Wedding tuxedos are a tradition that’s almost as old as the hills. But like those steep, rocky outcrops, the rules and etiquette surrounding this archaic piece of formal wear can seem daunting and impenetrable to the modern man.
What kind of tuxedo is acceptable at which type of event? What are the different styles of wedding tuxedos, and how can these details change the wearer’s appearance? What shoes and accessories can you combine with your tuxedo without committing an unforgivable sartorial faux pas?
These and other equally obscure mysteries will all be revealed in our full in-depth guide to wedding tuxedos.
When Should You Wear a Wedding Tuxedo?
There are subtle differences in tuxedo etiquette. And not every tux-based outfit will be suitable for all occasions. Before going any further, then, it’s important to establish precisely what kind of wedding you’ll be attending.
Black Tie events were once considered only semi-formal. Today though, unless you win the Nobel Prize or are in the habit of hanging out with royalty, a Black Tie wedding is about as formal an event as most of us are ever likely to be invited to. And as a formal event, a Black Tie wedding calls for a full wedding tuxedo in black, with all accessories – including the tie, funnily enough – also in black.
Creative Black Tie
As the name would suggest, a Creative Black Tie dress code allows for a little more self-expression than with a regular Black Tie wedding. Where the name is somewhat more misleading, however, is in the fact that your tie doesn’t need to be black at all. In fact, if you’re looking to get a little creative, the tie is one of the first areas where you might consider experimenting with some color.
You’ll still be expected to wear a tux at a Creative Black Tie event, though. So be sure to read on for tips about how to add a little personal style to your wedding tuxedo ensemble without falling foul of the age-old formal dress codes.
Formal/Black Tie Optional
At a wedding with a Formal or Black Tie Optional dress code, nobody will be offended if you show up in a regular suit. But just as equally, no one will think you’re overdressed if you opt for a tuxedo either.
But because a Black Tie Optional event is the least formal of the three tuxedo dress codes, guests now have the go-ahead to really splash out and personalize their wedding tuxedos as they want. Of course, you can totally stick to a more classic look, too, if you prefer. Whatever your preference, though, in most cases you’ll still want to roll up in a dark-colored tuxedo and smart black dress shoes, using this as a base to add whichever more personalized touches you may wish.
Wedding Tuxedo Etiquette: The Do’s and Don’ts
Do: Keep It Classic
Here at 8th Lining, we appreciate a subtle touch of self-expression in a suit. And we’re certainly not averse to breaking with tradition whenever it makes sense (we use high-tech 3D body scans to take our clients’ measurements, after all). But although heavily “fashion-forward” looks can be fun in certain contexts, a wedding tuxedo is probably not one of those contexts. If for no other reasons than A) there will be photographers present, and B) unlike all those useless snaps of sunsets occupying memory on your phone, people do actually tend to look at wedding photos again in the future.
You will no doubt have seen a few ridiculous wedding photos from the ’70s; groups of smiling guests decked out in spectacularly wide-collars and bell-bottomed suits. If that isn’t how you would also like to be remembered in the future, we urge you to stick to a more classic silhouette.
And if that’s true for wedding guests, it’s doubly so for the groom. Big statements or major concessions to fashion tend not to age well. Want to look back on your wedding day in twenty, thirty, or forty years' time and still feel good about how you turned out? Keep things simple and sophisticated.
For example, super short and tight suit jackets were all the rage just a couple of years ago. But as fashions have started to get looser over the last few years, ultra-fitted wedding tuxedos are soon going to start to look very dated indeed. In fact, we’ll go out on a limb here and predict that the “painted on” suit won’t even get to ten years before it will start looking ridiculous. Never mind forty!
By sticking to a more measured and moderate cut, going with classic design details, and accessorizing with some stylish but understated items, you can be confident you’ll look every bit as good to your future self as you did to everyone on your wedding day.
Don’t: Automatically Choose Black for Your Wedding Tuxedo
To be clear, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with black wedding tuxedos. Indeed, in nine cases out of ten, a black tuxedo is the best option. But at all but the most formal of events, black is a choice. And one that should be given some consideration, rather than just going with it because it’s the default.
What other options are there? Well, as the trend over the last few decades has been for weddings, in general, to get less and less formal, many people have started experimenting with all kinds of colors for their tuxes. So if the occasion is right, the sky is your limit. In theory at least.
Having said that, while bright “royal” blue tuxes have become increasingly popular of late, it’s not necessarily a look that will date all that well (see the Keep It Classic section above). And while we quite like the deep burgundy tuxes that have started to show up recently, it takes a certain kind of person to pull off such a bold look. Again, though, quite how this colorway will be viewed in a few years' time is anybody’s guess.
