Getting that invitation in the mail that says Black Tie Only/Required, or even Black Tie Optional/Requested shouldn’t scare you. While wearing formal clothing, or tuxedos, can be intimidating because there are actually very exacting do’s and don’ts, we’re here to simplify the process and ensure that you go out looking and feeling good.
What does “Black Tie Only” mean?
When you see the words “Black Tie Only” or “Required” that means that you’re expected to show up wearing a proper tux – regardless whether you have to rent, purchase, or already own one.
If the invitation has words such as “optional” or “requested” it means that the hosts would strongly prefer that you wear one, but that if you must, you could wear a black, navy, or charcoal gray suit. In keeping with the formality of the occasion, you should pair this with a white shirt, and a solid burgundy, dark red, navy, or black tie. You shouldn’t wear a sport coat and slacks, or a light colored suit.
Traditional tuxes fall within a very narrow range of specifications. Luckily, most men today wear “creative black tie”. This allows for much more leeway in the details, and even a bit more color. We’ll go through the formal rules, what makes a tux different than a suit, and all the acceptable variations. We’ll also give you some tips on how to look your best wearing one.
“Creative black tie” lets you be just that – creative. You can wear a long tie instead of a bow tie, a colored shirt, collarless shirt, or add color to your accessories. This is the origin of many of the tuxes you see at awards shows.
Elements of a Tuxedo
Tuxedos are worn only for evening affairs – after 6pm. They should be black or midnight blue wool. If you live in a year-round warm climate, or it’s a summer event, you can wear a white tux, which means a white jacket with black tux pants. Aside from the suit being white or slightly off-white, which is more flattering, all other elements will be the same as a dark tux. As we go through all the elements that make up a tux, keep in mind that the purpose is to present an elegant and streamlined look.
Tux Jackets: Collar – One of the most distinguishing characteristics of a tux is the grosgrain (ribbed, stiffer fabric that you might see in a ribbon) or shiny satin collar. Whichever fabric you choose should be carried throughout the outfit. For instance, the facing on pockets (only welt pockets, never flap), down the outseams of the pants, and the fabric covered buttons should all be the same fabric.
Tuxes should have either a shawl or peak collar. Peak collars have the lower portion that extends beyond the piece that wraps the neck. A shawl collar is a single piece that curves around the neck and tapers to the button area. You may see some newer tuxes that have notch collars. Peter Manning tuxedos have a shawl collar. They are made from a very fine Italian Super 110 wool twill.
The most traditional tuxedos are either single button single breasted or a 2 x 6 double breasted. We’ve chosen a 2 button single breasted to be more in line with modern tastes. The buttoned top button should be level with your waist. A double-breasted jacket tends to make men look shorter and boxier. Regardless of what you choose, remember to leave the bottom button undone. The jacket is designed to flare slightly from the top button to fit over hips better.
The advantage of owning a Peter Manning Tuxedo Jacket is that they’re designed for the shorter man. If you chose to rent your tux, the rental company may allow you to shorten the sleeve length, but overall, the jacket was not designed with shorter men in mind. For instance, the button may fall more at your hips than your waist. The armholes and overall length will probably be too long, the sleeves will definitely be too long and there is only so much they can be shortened before you run into the buttons and buttonholes.
Vents: Peter Manning tuxes come with a center vent. This is the same venting you’ll find on some of our other jackets. You may see unvented or side vented tux jackets that are more traditional. Luckily, today’s tux styling allows for any version of vents.
Pants: Traditional tux pants have a plain front that sits at your waist. This may feel a bit strange if you are used to wearing low rise, casual pants. Don’t worry, it’s fitting correctly. Modern tuxes may have pleated pants, but we don’t do pleats at Peter Manning, as the excess fabric is never flattering on our guys. The satin or grosgrain will run down the outside seams of the pants. Tux pants don’t have belt loops because you should never wear a belt with a tux. Instead, they have adjustable tabs at the side, or you wear suspenders. Peter Manning tux pants come with suspender buttons.
Peter Manning tux pants are designed for the shorter man. The inseams and leg width are all proportionally designed to make you look good. Tux pants should always be finished with a plain bottom – don’t cuff your tux pants. Aside from it being difficult and bulky with the outseam braid, cuffed pants are a much more casual look.
What is or isn’t formalwear?
Smoking or Dinner jackets are velvet versions of tuxedos. They are worn with tux pants. Unlike the colors of midnight blue or black for tuxes, smoking jackets are commonly made in the rich tones of bottle green, deep gold, burgundy, or plum. They were originally worn by the British aristocracy as after dinner jackets so their tux jackets wouldn’t smell like smoke when they went to join the ladies after having their port and cigars.
You can tell the difference between a tux and suit by the details. A tux has the satin or grosgrain facings on the collar, pocket openings, buttons, and pant seams. So even if you have an untraditional notch collar, pleated pants, or two or three button jacket in dark blue or black, the facings are the fastest clue that one is a tux and not a suit. If you see horn buttons, cuffed bottoms, belt loops, and no grosgrain on the pants – it’s hard to call it a tux.
