Tuxedo vs Suit
What’s the difference between a tuxedo vs a suit, and how do I remember which is which?
Both are technically suits, but they typically differ in what they are made of, their accessories, and what type of event they are being worn to.
Tuxedo– is a type of suit that has satin accents on the lapels, pocket trim, buttons, and down the sides of the trouser legs. It is normally worn with a bowtie for formal events and is considered evening attire.
Suit– is a set of garments made of all the same fabric type and has no satin at all. It is normally worn with a necktie for business or less formal events and can be worn at any time of the day.
Of course, nowadays there are many ways to style either a tuxedo or a suit, and the lines between the two have become a little bit blurrier. Individual preferences tend to trump any hard and fast rules.
However, one main caveat still applies: the presence of satin.
The main difference between the two is that tuxedos incorporate satin and suits do not.
Tuxedo vs Suit Origins
Both originated in Britain during the 19th century and evolved from the smoking jacket.
The tuxedo (also known as a dinner jacket or dinner suit) came about from the smoking jacket which as its name implies was a jacket that was designed specifically to be worn while smoking. Ah, the craziness of fashion!
The tuxedo jacket was popularized by the Prince of Wales (who later became King Edward VII of England). Although at this point in history it was still being referred to as a dinner jacket and not a tuxedo.
Supposedly, the term tuxedo came from either Tuxedo Park the village or Tuxedo Park the country club. Either way, both locations were in New York, and the tuxedo jacket was a popular fashion choice for formal events there.
Originally, the name applied only to the jacket, but it eventually became a term for the entire ensemble (around the 1900’s). Tuxedos are also sometimes called penguin suits due to their black and white coloration being like a penguin’s body.
You can learn a little bit more about the history of the tuxedo here.
The suit (also known as a lounge suit or business suit) also came about from the smoking jacket in the 19th century.
The modern suit was heavily influenced by (and often credited to) Beau Brummell who was known for his “dandy” look. He also supposedly took up to five hours a day to get dressed!
He promoted a sleeker, more tailored look that consisted of long trousers and a dark jacket (as opposed to knee breaches, stockings, frocks, jeweled jackets, wigs, etc.).
The first “ready-to-wear” suits appeared in the US and are credited to Brooks Brothers which is the oldest men’s clothing store in the US. Previously, the entire suit was made by a tailor by order only.
Tuxedo vs Suit Components and Accessories
Let’s take a closer look at the components and accessories for tuxedo vs suit.
A tuxedo is a more formal version of a suit that has several distinguishing characteristics. The most notable of which is the presence of satin.
Tuxedos have satin on the lapels, the pocket trim, the face of the buttons, and the strip on the sides of the trouser legs.
More modern tuxedos have taken to minimizing the presence of satin down to a thin trim on the lapels and a thin strip down the sides of the trouser legs. It seems satin is losing its popularity!
Suits have no satin whatsoever and are made of all the same fabric type.
Another difference between tuxedo vs suit is the color.
Tuxedos are traditionally black but can also be navy or white (think of Daniel Craig as James Bond).
Suits can come in a variety of colors, but some popular choices are navy, gray, black, or brown.
A good way to remember that tuxedos are traditionally black is to associate the color with the invite.
A black tuxedo is traditionally worn to a “black-tie” event.
Another difference between tuxedo vs suit is the type of buttons worn.
Both tuxedos and suits come in multiple button options, but the main difference between the two is the facing on the buttons (the top part of the button that is visible).
Tuxedos have buttons faced with satin. Traditional tuxedos come in a one-button option which should always be buttoned when standing. This gives the tuxedo a more sleek and tailored look.
However, as with many fashion items, the tuxedo has evolved, and now there are two-button and three-button options available as well.
Regardless of which of these last two options you choose the rule of etiquette is that the bottom button is never supposed to be buttoned.
Supposedly, this rule is because King Edward VII of England was so large that he could not button his bottom button, so he left it open and the rest of the fashion world followed his example.
Suits have buttons made of plastic, bone, or faced with the same fabric that the suit is made up of.
Buttons that are faced with the same fabric as the suit are called self-buttons (or self-covered buttons) and are made this way so that they stand out less on the suit.
Suits traditionally have two-button and three-button options, but also come in a one-button option as well.
The same as with tuxedos, the bottom button on suits should never be buttoned, and the top buttons are only meant to be buttoned when standing.
Another difference between the buttons on tuxedo vs suit is the button stance.
Buttons typically have three different jacket stances: neutral, high, and low.
The buttons on a tuxedo are low stance buttons meaning they are placed lower on the jacket. This covers less of the shirt and gives the tuxedo that traditional V look in the front.
The buttons on a suit are either neutral or high stance buttons meaning that they fall at or above the waistline. This covers more of the shirt, and therefore suits do not have a V look in the front.
Single-Breasted vs Double-Breasted
Another difference between the buttons on tuxedo vs suit is whether they form one or two columns.
Both tuxedos and suits can be single-breasted which is where there is only a slight overlap of the jacket’s sides and only one column of buttons.
They both can also be double-breasted which is where there is a larger overlap of the jacket’s sides and two columns of buttons.
Typically, a suit is much more likely to be double-breasted than a tuxedo is.
Tuxedos can sometimes be double-breasted, but this is a much more modern take on the tuxedo, so it is much rarer than the single-breasted traditional option.