For a safer and more sophisticated bet, stick to the tried and tested classics. For example, midnight blue has a long history of being used for wedding tuxedos. As does charcoal gray; which can make for a very suave alternative to black. Meanwhile, for a more informal summer wedding, a white tuxedo might even be the way to go. Just keep in mind that at a truly formal black-tie event, male guests are expected to wear a dark (ideally black) tuxedo, whatever the weather.
Do: Consider Your Body Shape
To the untrained eye, all wedding tuxedos look the same. In part this might be because a lot of them are the same; so many wedding tuxedos come from the same rental companies, after all, so it’s hardly surprising if their wearers end up looking like clones.
Yet there’s a considerable amount of variation that can be achieved with a tux in terms of style and cut. And decisions such as these can make a real difference to the overall effect your wedding tuxedo will create when you wear it. Particularly in terms of body shape and build. Consider the following.
- For the Shorter Gentleman
To give an impression of extra height, be sure to avoid long jackets. Indeed, a slightly shorter jacket will help to elongate the legs and make for a well-proportioned fit. The good news is that the satin stripes of tuxedo pants will automatically help to make legs look longer.
- For the Thinner Gentleman
A single-breasted, two-button jacket can be very flattering for slimmer men. And a lighter color will give an impression of greater bulk. If you’re tall and skinny, broader, boxier shoulders will help to give you a little extra brawn; especially if the jacket is double-breasted. Just be sure to get a slightly longer jacket if you are tall though, and make sure that the sleeves are sufficiently long.
- For the Bulkier Gentleman
A single-breasted, single-button tuxedo can be very slimming. Especially if it buttons low. And dark colors will always make the wearer look thinner than light ones. These two elements combine to make the classic black single-breasted tuxedo a very flattering option for the more portly gent.
Don’t: Overlook the Pants
Along with lapels, trouser styles are one of the few parts of a man’s suit that are noticeably influenced by the changing of fashions. But as with our early point about keeping things classic, it’s worth keeping in mind that anything that’s uber-fashionable now will inevitably be laughably unfashionable in just a few years.
Take trouser pleats, for example. We like a good pleat or two, and they are definitely coming back into style right now – as they have done many times in the past. But fashions come and go in cycles. Seen from a vantage point of the future, whether pleated pants make you look cutting edge or like a total loser will depend entirely upon whether pleats happen to be fashionable or unfashionable at that future moment in time. Given that you can’t control exactly when people in the future might end up looking at your wedding photos, much less what they might consider being fashionable, flat-fronted pants are probably the safer bet.
Indeed flat front pants are never either in or out. They just simply are. So go for a pair of flat-fronted pants in a medium-cut – not too loose, not too tight – and your wedding day silhouette will be more likely to stand the test of time.
Beyond cut, the one other thing to consider with wedding tuxedo pants are the stripes down the legs. No tuxedo is complete without this detail, and the stripes should be made of the same satin or grosgrain material as is used on the lapels of the jacket. Don’t overlook this essential detail.
Do: Opt for Peak Lapels
Notch lapels have now become the most common option for wedding tuxedos – and are perfectly acceptable these days in most situations. Yet notch lapels are much less formal than peak lapels; which somehow seems an odd choice when added to what is by definition a highly formal item of clothing. What’s more, notch lapels on wedding tuxedos are also historically incorrect. So if you want to be truly well dressed, a peak lapel tuxedo jacket is the only way to go.
If you really have an aversion to peak lapels, though, but want to stay on the right side of tradition, consider a shawl collar tuxedo. Shawl collars fall somewhere between peak and notch lapels in terms of formality, but make a nicely minimal alternative to the peaked variety. They also have historical cred.
If you’re going for a double-breasted jacket, though, it’s got to be peak lapels every time.
As mentioned above, whatever style of lapels you opt for, they should be cut from grosgrain or satin fabric. If not, you’re not wearing a tuxedo.
Don’t: Get the Tie Wrong
There’s only really one tie that goes with a wedding tuxedo; the bow tie. Preferably black, but another dark or strong color will also work (avoid overly light colors though, as they won’t frame your face in the same way).
Recently there’s been a bit of a trend for dressing down wedding tuxedos by pairing them with regular neckties. People are free to do what they want, of course. But just be aware that this is not really considered “the done thing.” And let’s face it, if you’re going to go to the trouble of dressing up like James Bond, you might as well do it right. By finishing off your tuxedo ensemble with a polka-dot skinny necktie, you may feel like a daring sartorial iconoclast; to most people, however, it will just look like you don’t know what you’re doing.
What if you simply don’t like bow ties? That’s a tricky one. Perhaps just bite your tongue and try it anyway; you might find you like it in the end! Whatever tie you go for, though, make sure it’s a real one. I.e. one that has to be tied by hand; not some pre-tied joke shop snap-on number.
