The Tux and the Tails
The tuxedo. Or is it a dinner jacket? What is it? Why are there different types? Is there a difference between black tie and white tie events? Are there different types of black tie events? And why can’t I just wear that black suit to a wedding? All the mysteries of the elegant tuxedo will be revealed!
So first things first: defining the pesky things. For most people out there, “tuxedo” or “dinner jacket” usually is a synonym for a black suit blazer or jacket and its matching trousers. Whilst there are similarities, one of the major distinguishing features of a tuxedo is the presence of satin, which will be located on the lapels, the buttons, the pocket lining, and the stripe along the side of the pants. They also have either one or two buttons (one button is traditional, but two is becoming more acceptable), although the double breasted variant naturally features more buttons. Meanwhile, suit jackets do not include satin and suit pants do not have a satin stripe – and the buttons are usually plastic.
Some other things to note about dinner jackets and black tie events: you should never wear a belt with them (stick with suspenders and a vest or cummerbund); said waistcoat must be a low-cut variety, or a cummerbund is equally acceptable; high quality leather black shoes are an absolute must (don’t turn up in any vaguely black pair of shoes – make them really good quality). Furthermore, a formal shirt is preferred over a plain white one – the shirt will still be impeccable white of course, but with a piqué or plait pattern instead of a plain or herringbone one. The dress shirt may have studs, and will almost certainly have cufflinks – so make sure they are suitably timeless and stylish (no is not the time for novelty cuffs!). And, naturally, the bowtie should match the velvet of the lapels (in regards to shine).
Now, if you are in the unfortunate position of not being able to afford a tuxedo, then do not wear a black suit with a bowtie and hope for the best – it looks silly. If you absolutely must go to a black tie event with a regular suit, wear a black necktie – it is better to look slightly underdressed with dignity rather than trying (failing) to convince the world that your plain suit is a tuxedo.
Tuxedos like these are worn to black tie events, which are the second highest level of formal wear that exists in the Western world. Usually an event will state whether you should wear a tuxedo or not, and you can often read in between the lines if the event doesn’t explicitly say “black tie” (for example, if you’re going to a wedding at a particularly prestigious location with lots of top brass making an appearance, then it is pretty safe to assume black tie at a minimum.
There is one type of black tie that is drastically different from the standard: tropical or warm weather black tie. This is when the dinner jacket is an off-white instead of black, and is seen as slightly less formal than the dinner jacket counterpart. However, there are still rules to be followed here which should be followed lest you fall into the trap of looking overly flashy and tacky. Stick to natural fabrics, although you can move away from the warmer wool (cotton is an acceptable alternative, but there must be no synthetics). The trousers and bowtie are always black, so the end result can be a very stylish contrast between the jacket and the trousers. This style is also a daytime wear, so it shouldn’t be worn after the afternoon.
Finally, we should turn our attention to the highest form of formality that exists in the modern world: white tie events. Unlike black tie events, which can have a little bit of leeway, the rules for white tie events are strict and cannot have deviation. There are two types of white tie: the formal day wear, and the evening white tie. Both have subtle differences, and shall be (briefly) overviewed here.
First of all will be formal day wear. Like the tropical black tie attire, formal day wear is slightly less formal but also slightly freer than its evening counterpart. The coat is still black (although a different style – the morning coat with tails), but unlike the all black tuxedo or evening wear, the trousers are often a charcoal or grey colour with black stripes. The waistcoat can be off-white, grey or even black, although the last of these options should be only reserved for more sombre occasions. The white shirt should be a detachable collar, and more often than not a turn-down collar. Cufflinks and studs are still the accepted, and a four-in-hand tie should be worn.
Finally we arrive at evening wear. The tailcoat should have matching trousers with a satin stripe down the side. The tailcoat should not be closable but still fit the shape of the body perfectly (which will probably mean having to spend extra money on purchasing tailored tailcoats). The shirt should always be stiff in the bosom and the same piqué pattern as the tuxedo shirt. The white vest should be low cut and not go below the front of the tailcoat. A white bowtie and white gloves are also essential. Finally your shoes must be black patent shoes with black dress socks. This cannot be deviated from without looking tacky.
And there we have it: the most formal dressing styles in the Western world. The tuxedo and the tailcoats have been demystified once and for all! Good luck with dressing up gentlemen, and keep being classy.