When you’re invited to a wedding or are getting married yourself, the suit vs. tuxedo challenge emerges. Yes, you may feel confused about which to wear, and that’s completely natural!
I can help you understand all the components of both types of outfits, making it easier when decision time comes. It doesn’t need to be a stressful choice.
There will be a time in every man’s life where he will be faced with an incredibly important decision. When you are invited to a wedding, or if you are the groom yourself, should you wear a suit or a tuxedo?
To make an informed decision, you need to know the difference between the two.
Tuxedos Are Not Suits
Let me say that again for the people in the back: tuxedos are not suits! There are major differences between the two. Tuxedos are only for evening wear. Suits are for day or night.
There are strict rules that come along with wearing a tux; there is hardly any wiggle room for style. While tuxedos don’t allow much room in the style rules, suits are much more open to interpretation.
Suit vs. Tuxedo: What is the Difference?
The satin trim detail handily identifies tuxedos on the jacket lapel, buttons, and pants. Suits don’t ever include satin detailing.
You can expect standard accessories with a tuxedo and a particular style of dress shirt. Plan on wearing black patent leather shoes with your tux, too. Overall, there is not much flexibility with a tuxedo.
Suits offer more shoes, dress shirts, and accessory choices.
Suit vs. Tuxedo Formality Level
There is no doubt that a suit can be dressed up for fancy events. With the correct color, cut, and style, a suit can be very dressy. It can look sleek and stylish.
Yet even the most elegant suit is never going to be as dressy as a tuxedo.
Tuxedos are considered the most formal outfit a man can wear. They are standard at all black-tie events.
Suit vs. Tuxedo as Wedding Attire
Whether it is your own or a friend’s, what you choose to wear to a wedding will depend on the formality. Formality is dictated by the time of day of the event, the season, and naturally by the host’s wishes.
Look at the wedding invitation for clues. It may tell you straight out that it is a black-tie event. Easy-peasy. Now you know to wear a tux.
Does it say “semi-formal” or “cocktail attire”? Go ahead and choose a formal wedding suit. However, if at all possible, go ahead with the tuxedo. It is advisable to err on the dressier side.
Suit vs. Tuxedo: Different Color Options
Suits come in a tremendous variety of colors. Colors such as black, navy, and charcoal grey are the most formal suit colors. These are excellent colors to wear for evening weddings, job interviews, or important business meetings.
Lighter colors such as light grey, blue, and tan look very nice and are good for more casual occasions. They are suitable for professional settings, daytime weddings, or an evening out. If you are heading out for a daytime event and want to look casually chic, a very light suit such as tan is ideal.
There are far fewer color options when choosing a tuxedo. The only traditional choice is black. It is the highest level of formality and the only acceptable color in most cases.
It is possible, however, to find tuxedos in a variety of colors such as midnight blue, navy, or burgundy.
These alternative choices are not appropriate for most black-tie settings. However, if you are invited to a “creative black-tie” event, have at it! (And yes, “creative black-tie” is a thing!)
Suit vs. Tuxedo Jacket
At first glance at a black jacket, you should be able to tell immediately whether it is a suit or a tuxedo jacket.
Before you even read this article or even gave any conscious thought to the differences between the two, you’d know. The lapel and the buttons are enough to clue you in. Let’s break it down.
There is a common denominator in most suits and tuxedos. They are generally both made from wool fabric. There are other fabric differences, however, that are more subtle.
Tuxedos are usually made of velvet (although wool blend tuxedos are quite often, too) and will have satin or grosgrain details on the jacket.
In tell-tale areas of the tuxedo jacket, you should expect to see satin trim or lining. That is not something you will find at a suit jacket. In fact, the satin is part of what raises the jacket’s formality level.
There are three standard styles of jacket lapels: notch, peak, or shawl. A suit will have either one of the first two, and a tuxedo will have one of the last two.
A notch lapel is a casual cut of lapel, which is why it’s barely included on a tuxedo jacket. It is found on many standard suits. Most office wear will have a notch lapel. You can recognize a notch lapel by how it resembles a sideways V cut out of the lapel.
Peak lapels are the most formal. Tuxedos and sophisticated suits use this style of lapel. It is too dressy for daytime office wear. However, if you need a suit for an elegant event, a peak lapel jacket is a great choice. A peak lapel is characterized by the point that angles upward toward the collar line.
A shawl collar on a jacket is only found on tuxedos. It creates a rather laidback, formal look. It is defined by its continuous rounded edge. Any width on a shawl lapel is fine; wider is dressier, and a thin shawl is trendier.
Another major suit vs. tuxedo variance in the two jacket styles is button differences. The buttons vary greatly.
The suit buttons are made from a variety of materials. They can be plastic, bone, or fabric covered. The fabric will be the same material as the rest of the jacket buttons.
Also, suits have anywhere from one to three button closures. The two-button option is the most common choice. Most fashion experts recommend only buttoning the middle one for three-button closure, though.
Tuxedo jackets, on the other hand, have satin covered buttons. They only have a single button for the closure.
A suit jacket will have one of two types of pockets: patch style or flap style. But usually, they’ll have flap pockets.
A patch pocket is a piece of fabric sewn directly onto (or patched onto) the outside of the jacket. If you try to hold anything in your pocket, it will create a bulge and interfere with your sleek silhouette.
A flap pocket is sewn into the back of the jacket, with an opening in the face of the jacket. This opening is closed by, you guessed it, a flap. This style of pocket makes it easier to carry something in your pocket without creating unsightly lumps.
A tuxedo jacket has jetted pockets. These are simple slits cut into the jacket. There is no flap or cover. They are discrete pockets without any frivolous fabric, helping to create a sleek line.
