John Ingram, ‘the Jackie Robinson of Formal Wear’ in Dallas, Dies at 84 – and if Anyone Should be Buried in a Tuxedo, It Is Him

John and Joan Ingram were married for nearly 50 years. They met at a dance in 1968. (Ryan Michalesko/Staff Photographer)

John D. Ingram’s desire to be a businessman was sparked at an early age in his hometown of Marshall.

While other kids played games in their free time, Ingram and his brothers mowed lawns in their neighborhood and worked as bellhops at a local hotel as teenagers.

“They didn’t have as much playtime as other kids,” said Rebecca Ingram-Stell, Ingram’s sister. “He was always businesslike.”

Ingram, known affectionately throughout North Texas as “Mr. Formal” for the tuxedo business he founded in 1961, died Feb. 16, leaving behind a legacy for black-owned businesses in Dallas. He was 84.

Born in 1934, Ingram was the second-oldest of eight siblings, his sister said. He graduated from high school in 1953 and joined the Army in 1956. He was later honorably discharged from the service and moved to Dallas with his first wife, Marie Parker. They had four daughters.

In Dallas, Ingram entered the clothing industry as an employee at Skeffington’s Formal Wear, a shop that sold tuxedos and suits. He enjoyed his time in the store, but quickly identified a problem in the city: The industry, like others during the 1950s, was not kind to black customers.

“There was not a place in Dallas or anywhere around for blacks to rent tuxedos but at a white store,” Ingram-Stell said. “And sometimes — back then, the way he told it to me — they sometimes wouldn’t rent them to you.”

Fueled by words of encouragement from his boss at Skeffington’s, Ingram opened his own shop, Mr. Formal Tuxedo Services, in 1961.

The business opened on Oakland Avenue — what’s now Malcolm X Boulevard — and became the only store where black residents could comfortably buy and rent tuxedos. To his customers, Ingram would be known as “Mr. Formal.”

“A lot of people didn’t know him by his name,” said Joan Ingram, his wife of 49 years who said Ingram always dressed formally and didn’t even own a pair of jeans until his later years.

He wore a suit on the night in 1968 the couple met at a ball in South Dallas. He approached her for a dance, and she admired his charm.

“He just stood out from the crowd, and I just liked him,” she said. They married the next year.

The early days of the tuxedo shop were rough for Ingram, his wife said. Business was often slow, and he worked a side job at a local airline company to keep the shop afloat. Business picked up in the 1970s, and the store expanded over time.

Mr. Formal has had eight locations throughout the years, his wife said, and Ingram operated as many as four stores at a time.

“He always maintained a positive attitude toward his dreams of economic development and success,” his wife said. “He’s living proof that with God’s help and a lot of prayers, you can overcome many obstacles that come into your daily lives.”

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SOURCE: Dallas Morning News – LaVendrick Smith