When to Wear a Tuxedo vs. Suit: Key Differences Between the Two

Some guys are slightly embarrassed because they don’t always know how to tell a suit from a tuxedo or when to wear which one. If you’re one of those people, don’t feel bad.

At one time, tuxes frequently included tails, top hats and other unmistakable accessories. Thus, they were easier to recognize. Over the years, though, the distinctions have blurred somewhat. Consider the following to be your very own tuxedo vs. suit primer.

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Materials, Colors and More

Quite a few details separate suits and tuxedos, and they almost all pertain to issues of versatility and formality. That is, suits are more flexible, while tuxes are statelier.

As such, suits come in a wide range of designs and colors, including lighter hues. Tuxes, in essence, are uniform in their style, and they’re almost always dark.

A suit’s pants and jacket are constructed from the same kind of fabric. In addition, suits have pockets with flaps, while tuxedos lack those flaps. And, whether you buy or rent a tux, it comes with special footwear: patent leather shoes that are sleek and shiny.

If you like pocket squares, you must wear a white one with a tux, but with a suit, you can choose from various colors. The square and the jacket just have to match.

Likewise, only white shirts are appropriate with tuxes. A suit, though, gives you much more leeway in terms of shirt colors. Also, with a tux, you should probably wear studs; you’d stick to buttons with a suit.

With a suit, you’d wear a belt. With a tux, you’d wear a waistcoat or a cummerbund in lieu of a belt. If your tuxedo pants just won’t stay up, you could always put suspenders on.

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Another contrast that’s worth mentioning in this tuxedo vs. suit discussion is that tuxes commonly feature items made of satin, whereas suits almost never include that smooth material. Tuxes can have satin buttons and lapels, and some even have satin pant stripes. One kind of tux that doesn’t have satin, however, is a tropical tuxedo with a white jacket, which you rarely see outside of hot climates.

Generally speaking, if you’re wearing a tuxedo or a suit, you should be wearing a tie. Tuxes, which come with conveniently pre-tied bow ties, call for solid black or white ties. With a suit, you’d wear a standard necktie or a patterned bow tie, one that you’d tie yourself.

Given how formal they are, it might go without saying that tuxedos normally cost a lot more than suits do.

Which Events Call for Which?

Suits are more flexible than tuxedos in terms of when and where you can wear them. A suit will suit a high school reunion, a day at the office, a cocktail party and most business dinners. Tuxes should be reserved for more dignified or momentous occasions.

The time can play a role in your crucial tuxedo vs. suit decision. Basically, you can feel free to show off your suit during the day or after the sun has gone down. (By the way, suits with light fabrics and light colors are best for outdoor daytime functions.) Tuxedos, meanwhile, are supposed to be worn no earlier than 5 p.m.

You could wear a tuxedo to the ballet, to the opera or to gala dinners. Furthermore, when you receive an invitation to an event that’s described as “black tie,” you should be prepared to go in your tux.

As a special note, a “white tie” event is an especially elegant affair. If you ever attend one, you’ll need to wear not just a tuxedo but a special kind of tux, one with gloves, tails, a white vest and a special shirt and shoes. Most people, though, never attend a white tie event. (A state or royal dinner would be two examples.)

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A suit, on the other hand, is likely the right choice for a happening that’s described as “dressy casual,” “business casual” or “semi-formal.”

For any event that’s deemed “casual,” though, even a suit will be too dressy. You could show up in just a shirt and khaki pants, or perhaps even your nicest jeans or shorts. It’s possible that someone you know will have a casual wedding, perhaps one on the beach.

Once in a while, you get a say in the matter. That is, if a wedding or other occasion is “formal” or “black tie optional,” you could wear a tuxedo, or you could get away with a conservative dark suit. When making this particular tuxedo vs. suit determination, just pick the outfit that makes you feel more at ease.

Finally, does your profession or your social life require you to frequently don suits or tuxes? If so, you ought to consider purchasing several high-quality suits or at least one first-rate tux. People who routinely wear these items of apparel can often recognize quality at a glance. Suits and tuxes that fit just right and that are made from excellent materials can help you to make an outstanding impression. And, after all, isn’t that the main reason to put on formal wear in the first place?

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