Everything You Need To Know About Tuxedos
When a man dons a perfectly-fitted, detail-correct tuxedo, he is transformed into the most handsome, dapper version of himself. As an ensemble reserved for special occasions, a man may not have many opportunities to wear a tux, but when an opportunity does arise, he should take advantage to the fullest extent.
But, what is a tuxedo? When should you wear one? How does it differ from a suit? Furthermore, what’s a smoking jacket, and how is it different than a tuxedo?
If you’ve ever asked these questions, you’re in the right place!
What Is A Tuxedo?
A tuxedo is evening semi-formalwear for men. Referred to as a “dinner jacket” in the British Isles, le smoking in France, and un esmóquin in Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries, it is a simple, high-contrast ensemble consisting of the following:
- Matching black jacket, trousers, and cummerbund or waistcoat
- White French/double cuff shirt
- Black patent leather shoes
- Black bow tie
There are variations on the above, but we will address that later.
History Of The Tuxedo
As with most things we wear in the Western world, the story starts in England.
Before the mid-nineteenth century, men of means and status wore traditional tailcoats for dinner in their homes. Beautiful as this looked, it was a chore to get into and out of a tailcoat and trousers. But, rules being rules, men abided by this code regardless of the nuisance it entailed.
In the mid-1800’s, Savile Row was beginning to flourish as a bespoke tailoring destination. One the tailors on the row was a gentleman named Henry Poole, whose shop is still at 15 Savile Row. Henry was fortunate in that he had friends in high places: specifically, King Edward VII. His Majesty commissioned Poole to create a short jacket to replace the tailcoat for dinners, as these would be more comfortable.
They were, and the decline of the tailcoat’s popularity began as those in the King’s social circle ordered their own short jackets and the style became commonplace for dinners in the home.
Where Does The Word “Tuxedo” Come From?
As it happens, the word “tuxedo” is an American term. It comes from Tuxedo Park, a small town in New York’s Hudson Valley that was an enclave for Manhattan’s social elite. The word came into common usage around 1888, thanks to a Tuxedo Park resident named James Brown Potter.
He and his wife Cora met the then-Prince of Wales at a court ball, and the Prince, somewhat taken with Cora, invited them to Sandringham, his hunting estate in Norfolk. Potter inquired about what to wear, and the Prince instructed him to visit his tailor in London to have a short jacket made up. He did just that, and returned home to Tuxedo Park with his garment in tow.
Upon his return, other Tuxedo Park residents were quite taken with this ensemble and copied it, as they felt it was more appropriate for informal dinners than tails.
There’s a story that a few Tuxedo locals went to dinner sporting their tuxes at Delmonico’s, which was the only public local establishment in which men didn’t have to “dress” for dinner. The other patrons had never seen anything like this before, and when they inquired about it, they were told that that was just how men in Tuxedo dressed for dinner. The name stuck.
Humorously, Tuxedo Park’s founder, tobacco tycoon Pierre Lorillard IV, attended Tuxedo Park’s first Autumn Ball wearing this “tail-less dress coat.” He was asked to leave.
Colours & Materials: What Is A Midnight Blue Tuxedo?
Traditionally, tuxedos are made from worsted barathea wool. What this means is that it has a hopsack twill weave, which creates a texture that is lightly pebbled or ribbed.
However, it’s not uncommon for tuxedos to now be in different weaves such as a fine twill or a herringbone. Nevertheless, the latter is particularly rare.
Tuxedos are typically black, but midnight blue tuxedos have grown in popularity. These aren’t as recent as you’d expect, though. In fact, they came into fashion when the Duke Of Windsor had one made on the premise that very dark blue looks blacker than black under artificial light.
As it happens, he was right! Black actually has a greenish cast to it under synthetic lamps.
Two key additionally materials in tuxedos are silk or grosgrain. Either of these materials can be used for facings for lapels, buttons, pocket seams, and trouser outseams. This is a key distinction between a suit and a tuxedo.
How To Wear A Tuxedo
In the following section, we will break down how you to properly wear a tuxedo and look the part.
How Should A Tuxedo Fit?
Your tuxedo should fit just like a normal suit. We have an entire guide to suit fit if you’re unsure of the particulars there.
The one exception to this is in the case of certain smoking jackets, which are intentionally cut more loosely than standard dinner jackets.
Tuxedo Jacket & Trousers
The jacket and pants are the main components of any tuxedo.
A tuxedo jacket is typically black or a dark navy blue, however other fabric colours exist for less formal occasions. For instance, you’ll occasion see white or ivory jackets too.
A peak lapel is the most traditional and formal lapel style for a tuxedo jacket, but it is possible to wear a shawl collared tux to a black tie event, while a notch lapel is more appropriate for semi-formal occasions.
The tuxedo or “evening” shirt is traditionally white and takes either a wing collar or a regular spread collar with a pleated front. However, the stringent rules have softened a lot here in certain respects. In all cases, though, these shirts will have double “French” cuffs.
We already introduced you to a few excellent brands but you can read more about their different characteristics and styles in our guide to tuxedo shirts.
Proper tuxedo shoes are black patent leather oxfords, Venetian loafers, or opera pumps. Oxfords in calfskin with a high shine are also acceptable, as are velvet slippers (though these are only acceptable in less sartorially fusty instances).
We don’t want to cover it in too much detail here as we have a full guide to tuxedo shoes! This features some recommended brands too if you’re in the market for a pair.
The Bow Tie
The bow tie should be black and match the facings’ material on your lapels (either silk or grosgrain). As with any bow tie worth wearing, it must be self-tied.
Don’t know how to tie a bow tie? No problem. Visit our step-by-step guide on how to tie a bow tie.
Semi-Formal Waist Coverings
Your choice is a cummerbund or a waistcoat. Our guide to cummerbunds will have everything you need to know about them as well as some recommended brands for you.
If you opt for a waistcoat (“vest” for our American readers), it should traditionally match your jacket and trousers.
Black Tie Accessories
Studs that take the place of shirt buttons and cufflinks are all the jewellery you’ll need. Technically, you’re even wear a watch as it’s traditionally considered rude to check the time at an event you’re supposed to be enjoying.
Yet, that’s extraordinarily rare these days and most people love to flaunt their most prized timepieces. However, if you do want to wear a watch with black tie, you might want to check our guide to dress watches first!
If you’re going to wear suspenders just note that they should be white. It might be tempting to wear bold colours here but it’s not perceived as part of black tie.
While the socks should be black silk, this is quite rare these days. We already recommended Boardroom who produce excellent fine over-the-calf merino wool socks.
When To Wear A Tux: Black Tie Dress Code
Technically speaking, a tuxedo is regarded as evening wear and should actually only be worn at night. Traditionally, this means any semi-formal event that begins after sunset or 6pm, whichever is earliest.
If you’re invited to an event that has a black tie dress code, the expectation is that you will wear a tuxedo. Click the preceding link to access a top-to-bottom, highly-detailed, garment-by-garment presentation of what’s acceptable under that dress code.
You should wear a tuxedo to any black tie event, and you may also wear a tux to an event with a black tie optional dress code.
If you’re attending or involved in a wedding, it’s obligatory to wear a tuxedo if the soon-to-be newlyweds want it to be a black tie affair. Depending on your role in the wedding (if any) you may have to wear a rented number, which we typically don’t advise under other circumstances. Click the preceding link for more information on weddings.
If you’re wearing a tux to the prom, that’s great! You can opt for something traditional or venture into the world of creative black tie. If black tie is a new concept and you’re preparing to go to a prom, head to our full guide where we’ll walk you through it!
What Is The Difference Between A Suit & Tux?
There are many subtle difference between suits and tuxes, outlined graphically below:
Read our page on the difference between a tux and a suit for an in-depth explanation.
Wearing a tuxedo is a wonderful way for a man to look his best.
Bespoke Unit’s Tuxedo series is a comprehensive, detail-oriented resource for black tie attire. First-time tuxedo wearers will find immense instructional value in our guides, and seasoned dinner jacket connoisseurs will learn even more about the clothes they love.
Each of our guides has been thoroughly researched and written with a painstaking attention to detail, not to mention an immutable passion for formal-wear. The full suite of pages are below: