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Aug, 2 2023

The 13 Parts of a Tuxedo to Know Before You Shop

Man wearing a navy blue tuxedo

It doesn’t get more formal than a tuxedo. Since this ensemble is typically only reserved for special occasions, it’s perfectly understandable if you don’t know all the parts of a tuxedo. But don’t worry; this guide is here to help. From the most well-known parts, like the tuxedo jacket and pants, to the ones often overlooked, like the cummerbund and studs, we’ll cover all the essential components of a classic tuxedo.

Introduction: Understanding the Tuxedo Anatomy

A tuxedo is a phenomenon in the world of men’s attire. Other styles, like sports coats or a suit, come in numerous options that drastically vary from piece to piece. The sheer variety of colors, materials, designs, and accessories these pieces are available in speaks volumes about the lack of formal rules. But this couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to a tuxedo.

If what you’re wearing lacks the specific attributes associated with a tuxedo, you aren’t wearing a tuxedo. It’s as simple as that. Knowing what parts comprise a tuxedo and how to style them properly is essential to making informed purchasing and renting decisions and achieving the desired formal look. Plus, knowing how to combine specific tuxedo parts can help you go from a run-of-the-mill look to elegance personified.

Decoding the Tuxedo: An Overview

A suit jacket, button up shirt, bowtie, and dress shoes

Those accustomed to a two-piece or a three-piece suit will probably be shocked to discover that there are 13 distinctive parts to a tuxedo. This figure might seem overwhelming at first. But take one look at these tuxedo parts, and you’ll realize you’re familiar with most, if not all, of them.

  1. Tuxedo jacket
  2. Pants
  3. Shirt
  4. Waistcoat
  5. Bow tie
  6. Shoes
  7. Cufflinks
  8. Pocket square
  9. Boutonniere
  10. Cummerbund
  11. Suspenders
  12. Studs and buttons
  13. Dress socks

The Tuxedo Jacket

Man wearing a black tuxedo

When you look at a tuxedo, what is the first thing you see? Your answer will likely be the tuxedo jacket. Since this is the most visible part of a tuxedo, getting the jacket right is of utmost importance.

Lapels are arguably the most distinguishable parts of a tuxedo jacket. The No. 1 rule for these folds is that they should never be made from the same material as the rest of the jacket. Instead, they’re usually trimmed with satin.

The choice of the appropriate lapel type depends on the event you’re attending and your preferences. Select a jacket with a peak lapel to uphold tradition and make yourself appear taller and broader in the shoulders. Go with a shawl lapel to add a glamorous twist and a touch of flamboyance to your tuxedo jacket. Not sure which way to go? Then a notch lapel is your safest bet. This lapel type might be less formal, but its versatility is unmatched.

As for the button arrangement on your tuxedo jacket, it primarily depends on whether you choose a single-breasted or a double-breasted model. The former is more common and features a single row of buttons (one button is sufficient for a tuxedo). The latter has overlapping front flaps and two sets of buttons, one on each side.

Regardless of the arrangement you choose, make sure all the buttons match!

The final part that can make or break a tuxedo jacket is the vents located at the back. Are you going to a highly formal event? If so, an unvented jacket is the way to go. As a bonus, this style offers the slimmest silhouette. Do you have some leeway with the dress code? Then you can probably get away with wearing the more comfortable style – a double-vented tuxedo jacket.

Although you’ll see them often in rental catalogs, you should avoid single-vented jackets, as they are far too casual for a formal affair.

Tuxedo Pants

Man in a navy tuxedo sitting on a a stool

Tuxedo pants are another distinctive and highly visible part of a tuxedo. They’re all about minimalism and clean lines. This means no belt loops, cuffed hems, and visible pockets. For the most elegant look, get rid of the pleats at the front as well.

Look at the pants from the side, and you’ll see a stripe of fabric running down their outer seams and concealing them in the process. This part is called the braid and should be made from the same material as your lapels.

The entire pants, of course, should be of the same material as the tuxedo jacket. They should also be high-waisted. Otherwise, an unsightly patch of white below the jacket buttons will ruin the clean look you’re going for.

The Tuxedo Shirt

The tuxedo shirt is always white; no ifs, ands, or buts about it. The parts of the shirt where you do have a choice are the bib, the collar, and the cufflinks.

