PUEBLO, Colo. (AP) – It is the centerpiece of scores of prom and wedding photos.
It’s a symbol of ceremony and class, designed to making you look good.
When time comes to take that sweetheart or crush to prom, it has your back – literally. Or when love finds you at the altar of marriage, it’s that memorable outfit for that unforgettable moment.
We’re talking about the tuxedo, the icon of men’s formal wear.
For the last 40 years Mister Penguin Tuxedo Sales and Rentals has supplied fancy threads to generations of Pueblo high schoolers and wedding parties.
“You’re in the business of making people look good for some of the most important events of their lives,” said Brian Walter, regional operations manager for Mister Penguin and its wholesale sister operation, Jim’s Formal Wear.
“A satisfaction of this business is dressing all these boys up for prom. When you think back to high school, what was your most memorable experience? For some it may be a football game or some other experience, but for most, it was prom.”
“When there’s no problems, everything went off without a hitch and he looks good, that’s the satisfaction,” added Rhonda Valdez, a 26-year employee.
Frank and Mona Novak opened Mister Penguin in 1973. Frank Novak was employed with the Illinois-based Jim’s Formal Wear, a tuxedo wholesaler, and relocated to Southern Colorado to open a retail shop in Downtown.
The Novak’s soon expanded and opened a Jim’s Formal Wear location on Prairie Avenue and in the late 1980s, the retail and wholesale operations merged under one roof at a building off North Freeway.
In 2011, Mister Penguin and Jim’s moved to its current location, a 22,000 square foot facility at 737 Desert Flower Blvd., nestled between University Park and Belmont.
The Novaks left the tux business in 1994. That’s when Walter, who started as a driver for Jim’s Formal Wear and worked his way up to management, relocated to Pueblo to run the retail/ wholesale operation.
Mister Penguin is the storefront, the client’s first point of contact. Behind the showroom, the fitting rooms and the mannequins showcasing the latest fashion trends, is the wholesale operation.
It’s home to 16,000 coats, 17,000 pairs of pants, a legion of shirts, shoes, cuff links, vests, top hats, canes, garments and accessories.
“People just don’t know the volume we have. We ship UPS and service nine different states,” Walter said.
What that means is anyone who’s rented a tux in the past three decades or so, be it from a boutique here or in Southern Colorado, it’s likely been the wares of Pueblo’s Jim’s Formal Wear.
And speaking of history, the tuxedo has its own unique record of vogue.
The tux made its American debut in 1886 in the ritzy Tuxedo Park resort of Orange County, N.Y. The dinner jacket made its first appearance at the Autumn Ball of Tuxedo Park’s exclusive Tuxedo Club.
But, according to Mister Penguin’s website: “It is said Griswold Lorillard and his friends startled the people attending the ball by wearing a scarlet satin lapelled dinner jacket, without tails, while all the others were attired in the traditional white-tie and tails. And thus was born the elegant garment forevermore to be known as the ‘Tuxedo.’ ” As time passes, so do fashion trends. Remember coattails? Cummerbunds?
Remember those light-blue outfits with the ruffled shirts?
“I got married in a burgundy regal and looking back, I wish somebody would’ve talked me into a black tuxedo,” Walter recalled.
Fashion has many influences: glossy magazines, Hollywood, the catwalk, the entertainment industry. There were tuxedo lines once fashioned off TV shows like “Dynasty” and “Miami Vice.”
Walter said Mister Penguin used to offer light blue, teal and grape-colored tuxes, but those and other designs have been lost to scrapbooks.
“Instead of cummerbunds and bow ties, now it’s long ties and fullback vests. Everyone is going for the skinny look. Everyone is going for fitted now. Tans and gray suits are coming back. Gray is on the rise. Everyone wants gray,” Walter said.
Today’s tuxedo lines at Mister Penguin are a “who’s who” of designers: Stephen Geoffrey, Ralph Lauren, Andrew Fezza, Jean Yves, Calvin Klein, Tony Bowls and Lord West.
Mister Penguin can dress all body types, from coat sizes 2 to 74 long.
The color selection and print – diamond, paisley, vine, striped, solid – of ties, vests and pocket squares is endless; and flexible for those wanting to mix and match.
“You can’t imagine the color combinations these kids are coming up with for prom, even weddings,” Valdez said.
Mister Penguin and Jim’s employs 30 full-time workers year-round and 30 more during the prom/ wedding season, which stretches from April to October.
- By NICK BONHAM, The Pueblo Chieftain
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