Suits vs Tuxedos: When to Wear and the Differences Between These Style Staples

So, you’ve been invited to a wedding (or charity gala or birthday party or opera premiere) and are excitedly preparing for the big day when all of the sudden it dawns on you: You have no idea whether to wear a tuxedo or a suit. You know it’s at least a little bit formal, but the invitation was less than clear about the official dress code.

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First things first, don’t panic! You got this and we’re here to help. Below, we’ve broken down all the major differences between a suit and a tuxedo and made some recommendations about where you should and should not wear them.

Ready to up your fashion knowledge? Scroll down for our expert tips, tricks, and advice!

Material

When discussing the differences between suits and tuxedos, it’s best to start at the very beginning and take a look at their respective construction. Though they may have similar silhouettes, these two garments use materials in pretty distinct ways:

Tuxedos Suits
Exterior Tuxedos can be made from any number of different fabrics, with the most popular being wool, polyester, and rayon. These materials are specially treated to give off a sheen or shine that is one of the defining characteristics of the style. Suits, on the other hand, generally use a single material (linen, wool, polyester, oh my!) from collar to hem with no special fabric accents.
Detailing Almost all tuxedos feature silk satin detailing on the lapels, buttons, pocket trim, and along a thin, vertical line on each pant leg. Nothing too fancy on your run-of-the-mill suit, though expensive ones may sometimes feature buttons made of bone.
Feel Most tuxes incorporate “stiffeners” (such as felt or buckram) underneath the collar and throughout the garment to achieve a crisply uniform aesthetic and feel. This really depends on the fabric you choose for your suit; wool will obviously be stiffer while those made of cotton or linen will have a much more relaxed fit.

Accessories

At the end of the day, these differing materials mostly result in subtle variations between the two outfits, so the question becomes: What makes them so visually dissimilar? For us, it really comes down to their specific accessories. We’ll break down the most pronounced ones below.

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Tuxedos Suits
Shirt Most tuxedos are worn with crisp, white shirts that have either a wing or turndown collar. Regardless of the style, a series of pleats runs vertically along the button seam. The suit is altogether more versatile than the tux, so you can truly wear whatever kind of button-down you’d like! We suggest bold patterns for parties and tasteful solids for funerals, weddings, and business occasions.
Shoes Given the tux’s status as the go-to outfit for fancy occasions, it makes sense that most folks choose to pair their penguin suit with black patent leather dress shoes. As with the shirt, you can go as contemporary or conservative as you’d like with the shoes, though loafers, slip-ons, and oxfords usually look best, but we are not opposed to pairing with a minimalist sneaker.
Extras Additionally, almost all tuxedo wearers don a bow tie (drawn tightly around the neck) and a cummerbund (positioned at the place where the shirt and pants meet with the pleats facing up). For something a little more glam, one could finish off the look with a pair of diamond cufflinks. To round out your suited look, consider adding a crisp tie, playful pocket square, or stylish belt.

Occasions

Now that we’ve got a better sense of their cosmetic differences, let’s take a second to chat about where you should (and should not!) wear these outfits. Trust us on this one — the wrong garment at the wrong event can be both disastrous and incredibly embarrassing.

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Tuxedos Suits
Should Designated black-tie events, formal weddings, charity galas, nights out at the opera, and any other evening occasions that appear to have an air of formality. Business meetings, dates, informal weddings, family reunions, funerals, nights out at the theatre.
Should Not Daytime parties, outdoor weddings, business meetings, dates. Black-tie gatherings, galas, opening nights of either the ballet or opera, any time a host has specifically asked for more formal wear.
General Tips The absolute best way to save face when deciding whether or not to wear a tux? Ask! People will gladly let you know whether they’re expecting formal attire and will often say so on their invites. It’s never inappropriate to inquire beforehand. A suit can be worn across a wide range of events and gatherings, so keep a few options in your closet at all times! And remember: Unless you’re intimate with the host/event, keep it safe and stick to traditional patterns and colors.

Cost

When it comes to cost, we prescribe a general rule of thumb: Rent your tux, buy your suit. Considering that you won’t be wearing the former very much (and will undoubtedly get a ton of wear out of the latter), this makes the most sound investment. But for those curious, here’s the typical price range for both

Tuxedos Suits
Cost to Rent You can generally rent a high-quality tuxedo for $200 to $300, and might even be able to find a more affordable rate for something less customized. We like The Black Tux. Renting a suit is less expensive than renting a tux, but not by much. You’ll typically be spending somewhere between $100 and $200. We really don’t recommend this since, as mentioned, you’re going to put a suit through its paces, so you might as well invest in one now.
Cost to Buy While it will depend a lot on what kind of tux you’re looking for, expect to spend anywhere between $700 and $1,000 on a tux. Buying a suit is also more affordable, with prices usually hovering somewhere between $500 and $800, though you’ll likely have to spend an additional $100 on alterations.

Need even more info? Learn how to wear a suit the right way with three styles to choose from.

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