The Oscars just passed us, and with wedding season coming up, formal wear is on our minds. Few men have the opportunity to wear a tuxedo nowadays and there’s a lot of mystification as to what they’re supposed to look like. So, what makes a tuxedo a tuxedo?
WHAT MAKES A PROPER TUXEDO?
First and foremost, tuxedos are not suits. Yes, both involve jackets and trousers made from matching materials, but the garments serve different purposes. Suits are a bit more casual and appropriate for daytime wear to the office, out to lunch, and that sort of thing. While you may have to limit yourself aesthetically due to your industry, there’s a lot of leeway a man gets with a suit in terms of pairing shirts, ties, pocket squares, socks, and other accoutrements.
Tuxedos, on the other hand, are semi-formal, are classically referred to as dinner clothes, and are to be worn exclusively in the evening. If you’re invited to a “black-tie” event, that means you must wear a tuxedo.
With a basic tuxedo, men don’t have the sartorial freedom they do with a business suit. Think about the etymology of the word “formal,” specifically in the sense of adhering to a form. Tuxedos have a specific set of guidelines that will make it look “correct” and in tune with its history as a non-sporty garment. Here are some pointers for the first-time tux buyer:
- Wear a single-breasted tuxedo with only one button and either peaked lapels or a shawl collar. Any double-breasted button stance is appropriate, and peaked lapels are standard here. Shawl collars on double-breasted jackets are very rare but smart if you can pull it off.
- Opt for jetted besom pockets on the jacket. They’re cleaner (and therefore more formal) than flap pockets.
- Wear either a vest or a cummerbund with a single-breasted jacket. Vests go particularly well with peaked lapels, and cummerbunds go nicely with shawl collars. Double-breasted jackets require neither.
- Line your tux with satin or grosgrain facings. At least the lapels, pockets, and pant out-seams should be faced with the material of your choice. Facing on the collar is optional.
- Wear pants that take braces or that have side tabs. Belts are no good on tuxedos.
- Keep your tuxedo colors to either black or midnight blue; a cream-colored jacket is appropriate for summer months or all year long in warm climates. You can venture into different colors for smoking jackets, but that’s for a different article altogether.
- Wear black patent leather oxfords (plain or cap-toe) or slip-ons; high-quality black calfskin shoes with a high shine are also acceptable. If you’re as secure as can be in your sense of style, some classic opera pumps with a bow on the vamp will make you stand out from the crowd to say the least.
- Choose black knee-high socks. Period.
- Shirts are white and either have a regular “turndown” collar or a “wing” collar, which is more traditional. Pleated or pique fronts are appropriate too, and pick up a stud set to lend some tasteful bling to your ensemble.
- Wear two- or three-button single-breasted tuxedos, and certainly not with notched lapels. If you’re going to opt for these details, you’re basically turning your tux into a suit. What’s the point of that?
- Get flap pockets. This is another business suit detail that will add bulk to your tux and compromise its formal integrity.
- Wear a belt with a tux. Ever.
- Put on shoes with too much detail like broguing, bicycle toes, wingtips, etc. They’re too sporty for tuxes.
- Wear a necktie, as these are too business-like for a tux. Think of it this way: how often do you get a chance to throw on a bow tie? Take advantage!
As we head into wedding season and grooms think about tuxes, these tips should be helpful. As always, we’re here to steer you in the right direction when you’re unsure of wear to go.