Ever wonder about the differences between suits and tuxedos? Here’s the answer!
While we probably won’t ever go back to the point where a large percentage of white-collar men wore suits every day, I believe that formality is cyclical (for the most part).
The casualization of fashion isn’t a straight-lined, straightforward journey.
Although not as widespread as in the past, the traditional tuxedo won’t be phased out any time soon. What does change is the perception around it and its relationship with a traditional suit.
What is the actual difference between a suit and a tuxedo? Do these differences even still matter? In this article, I’ll break down how to choose between a suit and a tuxedo.
Suit vs Tuxedo: The Details
Ultimately, tuxedos are way more formal than suits. The way I like to describe it is, suits are formal, but in a more professional way, while tuxedos are highly formal, in a ceremonial way.
You can style a suit to be smart casual, something you simply can’t do with a tuxedo.
Here are some easy visual giveaways to help you differentiate between suits and tuxedos!
Tuxedo Satin Lapels and Accents
The use of satin is the easiest way to differentiate between a traditional tuxedo and a suit. While not all tuxedos these days use satin accents, especially non-black ones, everyday suits never use satin.
With tuxedos, the lapels often have satin facing. Satin pocket trims and buttons are also common. The most traditional tuxedos also have a satin line on the trouser legs.
Lapel Styles: The Tuxedo-Suit Spectrum
Some modern-day tuxedos don’t use satin at all, so how do you differentiate these from a regular suit? Start by checking out the lapel style.
There isn’t a lapel that’s exclusive to tuxedos, but they definitely can help you get a sense of the formality of the jacket, some lapel types leaning harder into the dressier side.
There are three common lapel styles: The shawl, the notched, and the peaked.
You’re probably already familiar with notched lapels, as this is the type that you’ll find on the vast majority of suits today.
Notched lapels have a v-shape cut-out with the tip of each wing of the ‘v’ extending out approximately the same distance from the bottom of the ‘v.’
Shawl and peal lapels are a little less familiar to most people.
The Formal Shawl Lapel
The shawl style travels smoothly from top to bottom, with no points. As its name suggests, it’s, well, like a shawl. Tuxedos are more likely to use this style. Suit jackets sporting shawl lapels are more formal than ones that don’t.
Actually, if you’re going to a black-tie event, you can often wear a black shawl-lapel suit and fit in seamlessly with the tux guys. A lot of brands today call their shawl-lapel suits “tuxedo suits.”
Moreover, if you’re going for a contemporary tuxedo in a less traditional color, aka not black and not white, a shawl lapel is a good way to go since it brings visual formality that can temper the less classically formal hue of the jacket.
The Bold Peaked Lapel: Gray Areas
A peaked lapel, meanwhile, is one in which the bottom point sticks out more than the top point, and moves upward, creating a more dramatic, and often wider lapel.
The peaked lapel has long been a go-to element of the “power suit” look for men. When it comes to suits, a peaked lapel isn’t “out of style” per se, but will stand out from the crowd of notched lapels.
With their sweeping elegance, peaked lapels are perfectly at home on a tuxedo, often having satin facing from the bottom point down.
Still, a suit jacket with large peaked lapels inches towards more formal dinner jacket territory.
A navy suit jacket with peaked lapels, paired with a bowtie, and black pants, for example, would be perfectly appropriate at a formal dinner.
Is it a tuxedo? Not technically, but that combination is perfectly appropriate in many “black tie optional” events.
Here’s another gray area: Remember in Goldfinger, when Sean Connery’s Bond wore a wide peak-lapel jacket in white (or ivory, to be specific), over a tuxedo shirt and bowtie, and finished it off with black pants?
If you’re in America, you’d look at that combination, and it would register as a tuxedo. However, the jacket may or may not be a suit jacket, especially in Connery’s day when suit lapels were generally wider.
Still, in this situation, whether that jacket came from a suit or a tuxedo doesn’t ultimately matter — the white hue is formal enough and may be appropriate in a warm-weather context.
This combo is actually nicknamed “tropical formal” because of the use of lighter shades that are more common for summer wear.
Naturally, if you’re a wedding guest, don’t go for something so bold, as you risk upstaging the groom, unless it’s explicitly allowed in the dress code.
Shirt and Accessories
Your shirt and accessories can’t transform a suit into a tuxedo, but they can make it more formal.
Traditional tuxedos come with a waistcoat or a cummerbund, and, again, a bowtie. Modern tuxedos can be worn with a long black or white tie, though a bowtie is considered the most formal (and you can wear one with a black suit).
When it comes to shirts, suits can be worn with a traditional button-up, a less formal button-down (the kind with the collar points buttoned to the shirt), and even nice, crisp t-shirts these days.
Tuxedos, on the other hand, should only be worn with formal shirts.
Tuxedo shirts specifically feature a batwing collar, and either pleats or a plain broadcloth stiff bosom, which keeps the surface of the shirt flat.
These tuxedo shirts absolutely shouldn’t be worn with a regular business suit. You can, however, wear a button-up dress shirt with either a tuxedo or a suit.
And of course, you may only wear formal leather dress shoes with a tuxedo.
Regional Differences: Why it Gets Confusing
While differentiating between a suit and a tuxedo is more-or-less straightforward, there are gray areas regarding when and where you can wear them.
This is partly because, in America, we inherited a lot of our style conventions from England — fashion being a perfect example of how we’re, “two countries separated by a common language.”
Historically, the English refer to what we call a tuxedo as a dinner suit, the dinner jacket being the center of the outfit.
If it features the silk or satin accents that we previously mentioned qualifies as a tuxedo, it’s referred to as a lounge suit.
A dinner suit is less formal, while a lounge suit is more formal. Both of these would fall under the “tuxedo” category to most Americans.
More important than categorization, is that both of these would be appropriate in most formal dress codes.
FAQs About Tuxedos
Still have questions on suits and tuxedos? Here are some common ones:
What Is the Difference Between a Suit and a Tux?
A tux is more formal and often has silk lapels, silk buttons, a silk trouser lining, and is paired with a batwing-collar tuxedo shirt. A suit, while still formal, is more professional and less ceremonial.
Can You Wear a Tux as a Suit?
No. While you can sometimes wear a simple, elegant dark suit in place of a tuxedo at black-tie events, a tuxedo can’t be worn as a suit, especially in professional contexts like board meetings or networking events.
Do You Wear a Suit or Tuxedo to a Wedding?
It depends on the dress code. Unless it’s a formal black tie, which is rare for weddings these days, it’s best to stick to an elegant suit so as not to outdress the groom. When in doubt, ask the host well beforehand.
Ultimately, what matters most is context. The only time you ever really need a tuxedo is if the invitation says “black-tie formal” and even these days, a crisp suit with a black long tie and dress shirt will often do the trick.
However, out of respect to the person throwing the event, it’s always safest to have both a traditional tuxedo and a proper suit.
Since everyone has a different lifestyle though, another option is to consider how much a tuxedo might cost to invest in vs how much it is to rent, and the frequency that you’ll be renting.
If your local tuxedo rental charges $200, and you’re confident you’ll end up wearing a tuxedo at least five times in your life, then see if you can buy a nice, classic tux for a grand. Plus, the more timeless it is, the more likely you can pass it on to sons or nephews.
Questions? Comments? Leave them below!