Tuxedos have been forever lauded as looks that connote the highest degree of decorum. Since the late 1800s, these black and white ensembles have been reserved for the most special of occasions, ceremonious events, and esteemed social gatherings, and it’s not difficult to see why: they’re polished and put together with total precision.
While we’d say that they epitomize the phrase fancy, we also don’t want to tout fanciness as a cut and dry synonym for formal; they’re certainly related, but you can still be formal and occasion-fitting without dressing over-the-top or too out of character. “These days, tuxedos are a far cry from the black and white penguin suit status they had some decades ago,” shares stylist and image consultant Donnell Baldwin.
Meet the Expert
- Donnell Baldwin is a 15-year veteran in the fashion industry with notable credits as a Menswear Styling Manager for Ralph Lauren and former Deputy Online Styling Editor for MR PORTER. His namesake brand, Mr. Baldwin Style, provides fashion styling, model casting, and shoot curation for branded projects in the fashion and wedding spaces, as well as personal styling sessions for modern gentlemen and grooms.
The men’s wedding wear industry may not be as robust as the women’s, but there’s still a ton of seriously-elevated styles to be found for grooms. Ahead, find an A-to-Z glossary of everything related to tuxedo-wearing for the wedding.
Is a Tuxedo Right for Your Event?
Ultimately, the decision to go with a tuxedo or a suit comes down to the basic formality of the day. “If the overall vibe of the wedding is elegant and you’re providing a ‘black tie’ or ‘black tie preferred’ dress code on your invitation, then it’s most appropriate for you (and every guest who’d be attending in a suited look) to wear a black tie, tuxedo look,” explains Baldwin.
Of course, there are certain circumstances that might prompt greater consideration, but by and large, tuxedos align with a more formal direction for the day. “In my opinion, a tuxedo says luxury and elegance—not that a suit can’t, it’s just that there is a reason why distinctions between tuxedos and suits have lasted over hundreds of years.”
We repeat: There are so many ways to do tuxedos these days, and all of the variations and iterations are there to fit the most simple to edgy personal styles (with lots of creativity in between). But before delving into all of these subtleties, we’ll be the first to say that all-season wool tuxedos are the best bet, overall, for comfort and quality. Not only is wool a more sustainable alternative to its synthetic counterparts (i.e. polyester), it’s also a lot more breathable and flexible.
A tuxedo jacket will be slightly different than your average suit jacket. The biggest difference is in the lapel facings: The outward decorative coverings of the lapels that give a tux its signature V-look, which, for a tuxedo, are pure silk, smooth satin, or textured grosgrain. The buttons of the tuxedo jacket will be covered in the same fabrics that are used for the lapels. The same goes for the tuxedo pants, which may (but don’t always) come with a stripe of-the-same-fabric down the side.
Typically, bow ties are worn and paired with a tuxedo shirt using button studs, but you can see a tuxedo with a traditional dress shirt, a wingtip dress shirt, or a pleated dress shirt. Another important hallmark of the tux is the absence of a belt; pants don’t even have belt loops, rather, they’re held up with suspenders.
Taste-Based and Tactical Differences
When Baldwin works with wedding clients, he likes to consider tuxedo styling as being tailored to the classic groom and the classic groom remixed. “This is the most traditional form of a tuxedo: black with satin lapels, a crisp white tuxedo shirt, a self-tie bow tie, cufflinks and a stud set, proper tuxedo trousers, and elegant tuxedo footwear,” shares Baldwin. It’s the one-off modifications and intentional tweaks beyond the customary underpinnings and accouterments that turn a classic groom into one who’s remixed. “Some additional elements might include a waistcoat (a vest, more plainly) or a cummerbund, but never both, along with other distinguished toppers like dinner jackets in white or ivory.”
When it comes to shirts, a tuxedo shirt is a sophisticated standard, but it’s not a make it-or-break part of the dapper uniform, says Baldwin. “Grooms opting to couple their tuxedo with a chic and modern turtleneck or going with a plain white dress shirt. By virtue of changing the shirt, the need for cufflinks or a stud set, traditional tuxedo footwear, a waistcoat or a cummerbund might not be apparent. Regardless, all of it is acceptable, handsome, and stylish.”
Colors and Prints
It’s not always black and white with a tux, either. Every formalwear atelier and rental authority has tuxedos in a vast number of colors from black to graphite, gray to charcoal, crimson red to midnight blue, and Spectre-style Daniel Craig in white. Choosing something outside of the classic black palette just needs to be pulse-checked against the rest of the bridal party and the couple themselves.
