Given the dilution perpetuated by various brands around what a tuxedo actually is, we feel it’s necessary to talk about the key differences between tuxes and suits. What makes a suit a suit, and what makes a tuxedo a tuxedo?
We’ll analyze this difference conceptually at first, and then we’ll do a garment-by-garment breakdown of each.
Difference Between Suit & Tuxedo
The graphics below show, in detail, the key differences between a suit and a tuxedo.
Tuxedos are semi-formal garments, whereas suits are informal ones:
Formality, Time Of Day, & Purpose
Again, tuxedos are technically semi-formal garments, with the “formal” space being occupied by white tie. They were created as a comfortable alternative to the white tie and tails, made to be worn to elite dinner parties (hence the British term “dinner jacket”).
They are to be worn only for evenings (events starting at 6pm or later) and are made to be celebratory: you don’t wear them to work or funerals, but rather to weddings, galas, and similar gatherings.
A suit, on the other hand, was formerly known as a “lounge suit” and was only considered appropriate in the countryside until the early 20th century, at which point it became acceptable for town wear.
They may be worn during the day or the evening, with their primary purpose nowadays being business garb. In fact, the business professional dress code dictates that a man must wear a suit to the office.
Suits are commonly worn for celebrations as well, regardless of the time of day. It’s typical to wear a suit to a wedding, bar-mitzvah, first communion, and other religious-based events that mark rites of passage.
Other Notable Differences Between Suits & Tuxedos
One thing that’s important to keep in mind is that the aesthetic philosophy of a tuxedo is the minimization -elimination, even- of bulk and the maximization of simplicity.
This is why tuxedo jacket pockets have no flaps, their trousers have no cuffs or pleats, and why single-breasted models should only have one button. It’s also why the color palette is so limited.
Suits, on the other hand, are less rigid in the image they’re trying to project. They’re simply trying to look neat, tidy, and handsome.
The color options are through the roof compared to that of a tuxedo. Center vents, while not as handsome as side vents, are acceptable on a suit but not so for a dinner jacket.
Trousers may be pleated, cuffed, have a fishtail back, or whatever other detail you like. Bow ties are just as accepted as neckties on a suit, but you should never wear a necktie with a tuxedo.
Breaking Tuxedo Rules: They Aren’t Suits!
As tuxedos are a version of formalwear, it would behove us to think about the etymology of the word “formal.” Formal, as defined by Google, means “done in accordance with rules of convention or etiquette.”
In other words, you’re adhering to a form.
There are plenty of opportunities every day to break the rules when you’re getting dressed. Is the narrow blade of your tie a bit longer than the wide one?
No biggie, that’s just a bit of sprezzatura. Wearing a button-down collar with a double-breasted suit? It’s a bit scandalous, but the truly stylish of us can get away with it. Suits, relatively casual as they are, allow for this kind of wiggle room if the wearer has the know-how to pull it off.
Breaking rules with a tuxedo -that is, treating a tuxedo as if it were a suit- doesn’t show great style. It shows a lack of understanding around why a tuxedo is what it is. To dilute the tuxedo’s formality is to walk around wearing a sartorial oxymoron.
If you really want to stand out from the crowd when you’re at a semi-formal event, we suggest doing two things:
- Opt for non-standard but acceptable details: Wear midnight blue instead of black and when choosing tux shoes throw on some opera pumps.
- Make sure the fit is impeccable: The most expensive, elegant clothes in the world are nothing if they don’t fit properly.
Sometimes, having respect for tradition is the most stylish thing of all.
A tux is a tux, and a suit is a suit. Knowing the differences between the two is important because, at some point in his life, there’s a good chance that a man will have to wear a tuxedo.
Many places sell things that aren’t tuxes but are marketed as such. These orphan children are neither suits nor dinner jackets, and they have no place in the wardrobe.
If you need more information on suits or tuxedos, we suggest taking a look at our guides to black tie and business professional. Alternatively, check out the best tuxedos to buy online!
Now that you have read our guide to the difference between a suit and a tuxedo, consider reading some of our related content: