Men’s Formalwear: How to Wear a Tuxedo

This is one post in a series from our contributor Grant Harris.

Saying “I do,” accepting an award, speaking before a charity benefit – great life events are marked with celebrations. Those celebrations may require the quintessential piece of men’s formalwear: the tuxedo.

Here, we discuss the basics of the tuxedo from top to bottom, so your look matches the significance of the moment.

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Just like a suit, a tuxedo can be either single or double breasted. The main difference between a single-breasted suit and a single-breasted tuxedo is that a proper tuxedo will come with only one button. It lends itself to cleaner presentation and visually creates a longer silhouette for the wearer.

Just as in a standard suit there are options for lapels, but the only way to go is peak lapel for a more formal look or shawl collar for a suave look. Skip the tuxedos with notch lapels. A notch lapel is basic and is used for the daily grind and will only make you look like part of the wait staff instead of the man of the hour.

Tuxedo lapels also come in only one of two materials; satin or grosgrain (pronounced grow-grain), both of which add to the tuxedo’s formality with shine and sheen.  Both materials are derived from silk. However, satin has a smooth and flat finish while grosgrain has a raised, ribbed finish and ads a bit of visual texture.

Unlike a suit, which may have horn, shell, nut, or mother of pearl buttons, tuxedo buttons should be covered in the same fabric as the lapel. Satin on satin. Grosgrain on grosgrain.  Again, this adds to the symmetry and formality of the garment.

Choose the number of vents on your tuxedo – none, one, or two – based on your personal taste and body type. After hours and formalwear calls for more discretion, and many men opt for a ventless dinner jacket and/or tuxedo.  I personally prefer double vents.

Jetted pockets are the only option for a tuxedo, as formalwear should create the cleanest, sleekest look possible with minimal distractions from the wearer. If it has flaps then it might as well just be a suit.

Color

Tuxedos are most commonly seen and worn in black. Black is the standard bearer for most formal occasions save a select few.  No man will go wrong with a black tuxedo. However, there are other options.  Midnight blue is a happy medium between navy and black.   It isn’t navy like your Monday boardroom suit, but it isn’t jet black either. While black can take on a greenish tinge under certain lighting, midnight blue holds its true color and can look blacker than black.

Vests

Vests and cummerbund (without a “b”) are optional but should not be a focal point.  The idea behind both additions is to keep the wearer’s torso covered  and modest in front of his peers and therefore more formal.  Vests can be single or double breasted. The cummerbund was originally used to hold opera or symphony tickets, so make sure the folds face up.

Trousers

Proper tuxedo trousers come with satin or grosgrain racing stripe down the side of the leg which is a carryover from the military uniform. The belt is a modern invention that disrupts the silhouette of a man’s ensemble. Thus, proper tuxedo trousers will come without belt loops but instead with suspender buttons to wear with braces or side tabs for security.

Shirts

The only shirt appropriate to wear with a tuxedo is the French cuff shirt. Formal shirts come with a turn down (the collar you wear everyday) or wing collar with short wings on it.  The choice is personal preference. If you do choose a wing collar, make sure the wings are behind the bowtie when wearing.

Add high quality cuff links in golf, silver, platinum, onyx, diamond or mother of pearl. An appropriate tuxedo shirt will come with studs that should match the material of your cuff links.

Bow Ties

A bow tie is the only proper tie to wear with a tuxedo. They come in many shapes, sizes and materials but the most common are the bat wing or butterfly in silk, satin, or velvet. The bat wing is a bit more edgy while the butterfly is classic. Overall the fabric of the bow tie should match that of the lapels and buttons. Oh, and make sure it’s not pre-tied.

Pocket Squares

White or cream in linen. cotton or silk. A simple square fold will do.

Shoes  

Shoes are the foundation of an outfit and even more so in a tux, but they should not call too much attention to themselves. Black oxfords work best; pair them with high-quality silk, black, over-the-calf socks.

Renting Vs. Buying

For many men, buying a new tuxedo may not be the wisest investment.  Unless you are attending at least two formal events per year, then you may not have a need for your own tuxedo.

If you don’t like renting, another option is to look for a quality tuxedo in excellent condition in thrift and vintage stores. However, it may require some time and effort to find the proper style and get it tailored, so don’t start shopping for your tux the week before you need it. Buy a tuxedo when you don’t need it and it will be ready for duty when you do.

And, of course, there is always the Mahogany Collection Grosgrain Facing Tuxedo, $1,495.

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