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Here's Everything You Need to Know Before You Buy a Tuxedo

Welcome to Tuxedo 101. We'll cover when to wear one, how to get one made and exactly what one looks like.

tuxedo
Chase Pellerin

On average, guys don’t have many opportunities to don a tuxedo, so it only makes sense that when the occasion arises, the suit itself should look remarkable and make its wearer feel the same. Whether you go the route of custom or choose something ready-to-wear off the rack, a tuxedo is a decided luxury item — and you should trust an expert to guide you through either process. (It's always expensive, so be smart before you splurge.)

Our expert is Timothy Aquino, a deeply stylish and friendly suiting pro as perfectly measured in manner as in dress. Aquino works with clients ranging from pro athletes to soon-to-be grooms to Wall Street finance wizards, helping them to select the perfect shirts, suits and more, each made exactly to their measurements and their individual styles. He was the one-time Director of Sales at Australian atelier InStitchu and now runs his own brand, Theodore.

What does a style sage like Aquino recommend a guy consider when finding formalwear fit for a special occasion? Below, the necessary information and advice for your own time at the tailor.

What is a Tuxedo?

We can all identify a tux, but the true definition is more specific. Per Aquino, a traditional tux separates itself from a less formal suit with a few specific factors.

• The satin finish on the collar. The back collar can either be satin or not; the front collar is always satin.
• It features a one-button jacket with besom pockets (pockets with no flap).
• “If you want to be an essentialist,” says Aquino, “there should be no vents at the back. That rule is often broken, and, unless you [have a] perfect mannequin body, I would recommend vents.”

There is a purist approach to how a tux is designed, but there has been flexibility with that throughout the years. Take, for example, having a ventless back. We could change that depending on the shape of the person. Another thing would be the waistband. There has been flexibility with going straps instead.

Tuxedo Terms to Know:

Braces: Suspenders that hook onto button fasteners inside the trouser waistband.
Cuffs: The ends of a suit or shirt sleeve, which encircles the wrist, and the end of the trouser leg, which encircles the ankle.
Cummerbund: A wide, belt-like accessory that covers the top of the trouser and bottom of the shirt. Recommended to be worn sparingly.
Lapel: The flat fabric surrounding the opening of the suit jacket, which begins at the top button and runs up to the neck.
Pocket Square: The fabric accent that is inserted into the outer breast pocket of the jacket. For a traditional tuxedo look, stick with white (silk is the preferred fabric). Fold the pocket square crisply for a neat look. Gather the square loosely and let it blossom from the pocket for a dandier look.

The Tuxedo, Explained

The Jacket

tuxedo jacket
Gear Patrol

Lapel

The most prominent and complex part of any suit is the jacket; appropriately for a tuxedo, there are many options to consider beginning with the lapel shape and size. The three main lapel shapes are:

The shawl lapel, which is continuous and curved.
The peak lapel, which comes to a more exaggerated point.
The notch lapel, which is a more uniform width with an indented section near the collarbone.

Aquino’s advice:
“The notch and the peak are the most common and conservatively safe. The shawl lapel is more classic but tends to be riskier [on average].” Wider lapels are generally more fashion forward and have what Aquino calls an “air of an Italian cut” to them. “What I wouldn’t recommend is going with a slim peak lapel in a satin finish tux. In my eyes, it cheapens it up.”

Button Structure

The number and arrangement of buttons on the jacket can completely change the overall look and feel of a tuxedo. Keep in mind that certain combinations of buttons and other elements match more easily than others. “Traditionally,” Aquino explains, “the classic look is one satin button. Two-button [jackets] can be done; usually with a notch lapel. Beyond that, you can do a double-breasted jacket, which is [traditionally] exclusive to a peak lapel.”

I personally selected a double-breasted, six-button jacket for my tuxedo because I like the classic formality of the look, and because I am relatively slender and the double-breasted cut fits me well. Aquino coached me in terms of lapel width: Double-breasted jackets require a wide lapel. “A [notch lapel] doesn’t balance out the double-breasted shape,” he says. “There are also instances when guys do a double-breasted [jackets] and wide shawl lapel.”

Cuff and Pockets

Details like cuff button numbers and pocket type are selected to achieve a very specific look: truly form over function. “Three buttons are acceptable, but there’s the default of four buttons. All pockets are functional; I would advise against putting anything in them,” Aquino says.

The Pants

tuxedo pants
Gear Patrol

If the jacket gets all the looks, tuxedo trousers house myriad details that provide comfort and function. “In tailor-made garments, details like the gusset structure across the crotch and the hem of the pant are subtle, functional details,” Aquino says. “The rubber lining across the [inside of the] waist helps lock in the waistband as well.”

I was particularly curious about braces (traditional, non-clip suspenders that button into the waistband), admittedly because they seem like such a power play in a formal look. “The advantage of having buttons for braces is that it’s all hidden, not exposed,” Aquino tells us. “There are some body types that do not look great with braces because [they] shorten the torso.”

As mentioned, custom garments provide flexibility in terms of pocket design, which Aquino recommended be set directly on the trouser seam. That way, they “don’t hit at an angle, as a traditional pant would, which reduces the buckling when standing up, particularly for thicker-thighed guys.”

Waist Structure

Tuxedo trousers shouldn’t have belt loops or side tab adjustments. “It is usually a clean finish across,” Aquino explains. “That indicates it’s a tailor-made garment.”

Trouser Details

Satin side stripe: “Something we would advise with a full tux look.”
Back pockets: “The absence of a back pocket cleans up the look and keeps it simple.”
Cuff: “If you’re going to do a double-breasted jacket you want a [pant] cuff,” explains Aquino. “There is some debate on how wide you want that cuff to be. Our default is about 4cm; some purists want 5cm.”

The Shirt

tuxedo shirt
Gear Patrol

You’ll need to decide if you’d like your shirt to feature pleats — thin, vertical, overlapping strips that run the height of the shirt — or if you’d rather have a plain-front shirt. Like the two choices for button structure, outlined below, pleats will add visual interest, but may also clutter the look of your shirt.

In terms of tuxedo shirts, Aquino says, there are three main things to consider. “Collar structure and how that ties in well with the bow tie; the cuff of the shirt; and the button structure of the shirt.” Though I anticipated Aquino’s answer, I asked about alternate shirt colors: Is it ever okay to go with anything but a white shirt? “Under no circumstances.”

Collar

Very generally, there are two types of collars to consider: wing and spread.
• Wing collars are very traditional and are only worn with tuxedos. They feature small flaps — wings — that fold over the bow tie band and lay behind the bow.
• Spread collars — Aquino recommended a medium spread style for my suit — fully cover the bow tie band. The tips of the collar should ideally touch the inner edge of the jacket lapel.

Cuff

French cuffs, which feature a longer cuff that folds back on itself and is fastened with a cufflink, are standard tuxedo apparel. But there are two types within this style.

Square: a 90-degree angle at the corner near the cufflink
Hexagonal: for a little more visual interest, the corner is cut at a 45-degree angle

Button Structure

Whether or not a tuxedo shirt is worn with studs is a personal preference. Studs will add visual interest, but also run the risk of cluttering the look of a shirt. The alternative is to opt for a shirt with a placket — a fabric strip where buttons attach — that lays over the buttons, creating an unbroken surface below the tie.

Where to Buy a Tuxedo

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