The time has come. You’ve finally been invited to your first black tie event. And no, contrary to what the term implies, the requirement is usually for a tuxedo (though some do get away with wearing a regular, black colored tie). So what should we know about the entire Tuxedo outfit before we embark on our journey for our maiden one? Here we go, in Part One of our two part post:
A tuxedo (or dinner jacket in England) is a formal evening suit distinguished primarily by satin or grosgrain facings on the jacket lapels and buttons and a similar stripe along the outseam of the trousers. So how did the Tuxedo come to be known as it is? In 1886, the British Prince invited the son of a prominent New York Banker, James Brown Potter, to his hunting estate, and suggested local tailor Poole & Co. for the creation of a dinner jacket. He then wore the dinner suit to Tuxedo Park Club, a newly established residential country club for New York’s upper class. The suit proved to be so popular that it became the informal dining uniform of the club! Hence the name Tuxedo!
Jacket Style: The single breasted tuxedo jacket remains the most popular style. While a single button interpretation of the jacket is still considered the most formal in some circles, the two button single breasted tuxedo jacket has now become the de facto jacket.
Traditional choices for the fabric covering the lapel are silk, satin or grosgrain:
Silk –Shiny fabric produced by silkworms
Satin – A smooth, glossy fabric (often silk or polyester)
Grosgrain – (pronounced “grow grain”) is a heavy fabric in a twill or ribbed finish. Originally made of silk, it can also be made from cotton. In ribbed form, it can be used as the leg seam for formal trousers.
Lapel Style: While notched lapels have come to become the most popular type of tuxedo lapel, as adapted from everyday suits, they generally do not resemble the elegance and sophistication demonstrated by peak or shawl lapels. One school of thought is of the understanding that a notch lapel’s popularity is due to the fact that manufacturers save money by using the same pattern for both suits and tuxedos and that rental companies can rely on it to hold up better than delicate points of peak lapels during repeated wear and cleaning.
Peak Lapel: The Peak lapel was exceeding popular during the first half of the twentieth century, but has come back with a vengeance. It is broad and V-shaped, and points up like a peak, as it name suggests, not too far below the collar line. While it certainly looks more elegant than a notched lapel on a tuxedo, it is best suited for men in relatively good shape, as it draws attention to a slimmer body type.
Shawl Lapels: A shawl lapel boasts a smooth, rounded look that is completely different from the other two options. Because it wraps around as a collar as well, people refer to shawl lapels and shawl collars interchangeably. This type of lapel should only be reserved when you want to look as elegant as you possibly can! Again, as with the peaked lapel, a shawl lapel is best suggested for men who are in relatively good shape, as the shawl can accentuate roundedness on more portly men.
Shirt: A formal tuxedo shirt will typically have a pleated front (to the waist only, so that it doesn’t buckle when you sit down). This is the reason why the waist is always covered with either a cummerbund or waistcoat or double-breasted dinner jacket, which is never unbuttoned in public.
Shirt Pleats are typically refined ( ¼ inch to ½ inch only) with fewer pleats generally looking more elegant.
Shirt options include having a pleated front with studs or wearing buttons with a covered front placket. Since the 1980’s, shirts of both collar types have been appearing increasingly often with fly fronts (concealed plackets). While this style eliminates the use of traditional studs, the fact that the buttons are hidden are a perfect compliment for the minimalism associated with a tuxedo.
Shirt collar styles can include wing tip or straight collar. A wing tip color is considered more in line with the elegance that a tuxedo demands. Historically, wing tip collars for tuxedo dress shirts used to be regular white shirts with a detachable collar. These collars were constructed with high length and with very firm tabs. Today, the modern dress shirt comes with an attached collar, just as with a business shirt. However, one should pay attention to the details of the modern tuxedo shirt collar as the collar should closely resemble its historical counterpart. The modern version must imitate the original’s prime characteristics: it must be tall enough to properly cover the neck (almost all the way up to the jaw line), it must be stiff enough to stand straight up throughout the evening and its tabs must be sizeable enough to not be engulfed by the bow tie. This is not problematic for the modern style wing collar that is swept down, but if you are opting for the classic high wing tipped collar, careful consideration should be paid to this.
Trousers: Trousers should match the jacket, be cut for braces (suspenders) only, and have a stripe up the outside leg on the seam of satin, silk or grosgrain (matching the facing of the jacket lapel). While tuxedo pants can be pleated, given the modern man’s inclination towards fitted jackets, for both suits and tuxedos, flat front pants would be the ideal option. And most importantly, never opt for cuffs on your tuxedo pants!
More to come on Tuxedo wear in our upcoming post Tuxedo Wear: Part 2.
As always, comments and suggestions are welcome.