Bib front, spread collar French cuff with silk knotted cufflinks
You shouldn’t wear a regular button up dress shirt with your tux – those are meant for suits. Go the extra mile to wear a proper tux shirt. First, tux shirts should generally be white, although recently light blue and black have become more acceptable. The shirts should have either a bib of textured (usually pique) or pleated fabric.
Tux shirts have French cuffs. Instead of visible front buttons there will be either a placket covering all but the top hole which holds a stud, or all holes for studs. Commonly, stud sets (shirt studs and cuff links) are silver, gold, mother of pearl, onyx, or knotted silk cord. Collars on tux shirts should have either a wing-tip collar or a spread collar. The collar should sit underneath the bow tie. Never wear a wing collar shirt with a pre-tied bow tie. The clip will show!
The Peter Manning Tuxedo Shirt is offered in both standard and slim fits. This high-quality cotton shirt has a textured bib, spread collar, and French cuffs. It’s proportionally sized for shorter men with a scaled collar, slimmer arms, a tapered body and the proper sleeve length.
Ties: It has become much more common to see men wearing long ties with their tuxes. Traditional tux etiquette is to wear a black bow tie that you tie yourself. It’s especially important that you not use a pre-tied bow tie if you are wearing a wing collar shirt. Tradition dictates that bow ties be black. This has evolved in today’s culture of creative black tie to include many other colors. If you are going to go this route, keep the tie solid, and stick with the smoking jacket colors of burgundy, gold, plum, or bottle green.
Vests: Adding a vest to your tux is a really nice touch. Choose one in black or white. They come in backless (with just a strip of fabric from collar to waist), or with a silk backing fabric. If you are going to be dancing the night away and want to take off your jacket, choose one with a back. The backless are not as elegant without the jacket.
Vests come with and without lapels. If you choose to have a lapelled vest, be sure to match your tux jacket. Generally, shawl collar tuxes will not have a lapelled vest. The vest top should just peak out of the top of the jacket when it is buttoned and should be long enough to cover the waistband of your pants.
Cummerbund: If you choose to wear a vest, don’t also wear a cummerbund. This is the sash-like accessory for around your waist. It makes for a nice transition between the pants and shirt. Again, black or white is traditional, but more often, men are choosing a color. If you wear a colored cummerbund, please stick to black for your tie. The two should not be matching. This is more appropriate for a high school prom. The same is true of matching a colored tie and vest.
Cummerbund pleats should face upward. If you have trouble remembering which way they face, remember the origin – they were worn by British soldiers in the Far East where it was too hot to wear a jacket. They were able to store receipts and ticket stubs in the pleats of the cummerbund.
Cummerbunds shouldn’t be worn with double-breasted tuxes or vests. There is just too much bulk. They are also awkward with long lies. They are appropriate with both shawl and peak lapelled jackets. It’s perfectly acceptable to wear suspenders (white or black) with your cummerbund.
Shoes & socks: Black dress shoes in polished calfskin, patent leather, or velvet are all acceptable. Velvet loafers can also be worn with and in the colors of smoking jackets. Either cap toe oxfords, venetian loafers, or slipper styles are all acceptable with tuxes. There shouldn’t be tassles on your shoes. Keep in mind you are going for an elegant, minimalist look. For more information you can read our Dress Shoe Guide.
Choose black socks, unless of course you’re wearing a white tux. They can be silk, fine wool or cotton. You want something that isn’t bulky but does come over the calf. Having skin showing when you sit is not elegant.
If you have any questions about what is proper, just think “What would James Bond wear?” Each Bond has been elegantly dressed in a traditional tuxedo in every movie.
To buy or rent? That is the question…
Renting a tux will cost at least $100-200. Yes, purchasing a tux will cost you more. However, there are several arguments in favor of purchasing one.
- Looks - First and foremost, you’ll get the right fit and know that you look good. You’ll be wearing a tux that was made to fit you, not someone else, and the only alterations most companies will do is hem the bottom and shorten the sleeves – a bit. Peter Manning tuxes start out with the fit you will need. As with all our suits, you get a $50 credit toward any alterations you’ll need. These will probably be minor, if at all.
- The ick factor - Rentals have been rented before – sometimes many times. They’ve been worn and cleaned a bunch, so they won’t be in pristine condition. Rental also requires prior planning so you might not always be able to find one in your size or preferred style if the event is last minute.
- Longevity - Luckily tux fashions change very little over time, especially when you purchase a classic design with a shawl collar like those offered at Peter Manning. Having your tux waiting in your closet allows you to say yes to any formal events that may come up. And if you gain a bit of weight over the years, our jackets have generous seam allowances to accommodate alterations.
Imagine walking into a room wearing a tux you own…that fits you to a T. Putting aside questions of convenience (owning wins here), and fit (owning again), there is something about knowing that you are wearing your own, proper-fitting, well styled suit that gives you an extra boost of confidence. You avoid the hassle of having to rent, alter, and return something that won’t give you the same inner confidence.
Purchasing your own tux is the ultimate confidence booster. Peter Manning tuxes are timeless, classic examples of formalwear that will last for years to come – while only costing the price of 2 or 3 inferior rentals.