Proprietors of a 92-year-old Germantown Avenue business reflect on prom fashion

    When it comes time to talk prom fashion, the penguin suit always gets short shrift. Everybody wants to talk about fussy, frilly gowns. But for Frank Fighera Sr. and Jr., the tuxedo is king.

    The father-son team owns and operates Franx-Tux in the 6500 block of Germantown Ave. They are the second and third generation proprietors of a family business started in 1920.

    When it first opened its doors, the business was a hat shop founded by Frank Sr.’s father that expanded to include shoe repair. Frank Sr. joined the business in 1951 and turned it into a laundromat with a dry cleaner next door.

    It wasn’t until the late 1970’s, after Frank Jr. had come on board, that the Figheras began selling and renting tuxedos.

    First foray into formal wear

    They hadn’t exactly planned on becoming formal wear experts. Frank Sr., a musician who plays clarinet and saxophone, ran into an old acquaintance and struck up a deal to perform with his band.

    “He said if you want to play with the band go get a tuxedo,” Figheras Sr. said. “So, I went and got a tuxedo and when I was trying it on I thought, ‘This would work with our business.'”

    Frank Sr.’s tuxedo, the one that sparked a business’ transformation into the formal wear shop that exists today, was a “Beatles cut” with slim lapels, slim pants and a trim fit similar to what the Fab Four wore in their heyday.

    It’s a cut that has recently come back into fashion, supplanting the trend of long, three-button tuxedo coats which started in the 1990s.

    “We noticed that two or three years ago with the kids [that] when you brought out the long coat, they’d just go, ‘No,'” Frank Jr. said, describing the style shift.

    Young men renting tuxedos for the prom this year are opting for a shorter, classic, two-button jacket. The jacket may be classic, but that doesn’t mean teenagers are wearing tuxedos in a classic way.

    Blame Kanye West

    “This year they’re going to wear their Gucci sneakers with tuxes,” said Frank Jr. who suspects television and celebrities are to blame for the shift. “It’s the stars of the kids, usually. If they see Kanye West wear a tux — and I’ve seen him —a nd he’s got the sleeves [pushed] up like this, and he’s got the real short jacket on, all of a sudden, in fittings, we put the right size jacket on a kid and they want it smaller.”

    The Figheras know better than to argue with what their customers want, however, even when their young clients’ mothers think the cut of a jacket is too short. Their focus is to keep their customers happy, a pretty easy job during prom season.

    Young men at their best

    “Prom time is fun, the kids are fun. It’s a happy time.” Frank Jr. said, noting that in his line of work he gets to see young men at their best and happiest.

    They’re excited to pick up their tuxedos before the prom, and when they return them, they’re happy because they’ve had a great time. They’re also “very respectful” when they come in to rent a tux, which is refreshing in a time when news stories about teens often focus on negative behavior.

    Frank Sr. speculates that something special happens when you put a tuxedo jacket on young man.

    He stands up a little taller and he cranes his neck to admire himself in the mirror.

    For Frank Sr., it’s evidence of the simple truth that “everybody looks good in a tux.”

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    In May, NewsWorks will present a series of stories about Northwest Philadelphia’s looming prom season. This Mom & Popaholic feature serves as its kickoff entry.

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