Levi’s denim-on-denim. In 1951, singer/actor Bing Crosby tried to check in at Hotel Vancouver, but was denied because “a clerk thought he was a ‘bum’” based on the attire. Another employee recognized Crosby and quickly resolved the situation. Still, news traveled, and in a stroke of marketing genius, designers at Levi Strauss & Co leapt at the opportunity to create a custom-made denim tuxedo jacket for Crosby.
The jacket, which Levi’s presented to Crosby during the Silver State Stampede rodeo in Nevada, featured a corsage of red tabs held by copper rivets and included an inside leather patch stamped with a “Notice to All Hotel Men.” Levi’s named the cheeky look “the Canadian tuxedo,” and it became Crosby’s signature on his tour for the film “Here Comes the Groom.” The original Levi’s Canadian tuxedo design made a brief comeback when Levi’s Vintage Clothing reproduced 200 jackets for its Spring/Summer 2014 collection.
Title aside, the Canadian tuxedo and denim are deeply rooted in American history. Beginning with its relation to greaser wardrobes in the 60’s, denim became less related to the working class in postwar America. Civil rights activists wore denim customized with political statements as a symbol and as a protective garment for when protests grew violent. The 70’s, otherwise known as “the decade taste forgot,” yielded its own twist on the Canadian tuxedo: the denim leisure suit (an uncontested tragedy, really). However, the Canadian tuxedo was especially prominent in the wardrobes of several pop culture icons from the 70’s to the 90’s, including Steve McQueen, James Brown and Johnny Depp. Each decade brought its own take on the outfit, varying in terms of wash, jacket and jeans fit, and accessories.
Denim-on-denim took center stage again at the 2001 American Music Awards when Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake set foot on the red carpet in matching outfits— Spears in a multi-wash patched strapless dress and Timberlake in his own patched Canadian tuxedo paired with a fedora-cowboy hat hybrid. Whether people loved or hated the denim ensembles, they were certainly unforgettable. At least one article surfaces each year on the anniversary of the event, immortalizing Spears’ and Timberlake’s iconic looks.
Even a few years ago, pairing denim with denim was seen as a fashion blunder. When Katie Holmes stepped out in a light wash chambray shirt and dark wash jeans in 2011, the Daily Mail claimed she had “broken one of the cardinal rules of dressing.”
The trend has since begun to trickle back into the American wardrobe, and as it returns, it brings with it a trail of double-denim style guides and luxury contemporaries. Indie and established brands alike suggested a return to and a reimagining of the American classic at the 2017 New York Fashion Week. A few weeks later, Rihanna, a known Canadian tuxedo enthusiast, sported Tom Ford’s matching denim jacket and miniskirt and knee-high white heeled boots which had just debuted in his Spring 2018 collection.
Today, the question isn’t if you’ll wear double denim but how you’ll wear it. Numerous celebrities have wholeheartedly adopted the trend including Gigi Hadid and her friends, who modeled an array of options at her double denim dress-coded birthday party this year. From mixing denim washes to playing with the silhouette of the jacket-pants combo, there are a ton of ways to make the Canadian tux your own.