Demystification: So, what exactly is the difference between a tuxedo and a suit?

Just like with women's clothes, men's fashion trends and rules also include variety of items for occasions ranging from everyday casual to highly formal ones and everything in between. We are so used to seeing them not just in fashion stores but also in actual use, so it is only natural that the term “suit” has long became a household item. However, what exactly is a suit and what distinguishes it from its more elegant but equally well-known cousin – a tuxedo? Don’t worry, the confusion between the two is extremely common!

Tuxedo originates from the traditions of old English aristocracy of 19th century, when it used to be simply called a dinner jacket. Still today worn exclusively by gentlemen (and never the ladies), tuxedo was a practical solution to a common problem of the day. Namely, after a formal dinner or a ball, gentlemen would share a smoke together, but would soon consequently suffer ash stains on their dinner jackets. Rubbing the fabric to get the ashes off was considered highly inappropriate and ill-mannered, but so were the white and gray stains. Luckily, a practical yet highly elegant solution was soon introduced – silk lapels.

Silk repels ashes which merely slip from it without leaving the undesirable traces which is exactly what made the design extremely popular. This is also the reason why in many non-English languages, a dinner jacket is still known by its false friend term "smoking". Despite the fact that nowadays inconveniences of smoking have little to do with tuxedoes, the trademark of their design continues to be silk or satin lapels, making the feature the easiest and quickest way to tell a tuxedo apart from a suit. However, it is hardly the only difference.

Unlike suits, which come in plethora of colors and varieties of cuts and designs that can be combined in whatever manner one sees fit, tuxedos adhere to much striker etiquette both for tailoring as well as use. This men’s evening attire is reserved for some of the most formal evening events (second only to the so-called “white tie” events), such as attending ballet shows, operas or weddings. Noteworthy, unwritten rules and conventions prevent it from being worn any time before 6 p.m. and certainly not during daytime.

Despite the increasing popularity of blue suits, such as navy or indigo, or even those in different shades of brown, tuxedos remain exclusively black and that will most likely not change any time soon. Another peculiarity of tuxedo is that the cuff buttons and pocket rims need to follow the shade and material of its most dominant feature - the shawl lapels. Furthermore, instead of common ties, tuxedos are always complemented by bowties matching the lapel facings – black for slightly less formality or white for festivities of the highest officialism – worn over white wing-collar formal shirts. Another significant detail is that pre-tied bowties are often considered a sign of poor taste – a man should tie his own bowtie and not have it done in a shop.

Tuxedos are most commonly cut from a thin, high-quality wool and the look may include a thin jacquard with textured design. Single or double-breasted closure may comprise up to three buttons, depending on the cut, carefully tailored to the silhouette of the man wearing it. The latest fashion tips state that for impeccable elegance, the pocket square should also be white and carefully balanced between too little and too much.

Furthermore, belts are never supposed to be worn with a tuxedo. Instead, depending on the cut of the coat, one should wear either a black low-cut waistcoat or a cummerbund. A low-cut waistcoat should be worn under a single-breasted coat. Namely, it plays an important part in maintaining the elegance by helping to conceal the working parts by discreetly covering the trousers' exposed waistband and the shirt bosom's bottom edge Also, the trousers commonly include a single silk or satin braid on the outer seams, cut from the same material and design as the lapels. They are worn on black dress socks, usually also made of silk or fine wool, which can come up as high as the knee, and black formal shoes, commonly made of patent leather. Currently, the most popular model is the black lace-up Oxford shoe, in patent leather or calfskin, with a rounded plain toe. 

On the other hand, unlike the highly formal and convention-bound tuxedo, suits allow far greater freedom. Two or three-piece sets may be worn exclusively or combined with other less formal items, such as polo shirts instead of wing-collar formal shirts. An even more casual look of sports eegance is achieved by combining suit jackets with jeans, whereas sneakers commonly replace formal shoes. Besides its virtually unlimited use, there are also no restrictions when it comes to materials colors, textures or designs. Just remember the ’70s and the ‘80s, hippie and disco era! Another quite important distinction is that while women’s suits are becoming ever more popular, tuxedos remain to be strictly reserved for men.

When it comes to suits, the most commonly used materials are natural wool, cashmere but also cotton, linen and silk. In addition to this, shirts worn with suits are not limited to white but include all the colors imaginable and may even have subtle prints. Instead of bowties, suits are most commonly accentuated by ties of various style and width or even worn plain with unbuttoned collars for added comfort and casual look. Also, another feature which allows creative freedom and room for individuality are cuff links, commonly made of metal and paired with the tie clip, if there is one.

Be that as it may, the choice between a tuxedo and a suit depends both from the occasion for which it is considered as well as the personal preference of the potential wearer. However, regardless of the choice, the crucial point is that the cut follows the body perfectly. Both tuxedo and a suit must complement the silhouette perfectly and never hang loose or be too tight in any parts. The biggest fashion mistake one can make is to wear anything ill-fitted, especially when the aim is  to dress to impress.