Do: Go for Black Patent Leather Shoes
When wearing a tuxedo, you can have any style of shoes you want, as long as they are black and patent leather. Well, not quite any style (no bulbous Balenciaga “dad sneakers” obviously). But you do get a choice of either smart oxfords, cap toes, or opera pumps/loafers.
Whichever style of shoes you pair with your wedding tuxedo, they should be new, pristine, and absolutely beautiful. Yet they should also be broken in; your wedding night is not the time to discover that your choice of footwear would qualify as one of the Spanish Inquisition’s preferred methods of torture. Wear them for at least a day, and well in advance of the big event.
Don’t: Shirk on the Shirt
Wing collar shirts will always be the most sophisticated option when wearing a wedding tuxedo. They are also the only kind of collar that really works well with a bow tie. It’s true that spread collar shirts are increasingly popular with tuxes today, but they wouldn’t be acceptable at a genuinely formal event.
What about French cuffs? Arguably, few people today would even notice if you were to wear barrel cuffs with a tux. But it’s definitely not the way that wedding tuxedos are traditionally worn. And, as should already be pretty clear by now, we follow the philosophy that if you’re going to all the trouble of dressing up formally, you might as well enjoy it and go the whole hog. French cuffs it is then!
When it comes to the shirt bib, though, we’re more open-minded. Ruffles? Pleats? These fancy flourishes are definitely the way to go if you want to stick with tradition. But we realize that not everyone will dig the overtly fussy nature of such designs, so we’re all for more subdued options if they’ll make the wearer feel more comfortable. One such alternative would be a shirt that recalls a pleated bib, but with the vertical lines created by some other means; such as embroidery or the woven pattern of the fabric itself.
Also, consider that a true tuxedo shirt has what is called a tuxedo placket; i.e one that lacks buttons (but no buttonholes) at the top half. The reason for this is that it is designed to be fastened using shirt studs (similar to the cuff links used to secure French cuffs). Meanwhile, if you’re going for a less formal look (and have therefore completely ignored our advice and gone for a spread collar), a hidden front placket will make for the most sophisticated option.
Do: Accessorize – Discretely
Having read this far, you should have gained a pretty good feel for just what you can and can’t get away with in terms of self-expression and deviation from tradition – depending on the formality of the event. And this knowledge will serve you admirably when it comes to accessorizing your look. To summarize, though, the more formal the dress code, the more likely it is that everything you wear should either be black or white. As the dress code relaxes, however, the greater leeway you have to switch out some of those staid accessories for more adventurous designs.
Once again, though, we urge you to return to the Keep It Classic section above. Self-expression shouldn’t result in anything clown-like. Leave the canary yellow bow ties and fuchsia pocket squares to the Pitti Peacocks. Also keep in mind that if it’s not your wedding, it probably wouldn’t be considered appropriate to outshine the groom anyway.
With that said, pocket squares are definitely acceptable accessories for wedding tuxedos. And it can certainly look good to add a touch of flare here. If you’re worried about coming to the attention of the fashion police, however, maybe go for a monochrome patterned pocket square rather than garish color.
If color really is your thing, though, and you want to make the tuxedo more your own, choose a single extra color and use it very sparingly – rather than trying to add chromatic interest at every turn.
For example, you might make the cummerbund the focus of interest by opting for a strong color here. We would discourage trying to match cummerbund, pocket square, and bow tie though. A well-thought-out look will be appreciated by most people, but too much coordination can appear try-hard.
Other accessories you might want to consider include a slim, elegant watch; silver or gold cuff links; and shirt studs in black or pearl (but if you’re also wearing cuff links, make sure studs and links all match).
Finally, don’t forget the suspenders/braces for your trousers. By definition, tuxedo pants don’t have belt loops (because a belt would not be convenient under a cummerbund). So if you don’t want your pants to end up around your ankles on the dance floor, suspenders will probably be essential. They are also another opportunity to discretely change up the color on your outfit if so desired. Be aware, though, that clip-on braces are never acceptable; even in a merely semi-formal setting. Your tuxedo pants should come with loops for attaching button-on suspenders.
Don’t: Rent Your Wedding Tuxedo
The average guy getting married rents his wedding tuxedo. It shows.
A rented tuxedo is made for the average guy getting married, so it needs to fit everyone within a certain size bracket. In practice, this means that it fits no one. At least not well.
If it’s your wedding day, you probably don’t want to be just “the average guy”. A rented tuxedo will fit you like it did all the other guys who wore it before you. I.e. just OK, at best. Your wedding day is one like no other. You should be looking at your absolute sharpest and most handsome. A custom suit is the only way to go. Only by having your wedding tuxedo tailor-made for you (and your body) can you be sure of looking you're very best on the big day. Get in touch with us if you want to learn more about bespoke wedding tuxedos or would like a quote.