By Ryan on November 6th, 2017
This is a very common question. The short answer is that a tuxedo is dressier than a suit and has satin on it. But how else is a tuxedo different from a suit? Before we get into the details, it’s worth taking a step back and asking another question.
Are you dressing for a festive holiday party? A wedding? Your wedding?! Or maybe it’s a charitable event or an art exhibition?
Having a good understanding of the event’s dress code and the audience will help you to decide what’s most appropriate for you to wear. For instance, if the dress code calls for Black Tie, then by all means, wear a tuxedo. If it calls for Black Tie Optional, you could go either way, but you’ll probably end up being one of only a handful of men that are wearing a tuxedo.
By the way, a tuxedo should only be worn for evening events, say after 6:00 pm, as a rule of thumb. Anything during the afternoon would probably be more appropriate for a suit.
The tuxedo, aka the Dinner Jacket, is the daddy of them all. Every man looks good in one.
The primary attribute that makes a tuxedo different from a suit is the presence of satin. A tuxedo will usually have a satin facing on the lapels, pockets, buttons, and sometimes (although it’s getting rare these days) on the pant leg.
In its most traditional form, a tuxedo will be paired with a matching vest and a cummerbund. The latter, we don’t see very often these days.
It’s easy to assume that a tuxedo can only have a shawl lapel (i.e. the kind with no visible notch or cut), because that’s what we most often see in popular culture. But so long as there is satin involved, you can really choose any of the three available lapel styles: Notched, peaked, or shawl.
However, going for a notched lapel would be a bit of a style fail. This look is just too casual for a tuxedo.
You can’t go wrong with a shawl lapel. It’s classic and works well for any occasion. Just slightly less dressy is the peaked lapel, but both lapels will make for an awesome tuxedo.
Although technically, one could build a tuxedo in a linen or cotton and still add satin to the lapel, it certainly would’t make for a very cohesive look. With satin being as luxurious and sleek as it is, the only cloth that can really stand up to it is a fine wool. A Super Number of 150 would be a safe bet, but great woolens can be found starting at around the 120 level and up. However, we’d be remiss if we didn’t note that a silk and viscose blend can make for an excellent ivory dinner jacket.
Pattern-wise, we recommend that you stick with something relatively basic like a beautiful navy or a midnight blue. While plaids can sure be fun, it would be a bit of a niche jacket, so you may not be able to wear it to many events after the intended one. But if you want something besides a true solid, there are some fabrics out there that have a nice textural look to them. The one below comes off looking like a midnight blue…
…but up close has a bit of a geometric pattern.
Here’s a question: Can a tuxedo be made in white or ivory? Sure it can. And it can be a great look. Just about every James Bond, including the present actor, has worn a white dinner jacket. However, this look should be reserved for use in warm locales or during summer events only.
Finally, tuxedos always have one button on them when single-breasted, and usually two buttons when double-breasted.
Always wear either a bow tie or a neck tie with a tuxedo. Ideally in black, but you do have some creative freedom to add a little color. Just don’t go open collar and try for a “dressed down” look. There is no dressed down look with a tuxedo!
A suit isn’t going to have any satin on it. So, no matter what the suit style or fabric (i.e. two button, one button, peaked lapel, notched lapel, etc.), if there’s no satin present, it’s simply not a tuxedo.
Suits cover the spectrum from being very dressy, like the one below, to being more casual. How dressy or casual the suit is generally depends on two things: Fabric and lapel choice. A peaked lapel suit, like the one that Brett is wearing in this photo, is very dressy and bold, whereas a notched lapel is more of a standard for the office.
Suits can be made in all different types of fabric from casual linens and cottons, to unique blends, to the gold standard woolen. Very fine fabrics tend to look very sleek and feel very smooth to the touch. More casual fabrics will be more textural, like a corduroy or tweed. And when you properly care for your suit, it will last you for many years to come.
One of the advantages to wearing a suit at your wedding is that you’ll have many opportunities to wear it afterwards. It could be to the office, a friend’s wedding, holiday party, date night, or just because. Whereas, a tuxedo will probably be too dressy for a lot of occasions. But then again, you’d own a really awesome tuxedo :).
Regarding your bride’s gown, you’ll want to at least make an effort to match the level of formality in her gown to your attire. No, you won’t be able to see her dress (and you shouldn’t ask!), but you can certainly ask her for an idea on how formal or indie her dress is. This is important because a bohemian dress may look a bit too bohemian next to a sophisticated tuxedo. Conversely, your casual grey suit will be outdone by her ballroom-appropriate gown. Then again, maybe that’s OK :).
Also, remember that a tuxedo is the more festive option. If your friends and colleagues often see you in a suit or sportcoat, then it makes sense to go the extra distance and wear a tuxedo.
Nevertheless, your wedding is you and your bride’s special day. You can wear whatever you want. Our advice? Go with whatever puts the biggest smile on your face!
And if you’ve decided on a wedding suit, here’s our complete guide to buying one.