The major differences between a suit and a tuxedo that every man should know

tuxedo
What you need to know about tuxedos and suits. Photo by MediaWhalestock, Bigstock

Suits & tuxedos – What’s the difference?

It’s a common question, and with the styles of suits and tuxes changing so frequently, it’s easy to see the source of confusion. Here, we break down the main differences between suits and tuxedos so that you look the part your next formal event.

Origin stories

The origin of the tuxedo also referred to as a ‘dinner jacket’ or ‘dinner suit’, dates right back to the 1880’s.  The word ‘tuxedo’ is derived from Tuxedo Park in the Hudson Valley, where the attire was often worn by New York’s social elite. There is a common misconception that wearing a tuxedo is as formal is it is possible to get. In fact, tuxedos are classified as semi-formal evening wear (traditionally speaking, men’s formal evening wear is the dashing ‘white tie and tails’ combination).  Tuxedos are strictly evening wear – think from 6 pm onward. They are worn for celebratory occasions only; they are considered inappropriate for sombre events like funerals. The typical suit, or ‘lounge suit’, was Britain’s initial solution to smart country wear. Today, the dress codes ‘cocktail’ and ‘smart casual’ both encompass the lounge suit – a suit worn with a shirt and tie. Suits are far more flexible than tuxedos. Lounge suits can be worn to both business and social events, during the day as well as during the evening.

Step one: Look for satin

One of the main physical differences between a tuxedo and a suit is the use of satin. A conventional tuxedo will have satin facing lapels, buttons and pocket trim. In the past, tuxedo trousers would also feature a satin stripe running down the leg. Modern tuxedo trousers tend to either feature a very slim satin bead, or none whatsoever. Lounge suits do not feature satin at all, and modern suit buttons are typically plastic or crafted out of the same suit material.

Tuxedos also come with a variety of accessories.  The classic tuxedo is paired with a cummerbund, suspenders and bow tie, and the pocket square is traditionally white. Tuxedos are worn with a white shirt that features either a wing collar or a turndown collar. In keeping with their semi-formal classification, tuxedos tend to come in exclusively black or midnight blue and are worn with black patent shoes.

A suit is more versatile, and you can choose to dress it up or down depending on your personal style or the nature of the occasion. Your shirt can be of any colour, and you can pair your suit with a long, short or bow tie. Classic suits come in colours like navy blue or grey, but the sky is really the limit. Thanks to online shopping, you can find just about any colour of casual suit your heart desires. You can team your suit with a pair of loafers, Oxfords or even slip-on shoes.

Form follows function

A tuxedo is all about minimalism and clean lines.  Tuxedo jacket pockets have no flaps, tuxedo trousers have no pleats, and a single-breasted tuxedo jacket will only have one button. A tuxedo is a semi-formal attire; therefore, they adhere to etiquette and convention.

A suit allows you more room to express yourself as an individual. They can be worn to a variety of different occasions, so they are naturally more versatile.

Regardless if your next big occasion requires a suit or a tuxedo, be sure to that your attire fits correctly. You could be the proud owner of the classiest tuxedo or suit in existence but if it’s a poor fit, the entire look will go down the drain. When trying on a suit or tuxedo, you should be wearing the shoes you intend to wear to the event. The shoulder seam should lie flat on your shoulder, it should not be hiked up or dangling down onto your bicep. The true test comes when you stand up straight with your arms relaxed by your sides. If the tuxedo or suit does not look good when you are modelling perfect posture, it is time to look for another size.