Don’t let the name fool you; the bib on a tuxedo shirt is much more sophisticated than the baby kind. It’s the rectangular panel running up the front of the shirt, doubling its chest fabric. With bibs, you can choose between the pleated style (vertical pleats running up the shirt) or the piqué variant (stiffer, more formal fabric, typically woven with a dimpled pattern).

As for the collar, the number of choices is significantly higher. Here are the options that work best with a tuxedo:

  • Wingtip collar – the most formal option, which pairs perfectly with a bow tie.
  • Point collar – a popular and classic look, which makes your face appear longer, according to the famed designer Alan Flusser.
  • Spread collar – the most commonly used type that comes in various points and angles.

The Waistcoat/Vest

Man wearing a black suit in the forest

A waistcoat or a vest boosts both the aesthetic appeal and the functionality of your tuxedo. On the one hand, it enhances your silhouette and contributes to a genuinely put-together look. On the other, it hides any possible sightings of your shirt and adds pockets to your tuxedo.

But what’s the difference between a waistcoat and a coat?

Well, a waistcoat is usually low-cut and is viewed as more formal. As for the vest, they’re typically full-back and require leaving the bottom button unbuttoned.

The Classic Bow Tie

Zoomed in image of the boutonniere of a man in a black suit

When wearing a tuxedo, the only neckwear you should consider is a bow tie. This small yet impactful addition should be black and match the fabric of your lapels. You might be tempted to go with a pre-tied model instead of tying it yourself, but we must warn you: most fashion-forward people will be able to tell!

The optimal bow tie length depends on your neck’s size but generally ranges from 36 to 42 inches.

The Right Shoes

While shoes are not a part of the tuxedo per se, they can make or break your entire outfit. Their choice isn’t strictly defined, but there are some styles that work best with a tuxedo.

Oxfords have undoubtedly become the gold standard for men’s formal shoes. Throw a pair of patent leather oxfords on, and you’ll instantly elevate your tuxedo game. You won’t go wrong with velvet slippers either, a choice that the Gentleman’s Journal deems the “only…shoe with the sophistication your evening wear demands.”

Cufflinks

Man in a black suit adjusting his cufflinks

Cufflinks are a timeless fashion statement, serving both a functional and an aesthetical purpose. In terms of functionality, these tiny accessories secure your tuxedo shirt. As for the aesthetics, they allow for your personality to shine through while still keeping things polished and sophisticated.

Cufflinks can be made using virtually any material, from cloth to ivory. However, your tuxedo will benefit the most from sleek metals commonly used in jewelry, such as gold, silver, and platinum.

In terms of style, you can’t go wrong with French cuffs, the epitome of elegance. Barrel cuffs are also an option, but they’re slightly less formal.

Pocket Square

For the most part, a tuxedo is an all-black affair. If you aren’t fond of dark colors, you’ll be happy to know you can use your pocket square to add a pop of color to your outfit. This decorative accessory can also be folded in several ways, depending on the dress code and the look you’re going for.

With a presidential fold (a small rectangle peeking out of the pocket), you’ll achieve a classic and elegant look. The one-corner fold (a small peak of fabric coming out of the pocket) suits a more contemporary style. Going for a touch of nonchalant sophistication? If so, the puff fold (a puff of fabric peeking through) is the way to go.

Boutonnière

Man in a black suit with a white rose boutonniere

Boutonnières are floral sprays that should be pinned onto your tuxedo jacket’s left lapel, right over your heart. Save these festive accessories for extra-special occasions like a prom or a wedding (but only if you’re in the wedding party!).

Cummerbund

A cummerbund is a sash, typically made of silk, whose primary purpose is to cover up your waistband. Wear this handy accessory and forget about the unsightly shirt bunching around the waste, throwing off your look. You should only wear a cummerbund with a tuxedo, always pairing it with a bow tie.

Suspenders

Most people agree that belt loops and tuxedos aren’t meant to go together. But no belt loops means no belt, which can be an issue if your pants are slightly loose. But don’t worry; it’s suspenders to the rescue! To keep up with the tuxedo etiquette, make sure they’re covered with a cummerbund or a vest.

