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Styles may change, but tuxedos still marching down aisle

Jackson — Business is hopping at Tuxedo Junction’s two metro-area locations. Or maybe it’s dancing and marching since proms and weddings comprise the bulk of tuxedo rentals and this is the season for both those special events.

Don Garforth, owner of stores in Jackson’s Metrocenter and Northpark Mall in Ridgeland, went into the tuxedo rental business with his father, Ezra Garforth, 30 years ago in Charleston, S.C. “Many moons and styles have come and gone since then,” he said.

For many years they owned and operated Gingiss Formalwear. The stores have now joined the Tuxedo Junction family of licensed stores to have access to a broad range of styles and sizes. Garforth came to Jackson in 1978 when Metrocenter Mall opened and is proud to be the owner of the oldest locally owned business there.

Coming to town

“We looked at several cities and wanted to stay fairly close to the other stores for sharing and swapping tuxedos even though we have a large inventory,” he said. “Jackson is a two-day UPS location. Also, at that time Metrocenter was the biggest thing to hit the state.”

He said he came to town six months before the location decision was made and shopped the competition. He thought the market looked good. That has proven to be a sound decision as none of the competition at that time exists today.

“I grew up in Philadelphia and never dreamt I’d be living in Jackson, Miss., and loving it,” he said. “My three children were raised here and call it home.”

One of those children, daughter Jamie Martin, 25, works with her dad in the business as a third-generation purveyor of formal wear.

Cycle of old and new and old

As with general fashion, everything comes and goes with tuxedos. Garforth says it was pretty much just basic black and brown 30 years ago. Then came the 1970s with pastel colors and ruffled shirts. He says anything that creates excitement and grabs the public’s attention is okay with him. Today, black, white and ivory remain big and colors are coming back colors such as beige, light blue, silver, lavender and mint. There are, however, no ruffles.

“Black still makes up 60% of rentals, ivory beats out white with 20%, white is 10% and miscellaneous makes up the rest,” Garforth said.

Vests are very big with 80 different styles from which to choose. Cummerbunds are not chosen much anymore. The bow tie is on the decline as eight out of 10 men choose the Windsor or traditional four-in-hand tie. The button cover style that requires no tie is a nice, clean look that is worn with a Mandarin collar, he says. The stores also carry all other accessories including dress shoes.

“It’s been delightful for me and a fun thing in the last 10 years as the options and choices for men have increased,” he said.

Jamie Martin was quick to point out that in most cases brides make the final choice in men’s tuxedos. “Some brides come in before the groom and give him the parameters to choose from and then 70% come in together,” she said. “Now the grooms at least have an opinion. They’re more involved but still have a long way to go.”

Garforth says dry cleaning businesses love tuxedo rental businesses. The rentals always take a trip to the dry cleaners but the majority of the time, come back undamaged. For a few extra dollars, damage protection is available.

“We have found everything in the pockets — marriage licenses, money for the minister, cameras, tickets, rice. If a rental tuxedo could talk, it would be a best selling novel,” he said.

The ultimate costume business

“We’re in the ultimate costume business and fortunately it’s a happy business,” he said. “The average person wears a tuxedo a few times in his life and can remember all those special times.”

He thinks it is also a recession-proof business. If times are tough, the size of the wedding party may be smaller. “From the time she’s four or six years old, a little girl has dreams in her head of what she wants her wedding to be like,” he said, “and 60% is the national average that wear tuxedos for weddings.”

At Tuxedo Junction, 75% of the business is weddings with proms making up 12% or 13%. April is the number one busy month, followed by May and March. The summer wedding months are busy, too. January is the slowest month.

“Malls love us because we’re a destination store. Very few people walk by and say ‘I think I’ll rent a tuxedo’ on impulse,” Garforth said. “While they’re here, they may make impulse purchases at other stores in the mall.”

Because customers think about renting tuxedos and spend time driving to the store, he feels it’s important for his staff to spend as much time as it takes to satisfy them and put a smile on their faces. On average, it takes 15 minutes for fittings. This seasoned tuxedo fitter recommends doing it two weeks in advance.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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