Buying your first tuxedo is like buying your first sports car. Sure you’ve had suits before: ones you’ve loved, ones you’ve hated, ones you’ve gotten lucky in, and ones you’ve beaten into the ground, but none of them have been the kind of garment that needs and garners the love and attention of a tuxedo.
Before we get into the parts of a tuxedo, and what to look for in terms of style options, let’s answer the big question: What is a tuxedo? Or better yet, what is the difference between a suit and a tuxedo? The short and basic answer is a tuxedo is designed to cover all seams and fastenings with “elegant” fabric (e.g. the satin or velvet on the pant leg and the use of a cummerbund or vest) and jewelry (e.g cufflinks and tuxedo shirt studs) where a suit does not.
When picking out your first tuxedo, get the images of coat tails and Dumb and Dumber out of your head. In theory, these would be amazing to pull off, but you are a real man in need of a real outfit you can wear to real occasions. These occasions are ones calling for black tie attire, think galas, weddings, New Years celebrations etc.
Color: Black or Blue
Since we are talking about buying your first tuxedo, you’ll want a color that makes sense. Black is a standard and will be acceptable for any formal outing or gala; it is the smart choice when it comes to color. The only other feasible option is a midnight navy blue tuxedo. A navy tuxedo is for those looking to stand out a bit from the crowd, but only just enough to get noticed. With navy, you also have an option on the color of your lapel: black, white, or a matching navy. The most popular tuxedo style for a navy tux is the black on blue color scheme, however black on black is far more common.
Personal Choice: Black lapels on a Midnight Blue tuxedo
Lapels: Peak, Notch, or Shawl
The type of lapel on a tuxedo jacket is primarily a pick based on your personal style and your body type. The more traditional lapel on a tuxedo is a peak lapel. Since a peak lapel is wider, it is most flattering on a slimmer frame, as the added fabric tends to make the chest appear bigger. Notch lapels are more modern, and look good on almost any body type. If you aren’t sure what kind of lapel you want, you can’t go wrong with the notch. For those with a wider chest and more inclined to make a statement with their clothing, a shawl collar lapel is perfect. The shawl collar also adds a garment line not normally seen on your everyday suit, giving the piece some novelty.
Personal Choice: Shawl Collar- based on my body type and wanting to stand out a little.
Jacket Buttons: One or Two
The line of a jacket is only altered slightly when going from two buttons to one. Both are entirely acceptable, and both look damn good. If you want to really stand out and flaunt your torso, whether it be adorned in a cummerbund, vest, or just a shirt, some brands offer a button-less option (really taking the fastening-less rule to heart).
Personal Choice: One button- keeps the fastenings to a minimum without going crazy.
Waist: Vest or Cummerbund
Tradition can’t really help you with the question of vest or cummerbund. While the cummerbund is more old school, the vest has been around long enough to where both hold equal weight in terms of tradition. Basically, the choice is entirely personal. However, many men today are going without, giving the tuxedo a more relaxed, avant-garde feel. If you choose to go without a vest or cummerbund, your pants should not have any belt loops, again this aligns with the theme of no visible seams.
Note: If selecting a cummerbund, make sure the bowtie matches in both color and sheen, as these are intended to match. Now that you know the rule, feel free to break it, if you are going to be a badass, know it, own it, flaunt it.
Personal Choice: Vest- I can choose whether or not to wear it out, and when I do, I find I look better in a vest than a cummerbund sans jacket.
Pants: Loops, Tabs, or Nothing
There are three main options when it comes to pants (excluding whether or not you want a break at the ankle): Loops, Tabs, or Nothing. The easiest way to keep seams hidden is to remove them, so in theory, no waist adjustors are they way to go, but this makes many uneasy. Having no waist adjustment method is a hard call because the garment must be tailored perfectly. You will need to be confident in your ability to stay the same size if you want to avoid additional alteration costs. Side tabs are the middle ground. They provide a moderate amount of waist adjustment without tailoring, and there is no need for a belt. Loops are the most adjustable (inward only obviously) and the most informal because they require a belt, which in turn would require a vest or cummerbund to cover it. If you want to go without a waist piece, don’t go loops.
Personal Choice: Nothing- I want the option to go without a waistcoat and I have a tailor that makes a great fit so I’m comfortable living on the edge.
Accompanying clothes and accessories
Shirt- Go white, and make it a tuxedo shirt, if it has buttons sewn in, it’s not a tuxedo shirt. Options: Ripples are more old fashioned and traditional, modern shirts are more flat fronted and form fitting.
Personal Choice: Flat front
Shoes- If your lapel is black, then opt for black shoes. The choice of patent leather or no patent leather is solved by how glossy your lapel and pant stripes are: High gloss lapel- patent is fine but keep the look of the shoe simple and clean, Matte lapel- no patent.
Personal Choice: No patent leather, just a high shine
Indchino is by far the most customizable of our picks. You can choose everything including lapel style, number of buttons, liner, vents, pocket style, plus you can have the jacket embroidered at no extra cost. All of their suits are made to measure (meaning they cut the garment to your measurements) which saves you a ton on the tailoring bill. Why so cheap? It is made in china in a mass production shop, but if you are going to buy online, you will most like get the best fit right out of the box from these guys. If you are a control freak or have an odd body shape (like myself) this is the tuxedo for you.
Brooks Brothers is a hard to beat American classic, I mean they suited Abraham Lincoln for Pete's sake! Their 1818 Fitzgerald is continuing that tradition. It has a black on black color scheme, a single buttoned closure, black satin notch lapels, and classic satin covered cuff buttons. This is the classic tuxedo. Brooks Brokers will also alter your pants for free when you buy online, saving some of the tailoring costs. The Fitzgerald fit is BB's newer 'modern' cut with narrow lapels made for the more wide-chested gentleman, they also brought up the armholes so it doesn't look like you're wearing your father's jacket. If you have a wider chest or are an all-American junkie, this is your tux.
Canali is known for their high-quality Italian fabric and tailored fit. The family-run company, now in their third generation, makes all of their clothes in Italy, hence the higher price. This Canali tuxedo is black on black, has the traditional peak lapel adorned with matte satin (so you can skip the patent leather shoes), a single button closure, and a single vent in the back, giving the jacket a more tailored look. This tuxedo is tailored to fit more slim or thin athletic body types. The pants come with side tabs which means less tailoring, however, they are unhemmed so a trip will be necessary (which is to be expected from garments off the peg). If you have the cash and a slimmer frame, this tuxedo is for you.