Studs and Buttons

One button at the front is all your tuxedo really needs. Match it with your lapels to tie the whole look together. If you’d like to add more flair to your outfit, swap the buttons out with decorative studs.

Dress Socks

Socks might seem like a minor detail in the grand scheme of things, but they can significantly impact the overall impression you give off. Your safest bet is to go with dark-colored socks that blend well with the overall ensemble. If you happen to wear a tuxedo of different color, make sure your socks match.

Styling Your Tuxedo: The Art of Wearing Each Part

A bride and groom walking in front of the bridal party

As you can see, tuxedo rules are pretty much set in stone. However, you do have some leeway, depending on the dress code of the event you’re attending.

Nailing Formal Dress Codes

A zoomed in image of a black suit and bowtie

If you’re going to a super formal occasion, like a wedding or a black-tie gala, you’ll have to abide by a very strict dress code. Here’s how to style each tuxedo part for such an occasion:

  1. Wear a plain white tuxedo shirt with a piqué-style bib and a wingtip collar.
  2. Tuck the shirt into high-waisted tuxedo pants.
  3. Go for a black cummerbund, not a vest.
  4. Put on an unvented single-breasted tuxedo jacket with a peak lapel.
  5. Add a black bow tie, French cufflinks, and studs.
  6. Put on black dress socks and a pair of patent leather oxfords.

The Semi-Formal Attire

Those attending semi-formal events have the luxury of changing up their look. Here are some ways you can play with your tuxedo parts without completely straying away from the formal look:

  • Go for a colored tuxedo jacket (navy, burgundy, grey, etc.).
  • Wear a shirt without a bib for a more minimalist look.
  • Swap the bow tie with a straight necktie.
  • Ditch the cummerbund for a more modern look.
  • Put on derby shoes instead of oxfords.

Tuxedo Investment: Parts Worth Spending More On

A person cutting the fabric of a suit

Truthfully, assembling all 13 parts of a tuxedo can get rather costly. You can get away with spending less money on parts that are less visible, such as the shirt, pocket square, or suspenders. But saving money on prominent parts of this ensemble isn’t the best idea. Invest in a well-tailored jacket and high-quality shoes, and you’ll be instantly dressed to impress.

Despite the undeniable allure of owning a well-assembled tuxedo, the expenses associated with acquiring and maintaining such an ensemble can be quite steep. This is where the option of renting a tuxedo comes into the picture, offering a cost-effective, convenient, and practical solution, particularly for those who do not frequently attend formal events.

Renting a tuxedo allows you to enjoy the luxury of a high-quality outfit without the hefty price tag. You can select from a wide range of sizes, styles, and designers, meaning you're not confined to the limits of your current wardrobe.

Most tuxedo rental services provide complete packages, including all essential components like the jacket, trousers, shirt, tie or bow tie, cummerbund or vest, pocket square, and even shoes. This ensures a perfect match of all parts, which might be challenging to achieve when purchasing individual pieces separately.

The Tuxedo Through Time: Historical and Cultural Insights

 Man buttoning his black tuxedo

The tuxedo was first introduced in 1865 by Prince Edward VII, a trendsetter in his own right. The first iteration of a tuxedo was blue and was referred to as the “dinner jacket.”

Once the tuxedo gained popularity, it was commonly worn with a black jacket, a shirt with a shawl collar, and white accessories. Since the jacket is the most prominent part of a tuxedo, it shouldn’t be surprising that it went through the most changes throughout history.

In the 1930s, blue wool tuxedo jackets were all the rage, only to be replaced with white jacket-black pants pairing. The white-tie tuxedo had its moment, but it eventually went out of style. Interestingly, John F. Kennedy was the last president to wear this tuxedo to an inaugural ball in 1961.

The tuxedo would go on through a few more phases (colorful patterned jackets and floppy bow ties in the 1970s, colored shirts in the 2000s, etc.) before becoming what it is today – a well-fitted formal wear that exudes elegance and style.

Wrapping It Up: The Complete Tuxedo Guide

Man in a black tux leaning against a wall while holding his drink

While these standards and rules might feel restrictive to some, it’s important to note that every part of the tuxedo is there for a reason. Combine all these elements as intended, and you’ll instantly feel more empowered once you put the entire ensemble on.

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