“If wearing a bold color or print will be distracting or ill-suited for the wedding setting, I tell my grooms to reconsider. This is especially true if their partner’s look is a bit more subdued. I’m certainly not going to style a groom in a super bold look that draws more singular attention than what should be attracted by the couple together, after all, they are the guests of honor for the day,” cautions Baldwin.
Just as the decision to wear a tuxedo reflects an escalated sense of event formality, so does the choice of the collar. A wingtip collar has been adored for decades: It features a small standing collar with the points (tips, like the title) pressed down so they stick out horizontally in the same vein as wings.
Spread collars are a bit less rigid, literally and figuratively. They come in myriad points and angles (the classic or forward point collar is popular for tuxedo styling because it nicely hides the band of a bow tie), whereas the more casual cutaway collar is more appropriate with suit styling, with the spread referencing the distance between collar points.
Generally speaking, lapels also range in formality, from notch to peak.
Although still very classic and popular, the notch or notched lapel is a lesser formal and more streamlined selection. Quite literally, there’s a notch where the jacket collar meets the lapel. Baldwin tells us that “they seem to be widely accepted because they are as close to a business suit than any other lapel option.” As such, they’re arguably the most common lapels to be found on off-the-rack tuxedos. “The slimmer lapels also work in tandem to create an overall sleek and trim look, visually.”
While the notch and peak lapels are appreciated universally, the harder-to-find round shape shawl-collared lapel is a much more styled and unique taste. In fact, Baldwin notes that “not everyone can pull off this old-school, smoking jacket feel reminiscent of James Bond or a Rat Pack-esque gentleman of style—you have to be especially confident wearing this lapel because it’s certainly a departure from the expected and thus likely to be noticed.”
Just as popular as the notch lapel, the peak lapel rises to a much more formal occasion: white tie, black tie, each is appropriate codes to call for this ultra-classic and exceptionally debonair detailing. Here, there are edges that ‘peak’ upward toward the face to “give the appearance of broader shoulders and a slimmer waistline,” says Baldwin.
While there is a multitude of options for tuxedo shirts, lapels, and even colors, when ties are considered, it’s truly only two of a kind: bow tie or necktie. From day one, bow ties have been favored with tuxedos over neckties for being particularly diplomatic and buttoned up, but now that people are taking creative styling liberties and personalizing their wedding looks, the interest in neckties has definitely turned around.
The important thing to remember here, beyond personal preferences, is that a wedding deserves thoughtful wardrobing. “Now is not the time to wear your business tie with a bunch of patterns and designs—keep it elevated and simple,” advises Baldwin.
Commit this to memory: self-tie versions are the only way to go, even if it means logging some hours on YouTube to perfect the art of tying one or asking a fashion-native friend or family member to help you on the morning of the wedding.
Sure, bow ties are boss, but neckties can work, too, if the idea is to do something slightly different with your squad visage-a dynamic aesthetic for an ensemble can play out with a groom wearing a bow tie and his men wearing neckties. Baldwin simply recommends that “if you choose a necktie for your nuptials, you should explore one in silk or a complementary texture that feels elegant and on-par with the tuxedo.”
Shoes and Accessories
There are tons of [shoe] types that stand up to the tux. Baldwin reminds us that “men’s dress shoes tend to crease with wear, especially patent leather and even some plain leather.” So, how to avoid any shoe slip-ups like Chandler Bing’s dance floor-sliding shenanigans, without wearing them out before game day? Prime them on the pavement! “A groom can certainly take them outside on the sidewalk to “scuff” the bottoms a bit prior to the wedding, but we don’t recommend actually wearing them,” he reiterates.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the tuxedo-turn-up potential of hardware and accessories like cufflinks, jewelry, even shoes. Stripped down, the only necessary pieces of a tuxedo include the jacket and the trousers, but why not join them with a few impressive extras? “Ornate jewelry or diamond-studded cufflinks might not be for everyone,” explains Baldwin. “But without some accouterments to spice up your look, you might skew a little too simple.”
There’s always the wedding morning gift exchange to surprise the groom with some apropos and dignified embellishments, starting with an embroidered pocket square in white linen or silk. “A great gift to wear on the wedding day is a meaningful piece of jewelry, like a signet ring with initials or the wedding date engraved.
Another great thought could be a beautiful lapel pin, a bracelet that channels some of the metallic motifs or decor, or, in some cases, a timepiece. “Typically, I have my grooms skip wristwatches altogether, because it’s your wedding day, it’s time to stay present,” says Baldwin. “That being said, there are some different, more discreet options, like a pocket watch, that are elegant, timeless, and truly charming.”