Another difference between tuxedo vs suit is the type of tie worn.
Tuxedos are typically worn with black bowties. Bowties typically come in three options: self-tied, pre-tied, and clip-on.
The self-tied bowtie option is often preferred when wearing a tuxedo since they are worn for formal events.
Also, the bowtie is typically made of satin to best match the tuxedo’s satin lapels.
Suits are typically worn with neckties but can also be worn without a tie for a more casual look. There are quite a lot of necktie variations from long to skinny to clip-on, and numerous ways to tie them.
The self-tied long necktie is probably the most common tie worn with suits.
Suit ties come in a variety of colors and prints and can be made from many different materials (such as silk, wool, polyester, rayon, cotton, etc.).
Another difference between tuxedo vs suit is the type of shirt worn.
Tuxedos are typically worn with white dress shirts that have a wing collar or a turndown collar.
The wing collar is the more formal (and preferred) option, and if you choose to wear it, please note that the tips of your collar should rest behind your bowtie and not on top of it.
Tuxedo dress shirts can also come with pleats or different textures on the front (where the shirt is visible under the jacket).
Suits are typically worn with dress shirts that have a turndown collar. These dress shirts can come in a variety of colors and patterns but do not typically have pleats or different textures.
Vests or Cummerbunds
Another difference between tuxedo vs suit is the type of vest worn or if a cummerbund is worn.
Tuxedos are traditionally worn with cummerbunds (broad often pleated sashes that go around the waist), but they can sometimes be worn with low stance vests (which are cut lower to show off more of the shirt).
Please note that the pleats on a cummerbund should always be facing up.
Suits are typically worn by themselves or with high stance vests (which are cut higher and cover more of the shirt).
Normally, one-button suits are worn by themselves, while two-button and three-button suits are worn with vests.
As an aside, vests are also known as waistcoats. Typically, in the US they are called vests, and in the UK, they are called waistcoats.
Another difference between tuxedo vs suit is the type of shoe worn.
Tuxedos are traditionally worn with black patent leather shoes that are typically laced-up (as opposed to slip-on).
Suits can be worn with a wide variety of shoes (black, brown, Oxford, loafer, etc.) and can be laced-up or slip-on.
A good tip to help remember what color shoe to wear is that your dress shoe should be the same color or darker than your pant color.
Tuxedo vs Suit Occasions
One of the most confusing parts about remembering the difference between the two is remembering when you are supposed to wear them.
Tuxedos are more formal and are meant to be worn on very special occasions, like if you are the groom at a wedding.
They are also worn for formal events such as galas or operas. Traditionally, they are considered evening wear and are not worn during the day unless it is for a special occasion (like a wedding held during the day).
Suits are less formal and can also be worn for special occasions like if you are a guest at a wedding or if you are on a nice date.
They are also considered business wear and can be worn at any time of the day.
A lot of the confusion surrounding when to wear tuxedo vs suit stems from the wording of invitations and how dress codes have evolved over the years.
For example, back in the day, “formal” dress was a black tailcoat and white tie. These were worn for what was (and still are) called “white-tie” events. But nowadays, “formal” often means a tuxedo.
A modern “white-tie” event would be something extremely fancy such as a ball or a royal function.
Also, back in the day, “semi-formal” dress was a tuxedo and black tie. These were worn for what was (and still are) called “black-tie” events. But nowadays, “semi-formal” often means a dark suit and black tie.
A modern “black-tie” event would be something that was very important, but a step below “white-tie” such as an opera or gala.
No wonder it is so hard to know what to wear! Add on to that the confusion of “black-tie optional” and “creative black-tie,” and it’s no wonder people are confused.
An important distinction to keep in mind is that tuxedos are more formal and typically worn in the evening, while suits are less formal and can be worn at any time of day.
Summary of Tuxedo vs Suit
While initially, it can be confusing remembering which is which, try to keep in mind that a key difference between tuxedo vs suit is the presence of satin.
Also, even though both are technically suits, they typically differ in what they are made of, their accessories, and what type of event they are being worn to.
Both originated in Britain during the 19th century and evolved from the smoking jacket.
A tuxedo is a type of suit that has satin accents on the lapels, pocket trim, buttons, and down the sides of the trouser legs. It is normally worn with a black bowtie for formal events and is considered evening attire.
It is traditionally black in color but can also be navy or white. It has buttons faced with satin and typically comes in a one-button option. Most are single-breasted with low stance buttons.
Tuxedos are normally worn with white dress shirts that have a wing collar or a turndown collar that may have pleats or different textures. They are also worn with cummerbunds or low stance vests and black patent leather shoes that are laced-up.
A suit is a set of garments made of all the same fabric type and has no satin at all. It is normally worn with a long necktie for business or less formal events and can be worn at any time of the day.
It comes in a variety of colors, but some popular choices are navy, gray, black, or brown. It has buttons made of plastic, bone, or faced with the same fabric that the suit is made up of (aka self-buttons).
Most suits typically come in two-button and three-button options and can be single-breasted or double-breasted. They typically have neutral or high stance buttons.
Suits are normally worn with dress shirts that have a turndown collar that come in a variety of colors and patterns, but the shirts do not typically have pleats or different textures. They are also worn by themselves or with high stance vests and with a wide variety of shoes that can be laced-up or slip-on.
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