Whether you’re a groom or a guest, deciding to wear a tux is a big deal. Reserved for the most elegant of occasions, a tuxedo is the mecca of men’s formalwear. And if you’re wondering whether you can ditch the bow tie and wear a classic necktie with a tux, you're in luck because we’ve got the answers for you!
Suit vs. Tuxedo
While suits and tuxedos are both formal, they’re actually quite different in regards to the material, cut, and when wearing one is appropriate. "The biggest difference between a suit and a tux is the satin details on a tuxedo," explains Jeanne Foley, co-founder of SuitShop. "Most tuxedos have satin lapels, satin-covered buttons, a satin waistband on the pants, and traditionally, a satin stripe down the side of the leg (although, some designers exclude that detail depending on style preference). Suits, while still formal, provide a much more casual look when compared to a tuxedo."
The only thing a tux and a suit share is that the jacket and trousers are made from the same, matching material.
Now that you know what a tux is, when exactly should you wear one? “Any event that includes ‘black-tie’ on the invitation requires a tuxedo to be worn,” explains Diana Ganz, co-founder of SuitShop. “For weddings or special events that do not specify ‘black-tie’ apparel on the invitation, you can opt for a suit.”
Wearing a Tie With a Tuxedo
One of the biggest questions people face when wearing a tuxedo focuses on the bow tie. Some love the look, while others would prefer to bypass this tie style. In the past, wearing a bow tie with a tux was mandatory, but the experts agree the pairing isn’t as clear-cut anymore. "More recently, we’re seeing customers swap the traditional bow tie for a slim necktie," reveals Foley. "A slim black or ivory/white tie is definitely becoming a more common accessory for tuxes, especially for people who want a less traditional look while still achieving the level of formality a tuxedo creates."
Forgoing the traditional bow tie can feel a little unnatural, but Ganz reassures that it’s a personal preference that still adheres to the black-tie dress code. "There are no formal ‘rules’ for when it is appropriate to wear a necktie with a tuxedo. You really have to go with your gut—based on your comfort level with trends and what event you are attending," she explains. "If the event specifies black tie, but you are going to be around mostly friends and family (and you feel like changing it up a bit), don’t hesitate to go with a tie if you love the look and feel great."
When Not to Wear a Necktie
While it’s clear that a tie is okay to wear with a tuxedo, there are a few times when you need to stick with a bow tie over a necktie. If you're part of a wedding party or group that’s required to wear a bow tie, not adhering to the dress code would be a big mistake. "This is typically specified if you are a groomsman or part of a group that needs to dress exactly the same for consistency (or even as a uniform)," Foley says. "Otherwise, the necktie is totally acceptable as a black-tie option and can be swapped out for the bow tie anytime."
Additionally, you might want to avoid wearing a tie if you’re unsure of the venue’s formality. “If you are attending an event where you are unsure of the guest list and are not as confident about taking fashion risks, you can never go wrong with the classic bow tie,” Foley explains. Chances are, the majority of guests will be wearing a bow tie, so if you want to blend in, it’s the best way to go.
How to Style a Tie with a Tuxedo
You should always think twice before reaching for a standard tie in your closet if you plan to pair it with your tux. "A slim (not skinny) satin or grosgrain silk necktie works best with a tuxedo," says Alyssa DiMarcantonio, head designer for Damari. She also adds that a tie should always match the tuxedo lapels. "Traditionally, that means a black silk tie, but if your lapels are navy, go with a navy tie," she advises.
The best thing to do would be to keep things simple and leave your loud prints, thin stripes, and colors at home. “Our advice is to keep the tie neutral and go with black or ivory/white for that classic look you won’t regret for years to come,” suggests Foley.
For those who are truly fashion-forward, the knot of the tie should also factor into your look. According to Ganz, "There are several different knot types to choose from, but a Windsor or half-Windsor knot is the most common and easiest to learn if you’re not an avid tie wearer."
However, if you’re wearing a tuxedo shirt with a wing-tip collar, pleats, or studs (or even a cummerbund) DiMarcantonio highly recommends you wear a bow tie—otherwise, the tuxedo will look off-balance. Lastly, opt for a tuxedo shirt that features a classic placket, no placket, or a fly front if you want to wear a traditional necktie.
Other Styling Options for Tuxedos
"The tuxedo has evolved over time, as have its guidelines," explains DiMarcantonio. If you’re looking for more ways to mix up the classic tux look, a variety of options will let you express your personal style while still adhering to the black-tie dress code. For example, an ascot is another fun way to veer from the traditional tie or bow tie. "An ascot is just a fancy name for a neck scarf, and they can be worn formally or informally," explains Ganz. "The ascot is a very specific look and can be fun to try out when you’re going to a big party or special event and want to differentiate yourself."
That said, if you’re attending a more intimate affair or wedding and don’t feel like taking fashion risks, stick with a tie or bow tie. You can still modernize your look by trading your patent leather shoes for a matte black option, utilizing a tie pin instead of a bar, or selecting a dark-colored tuxedo, like green or navy. "When in doubt, check with the event host and find out more about the venue and size of the party," suggests Foley. "That will help you determine how creative you want to get with your attire."
Ultimately, you want to dress comfortably, appropriately, and in a way that makes you feel your best. "Style is in the eye of the beholder, and like many fashion 'rules' through the years, they are often made to be broken," says Vyanca Scott, style advisor for Suitsupply. Whether you opt to pair your tuxedo with a tie or bow tie, as long as you follow the dress code, you can feel at ease with your formalwear choice.