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What is the Difference Between a Tuxedo and a Suit?

by Miguel 03 Aug 2022

Suits and tuxedos have the same kinds of cuts, same kinds of buttons, pockets, lapels, even openings. Yet you won't wear a tuxedo to work and you won't wear a suit if you're going to a black tie affair or standing up in a wedding. Obviously there's a difference, but what is it? 

Some Fabrics are Meant for Formal Wear Only


At first glance, it would seem that the fabric used for the body of the jacket is what makes the difference. Fabric used in men’s tuxedos isn't usually used for men’s suits. The materials used in tuxedos are primarily used for formal wear, even though some of it sneaks into men’s suits on occasion. Tuxedos use finishes like shadow weave, herringbone, damasks, satins, and even brocades made from wool, rayon, and even polyester. You're not about to wear a black and white damask suit jacket into work, but it's appropriate for formal events, especially if you feel like showing off a little verve. But this isn't all there is to the major differences between a suit and a tuxedo. Ultimately, there's one reason why you wouldn't wear a tuxedo anywhere a suit is called for. That reason? Satin.

One Fabric Makes All the Difference Between Formal and Business Wear

Satin is the one material that divides men’s tuxedos from men’s suits. It's used on the lapels, pocket facings and welts, and sometimes around the button vent on sleeves. It's also found as a stripe down the side of the pants on occasion, but not always. Satin is a hard, shiny fabric that reflects light and brings attention to the face when it's used in the lapels, and it's not subtle. When you're at work, you don't want to bring too much attention to yourself through your suit. Rather, you want to use a bold tie to do the job because it's easier to cover a tie by buttoning the suit than it is to cover up satin lapels. Satin is the driving difference between men’s tuxedos and men’s suits and why you leave the tuxedo in the closet for a formal event and have a variety of suits for your daily wear. 

Suits: Perfect for Business but too Informal for Black Tie Events

Wearing a suit means you're ready to get down to business and that requires sober fabrics that won't distract from your message. For example: you have an important work meeting where you need to present yourself as strong and confident to everyone in the room. You need to wear a suit that reflects that confidence. In your closet is a tuxedo and a suit and you can choose only one. There's no doubt you'll reach for the suit as it's the appropriate choice to make. Finish it off with your favorite power tie and you'll step into that room as if you're wearing a suit of armor made of fabric. There's just no way you would do this in a tuxedo as it's just too absurd. After all, there is no such thing as a power cummerbund or bow tie. 

Another differentiation is the fact that most fabrics for men’s suits would never work for men’s tuxedos. Wool crepe and gabardine are used for both types of suits, but there's a certain threshold that some suit materials just shouldn't go past. Pinstripes, tweeds, light colored herringbones, and checks all belong to the realm of men’s suits, not tuxedos. No doubt there's a designer out there that's created a tuxedo using a gray wool pinstripe, but it's absurdist and far more likely to become a source of amusement at the event than not. 

Tuxedos: Exuding Elegance and Confidence at a Formal Event

Tuxedos are intended to let the woman on your arm stand out in her finery and not be overshadowed by her partner for the evening. But that's not to say you can't do some showing off yourself. There's nothing quite like the slimming appearance of a tail coat with wide shoulders and trim waistline paired with flat-front trousers with a satin stripe down the side. Oftentimes, the jackets of men’s tuxedos do things that suits rarely do: cut away from the neck to show off more of the chest and shirt. There's a subtle psychological impact that says one thing in a suit and another in a tuxedo.

Suits and Tuxedos Deliver Different Messages

Men’s suits are typically cut with a front that closes higher up on the chest and covers most of the shirt while leaving the tie visible. Buttoning the front of the suit makes the eyes go upwards towards your face and helps you deliver your message. The person you're talking to doesn't have much in the way of distraction when all they can do is look you directly in the eye as you address them. It puts you in a subtle position of power because you have the full attention of whomever you're addressing and they have no other option than to listen to what you're saying. 

Tuxedos aren't so much about a power play as they deliver a message of strength and confidence. Think about it -- when you're at a formal event, you're dressed much the same as everyone else. But you do have option to wear a tuxedo that's cut differently from everyone else's. Wear a doubt-breasted number with pleated pants for a relaxed style that says "I'm comfortable and confident with who I am." Or show off your hard-earned physique with a slim cut tuxedo that features flat-front pants. This speaks to the dedication you've put into your physical condition and your willingness to show it off. 

Suits and tuxedos each belong in their own universes and aren't meant to cross over. Find your style and personal expression in men’s suits and men’s tuxedos in fabrics and cuts that show off your personal assets to their best.

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