If you're no stranger to formal events, weddings, and important business meetings, it is probably very easy for you to tell the difference between a suit and a tuxedo, and when and where which one is appropriate. But considering how many different dress code variations exist—and that's not even counting the subtleties of local and regional standards—the lines between what is a suit and what is a tuxedo can get a little blurry sometimes, hours of champagne toasts aside.
Both the suit and the tuxedo contain many of the same elements, and a casual observer from afar wouldn't really notice the difference unless their vision was as good as a fighter pilot's. Both come with a jacket, pants, some sort of tie, and hopefully a shirt. But subtle as well as prominent differences exist between the two. In this article, we will explain those categorical differences so you don't end up exercising any fashion mishaps that could potentially keep people talking about you for days after your next business meeting or formal event.
By and large, the biggest difference between suits and tuxedos is the presence of satin. A tuxedo will have satin stripes down the sides of each pant leg, as well as on the jacket lapels, buttons, and pocket trim. Suits, on the other hand, do not have this, and are usually made from the same material all the way through.
As a result, the tuxedo is always considered more formal than the suit, unless of course you decide to go with a bright orange ensemble equipped with a top hat and a cane in the style of Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. But for all practical and realistic applications, the tuxedo outdoes the suit in terms of formality.
May I Take Your Order, Sir?
We've all had that uncle, cousin, or distant relative who will poke jabs at you for wearing a wing-tipped collar at all, even though this is the classic standard attire when it comes to tuxedos. Just be sure to be wearing one only when you wear a tuxedo, otherwise you might get confused with waiters or event staff, and people will be asking you where their drink orders are as you walk away in an awkward daze of confusion. A wing-tipped collar isn't the only thing you can wear with a tuxedo, but for strictly black-tie attire it is recommended. With suits, on the other hand, the general practice is to wear a shirt with a forward-point collar, although cutaway and button-down collars are also acceptable. Forward points and cutaways can also be worn with a tuxedo, but tuxedos should never be paired with a button-down collar. I mean it's not like the Fashion Police are going to swoop in with helicopters and take you away to a secret location to deprogram your bad style habits, but it would certainly look out of place. Also keep in mind that if you are wearing a bow tie with a tuxedo (and this is almost always the case), make sure the ends of the bow tie are rested nicely in front of the collar, not underneath it, and this is especially important when pairing it with a wing-tipped collar. Which brings us to our next point.
Bow Tie or Necktie
The bow tie is traditionally worn with a tuxedo while the necktie is usually standard fare for any suit, but these are sometimes interchangeable. Any black-tie event is going to expect all the men to show up wearing bow ties, and there aren't too many deviations from this unspoken rule. However, if the event is black-tie optional or less formal, it is increasingly more common for men to wear a necktie with a tuxedo. Sometimes it is perfectly fine to do this, but as we mentioned before, don't ever try to rock this look with a wing-tipped collar.
Bow ties can even pair nicely with suits, and because this look is less common it can add a bit of charm and extra flair to your outfit. Wearing one with a suit also gives you more style and color options. Bow ties worn with tuxedos are generally going to be black, but with a suit you can pick virtually any color you want so long as it matches appropriately.
The necktie, while traditionally not worn with tuxedos, is the gold standard neckwear for suits, and its simplicity may have something to do with this. For most people, neckties are fairly easy to tie, while doing a bow tie correctly can take some practice, finesse, and nuance.
Belts vs. Suspenders
We touched on this in one of our previous articles regarding what to wear with a suit or tuxedo. As a refresher, belts are more common with suits while suspenders are the standard for tuxedos, especially tuxedos worn without a cummerbund. While suspenders are not necessary for tuxedos, they will help keep your pants from falling down if there are any slight issues with fitting. Suspenders can also be worn with suits, but belts are far more common. Just like with neckties, this probably has a lot to do with the ease at which a belt can be fastened in contrast to the adjustments and steps needed for suspenders. When time is of the essence, belts and neckties will get you out the door much faster than bow ties and suspenders will, so if you wear suits quite often, it is handy to keep several belts and neckties in your closet at your disposal. This will increase efficiency and variety.
One thing that we must reiterate before we move on is that belts are never worn with a tuxedo. This may seem like common knowledge, but you would be surprised by how many people make this mistake on occasion. The wisest rule to follow here is that if the pants don't have belt loops, don't wear a belt. And tuxedo pants never come with belt loops.
ColorWhile tuxedos are available in a wide array of colors, the majority of people who own one never stray too far from the classic black, as it is always acceptable for black-tie and formal occasions. Tuxedos that get a little wilder with the color palette are in fact less versatile, while the opposite is true when it comes to suits.
Tuxedos, in spite of their perceived rigidness, still allow a little wiggle room for style preferences, but suits allow you to broaden your fashion spectrum much further. Suits abound in various shades of black, grey, olive, and lighter pastel shades that are popular in the summer months. For example, a light tan suit that is well-tailored will not only look great at the office but also project a sense of style outside the workplace, and you won't have to spend time adjusting cummerbunds or suspenders and mastering the skill of a properly fastened bow tie to pull off a dapper, polished look. In short, suits will give you more style options, and they can usually be worn anywhere at all but the most formal events with rigid dress codes; for the latter, tuxedos will prevail.
Previously we mentioned shirt collars, with a focus on the classic wing-tipped collar for tuxedos. This is one of the tuxedo's most distinguishable features, but the shirt itself is also important. Shirts with pleats and creases in the center are almost exclusively used for the tuxedo. Flat button-down shirts without these features are commonplace for pairing with suits, but they can also match nicely with tuxedos when the setting is slightly on the less formal side.
Another common feature that distinguishes the tuxedo from the suit is the style of shoes. While not part of the tuxedo itself, shoes are still an important component of any suit or tuxedo ensemble. For black-tie affairs as tuxedos are most strongly associated with, patent leather shoes are a common staple. With suits, shoes are less important, and for most color palettes any dress shoe will do just fine.
A tuxedo will almost always be at a higher price point than a suit. However, while suits are generally less expensive, a wide price range still exists. Here at Enzo Custom, we believe that a sophisticated sense of style doesn't have to come at a steep price point, and our wide range ensures that we have something to offer for everybody, no matter what your budget may be.
Options and Accessories
Tuxedos will always require more accessories such as cufflinks, studs, a bow tie, cummerbunds, suspenders, vests, patent leather shoes, and pocket squares for the adventurous. Suits, on the other hand, allow for more variation, whether you want to maximize your additions or keep it on the simpler side. For suits, sometimes a tie isn't always necessary, and this is particularly true in the summer months when you may want to give your body more room to breathe, especially during outdoor soirées. But neckties will always be a welcome addition to any well-tailored custom suit, as it will accentuate and complement your jacket, shirt, and pants. Tie or no tie, the material of the suit itself will matter much more than the piece of fabric around your neck, and all of our suits here at Enzo Custom are fabricated with natural materials that are superior to anything else on the market when it comes to regulating body temperature, whether it's blazing hot or frigid cold outside.
All in all, suits and tuxedos make great additions to any person's wardrobe. And with time, as your careers advance, knowing how to pick which one goes best for a particular occasion will put you miles ahead of everyone else.