Out & About: Fred Astaire’s tuxedo on exhibit at the RISD Museum

In today's post, FIDM Museum Registrar Meghan Grossman Hansen describes the process of preparing objects for transport to exhibitions at other institutions. FIDM Museum has an active loan program, and we often have 1 or more objects on exhibit at museums near or far. Beginning April 28, see a tuxedo worn by Fred Astaire in Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion at the RISD Museum in Providence, Rhode Island.


We are always excited to see the FIDM Museum collection travel. Most recently, we sent Fred Astaire's tuxedo to join many other dapper gentlemen in Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion, an exhibition at the RISD Museum (April 28 – August 18, 2013). Featuring more than 200 objects, this exhibit traces the history and persona of the dandy, with a focus on well-known fashionable men.

Fred Astaire was very particular about his wardrobe, with strong preferences about cuffs, jacket length, stripe width, and other minute details. He once claimed that he took each new suit to the tailor "at least half a dozen times."1 For Artist/Rebel/Dandy, we loaned the RISD Museum a 1930s tuxedo, waistcoat, and bow tie worn by Astaire. The wool crepe tuxedo was made by Anderson & Sheppard Ltd., a Savile Row tailor still in existence today.

Image001Fred Astaire’s tuxedo on exhibit at the RISD Museum, loan courtesy of the FIDM Museum, City of
Los Angeles, Department of Recreation and Parks (L88.1.31AB). Photograph by Erik Gould, courtesy of
the RISD Museum.



As you can imagine, getting Fred Astaire's tuxedo ready for a trip from Los Angeles to Providence, RI was an involved project. The first step was creating a mount for the tuxedo. Carolyn
Jamerson, FIDM Museum’s mount-maker, made an outstanding custom mount. To learn more about how Carolyn designs and fabricates mounts, read this blog post.

Exhibit21-10Carolyn wraps Fred’s signature white carnation in
protective tissue.

Fred Astaire's Anderson & Sheppard Ltd tuxedo inside its crate.

A custom crate was built so the tuxedo could travel standing
upright, fully dressed. Here we show the mannequin as it was positioned inside the crate. The sturdy crate was designed and fabricated by
US Art. After Carolyn built the mount, US Art’s crate specialist paid us a
visit, taking measurements of the mount, and sketching out a plan for the crate.
Once completed, the crate was
delivered to the FIDM Museum, and packed on-site with the assistance of two art handlers from US
Art. Carved Ethafoam supports the exact shape of the mannequin, and archival tissue
protects the tuxedo from all points of contact with the crate’s interior. The interior of the crate is lined
in Tyvek, and the Ethafoam supports are covered with Volara, a pliable archival

Just before the crate was sealed, we covered the mannequin with a
custom-made Tyvek bag. Archival foam “guillotines” slide in place to keep
the mount from shifting during transport.

The crate is sealed and ready to go on the truck for transport to the RISD Museum.

Image006In this image, RISD Museum staff move the crated tuxedo into their building, making sure it remained upright. The mannequin was kept in its crate for 24 hours to acclimatize to its new environment. After acclimatizing, Fred Astaire's tuxedo was carefully removed from the crate, and installed directly on the exhibition platform. Photograph by Tara Emsley, courtesy of the RISD Museum.

Image007Entrance to Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion at the RISD Museum. Photograph by Erik Gould, courtesy of the RISD Museum.

Image008Fred Astaire's tuxedo as it appears in Artist/Rebel/Dandy. Fred Astaire’s tuxedo (center), shown with Roy Sambourne's suit
tailored by Tom Brown Tailors (left), and Peter Rauch's suit tailored by Leonard
Logsdail (right). Photograph
by Erik Gould, courtesy of the RISD Museum.

After Artist/Rebel/Dandy closes on August 18, this process will be completed in reverse. The RISD Museum staff will return Fred Astaire's tuxedo to its crate, and it will be driven back across the country to its home at the FIDM Museum. Meanwhile, we'll be working on another loan project, one that involves dozens of objects, and international shipping. We'll share more details on this project soon.

1 Hublar, Richard. "Flashback Friday: The Astute Astaire." GQ (August 1957).

3 responses to “Out & About: Fred Astaire’s tuxedo on exhibit at the RISD Museum

  1. Mister Beebe says:

    This is fascinating, and wonderful to learn that the debonair Mr. Astaire’s ensemble is on view. But in the interest of sartorial (and curatorial) correctness, you should be aware that this is not a tuxedo. It’s a set of tails. A tuxedo is the outfit most commonly referred to as black tie.

  2. Lynn Hoffman says:

    I am inquiring about the use of the term tuxedo, as it is used to identify the Fred Astaire suit from your collection, being exhibited at RISD. The coat in the pictures is clearly a tail suit, aka: dress suit. The lineage of the tail suit is quite clear, and the documentation of the tuxedo is well recorded. According to Thornton’s Sectional System(1894), the dinner jacket (known as a tuxedo after 1886, but also identified variously as the Monte Carlo, the Dress Lounge, and Le Smoking-not to be confused with the smoking jacket) existed in England as early as 1860, and was always a short jacket. Can you please explain why the labeling has been so grossly confused?

  3. Rachel says:

    Thanks to everyone who has commented on this post! It’s wonderful to see that our readers have such passionate feelings about fashion and fashion history.

    Menswear, particularly formal wear, does consist of highly specific categories. Our curators have chosen to define this ensemble as a “tuxedo” because this is a generally accepted term used to describe men’s formal dress. As many of you have pointed out, the strictly accurate term would be a “tail suit” or a “dress suit.”

    We’ve chosen not to update the post so that readers can form their own opinions about this fascinating terminology debate.

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