Suit Pants vs. Tuxedo Pants
The difference between tuxedo pants and suit pants is more difficult to immediately spot than with the jacket.
The most noticeable difference is that tuxedo pants have a satin stripe along the outer seam. This strip of satin or grosgrain helps create the sleek line you expect from a tuxedo. It also has a satin waistband.
The biggest difference is not one that is very noticeable when wearing trousers. Tuxedo pants have no belt loops. You might be wondering how you will hold your pants up!
Not being able to wear a belt makes it imperative that your pants fit you very well. From this aspect, it may be an excellent idea to have your tuxedo custom-made.
If this isn’t a possibility, or you aren’t able to get a perfect fit, you may wear suspenders. Suspenders are well hidden under your jacket. They are also pretty chic looking when you remove your jacket.
Suit trousers do offer belt loops, and it is advisable to wear a belt with your suit. It completes your look. Some suit pants offer buttons inside the waist for suspenders.
Dress Shirt vs. Tuxedo Shirt
One might be tempted to think that it is perfectly fine to throw on any old dress shirt with a tuxedo. Wrong! There are many major differences between the two shirt styles.
Tuxedo and suit shirts are constructed differently; each has components that are not found in the other style. Even though they can be made from the same fabric, most similarities end there.
I know what you are thinking: how can a shirt change so drastically? And it’s hidden under a jacket; who will even notice the shirt? Some people notice the details.
A white tuxedo shirt is non-negotiable for a tuxedo. It is the most formal color of all for dress and tuxedo shirts.
Depending on your suit color and the setting, nearly any color is fine with a suit. However, just as a white shirt is the most formal with a tuxedo, it is the most formal shirt color with a suit as well.
Other colors create different effects with a suit. A light-colored dress shirt can still be professional, but it becomes more casual once you get into darker colors.
Tuxedo shirt collars are surprisingly different that suit dress shirt collars. A tux collar is a wingtip; the points are smaller, and it does not wrap around the neck. It’s designed this way to accommodate the bow tie.
The points of the collar don’t fold down; otherwise, they would obstruct the bow tie.
A dress shirt for a suit has a spread or semi-spread collar. It folds down and has larger tips. The fold all around the neck hides most of the necktie, except for the knot and the material underneath it.
A tuxedo shirt will also include what’s called a placket. It’s a strip down the shirt’s center to accommodate the tuxedo studs in place of standard buttons.
Sometimes the placket is pleated for extra style.
A tuxedo shirt often has French cuffs, which is held together by the cuff links. French cuffs are not required with a tuxedo, but they help convey formality.
Suits typically have barrel cuffs on their dress shirts. Some men opt for French cuffs with their most elegant and sleek suits. This is a perfectly acceptable option.
Suit vs. Tuxedo Differences in Accessories
It’s the small details that often can make or break your outfit. If you get the little touches just right, you have reached peak style. Get them wrong, though, and all your effort just may go down the drain.
Here are some tips for getting those small details perfect, whether you are in a suit or a tux.
Necktie vs. Bow Tie
A black bow tie is standard for a tuxedo. I mean, the entire dress code derived its name from this one little piece of fabric! If you aren’t familiar with how to tie one, I’m afraid it is time to learn.
It’s worth mentioning that a clip-on bow tie is cute when you are 8. Any other time it’s not acceptable.
A suit offers versatility in the tie department. Most men wear a necktie with their suit. Some prefer to wear a bowtie; it shows personality and individuality.
Either is excellent, and the colors are wide-ranging. Just stay away from black if you opt for the bow tie.
Wearing a Waistcoat vs. Cummerbund
If you are wearing a tuxedo, you have the option of either wearing a cummerbund or a waistcoat. There is no wrong choice here.
What’s the difference between a tuxedo waistcoat and one for a suit? A tux waistcoat has a deeper opening, and the buttons are placed lower down. It is not seen as much as a suit one when the jackets are closed.
When to Wear a Belt
A belt is casual, so it should never be added to a tuxedo. Aside from the fact that there are no belt loops on tuxedo trousers, it would just ruin the appearance.
A suit, however, should always include a belt if you are not wearing suspenders. The style feels incomplete without either a belt or suspenders.
If you are wearing a shirt with French cuffs (highly advised for tuxedos), you will need cufflinks. French cuffs do not have buttons; the cufflinks will close the cuffs.
If you are wearing a tux shirt with dress studs, you can match your cufflinks to the studs. Otherwise, popular materials are satin knots, metal, or tasteful gems.
French cuffs and cufflinks also look very nice on formal suits. You will not detract from your look without them but certainly will add to it if you include it.
Suits vs. Tuxedos: The Shoes
The final piece of your wardrobe to consider when comparing suit vs. tuxedo is the shoe.
Black patent leather oxfords are the most often shoe choice for a tuxedo. If your event has looser rules than strictly formal, such as a creative dress or semi-formal dress code, you have some room for versatility.
Calfskin or suede loafers can work, too. Are you feeling a little wild? Try a fancy velvet slipper.
Suit shoes are even more flexible. Leather is the most formal material for dressing up your suit with the right shoes. Oxford, derby, or loafer options are all on the table.
Just consider how formal you want your suit. Oxford shoes are the best for work and evening events. Loafers are excellent options for casual and daytime occasions.
No matter if you are wearing a casual suit or ultra-formal tuxedo, there is one cardinal shoe rule that applies to both. Your shoes must be clean and polished, with no scuffs. If your shoes are in good shape, you can bet the rest of your outfit is, as well!
Hi, I’m Alex, and I’ve studied and specialized style in Rome. Through my writing, I want to help men dress well and learn the purpose and significance of suits and other formal attire. My final goal is to make men more confident in their wardrobe choice and life in general.