Men's Formal Wear Guide

In the not too distant past there were not many options as far as men's formal wear.  It was to wear tails or not to wear tails.  Today, there is such a wide range of styles that choosing a tuxedo can be overwhelming -- then there is the matter of the accessories! 'What tuxedo is appropriate my event?' is a question that we frequently hear.  There are many factors that dictate the men's formal attire, including the time of day, the location and/or climate, the season, and, for weddings,  the formality of the bride's gown.  After considerable research we have put together a guide that covers everyone from the groom to the guests, plus a few other social situations that might require you to wear a tuxedo.  Keep in mind that these are just suggestions and not absolute rules.  You can follow our suggestions to the letter or use them as a starting point and then add your own personal touches to truly customize the look of your wedding party.  The choice is yours!

Basic Tuxedo Facts

  1. A black tuxedo is considered more formal than a white or ivory tuxedo.
  2. Traditionally, a tuxedo is not worn until 6:00 p.m., however, if the reception starts at 6:00 p.m. or later then a tuxedo is okay.  These days, tuxedos are worn throughout the day.
  3. Tuxedo jackets, tailcoats, dinner jackets, or any jacket with a satin lapel should be worn with formal trousers, which have a satin stripe on each side.
  4. A pleated shirt is considered more formal than a flat (non-pleated) shirt.  The exception is a piqué shirt, which is not pleated, but is even more formal than a pleated shirt.  It is normally only worn with a black tailcoat and matching white piqué vest & bow tie to very formal evening events.  Piqué is traditionally white and is rarely available in ivory.
  5. A wing collar is the most formal style of collar.
  6. The shirt sleeves should extend 1/4" to 1/2" beyond the hem of the coat sleeves.
  7. Bow ties are the most formal style of tie and are traditionally not worn during the day.  For a daytime wedding, an ascot is considered the most formal.
  8. Cummerbunds are always worn with the pleats facing upwards. This is because cummerbunds used to have a pocket hidden in the pleats that was used to hold opera or theater tickets. The pockets are gone, but the tradition of wearing the pleats facing upwards remains.
  9. Patent lace-up shoes are the most formal style of shoe.

Daytime Weddings (Up to 6:00 p.m.)

  Very Formal Daytime Formal Daytime Informal & Semiformal
  Traditional Modern Traditional Modern Traditional Modern
Groom Cutaway or morning coat (usually grey), striped trousers, white pleated shirt, grey vest, ascot or  four-in-hand tie, & patent shoes.  Optional: Top hat, spats, & grey gloves. Cutaway or morning coat (grey or black), striped or matching solid  trousers, white or ivory pleated shirt, grey vest, ascot or  four-in-hand tie, & patent shoes. Or a tuxedo in conservative colors with a wing or point collar shirt, & an ascot or four-in-hand tie. Grey stroller, striped trousers, white pleated shirt, grey vest, four-in-hand tie, & patent shoes. A tuxedo or tailcoat in almost any color - darker for fall & winter, pastels for spring & summer, white for any time of year. The shirt is usually white or ivory & may be pleated or flat with any style of collar.  Accessories in any color or style.  Patent shoes to coordinate with tuxedo. Grey stroller, striped trousers, white pleated shirt, grey vest, four-in-hand tie, & dress shoes OR If the brides wears an informal dress (no train) A dark business suit  with a white shirt, conservative tie, & dress shoes. Lighter colors may be worn in tropical climates. A simple black tuxedo with a pleated point collar shirt (usually white or ivory), a four-in hand tie with a matching or coordinating vest, & black patent shoes.  Lighter colors, such as white or ivory, may be worn in the spring & summer or in tropical climates.
Groomsmen/
Ushers & Junior Groomsmen
Similar to the groom in style, with possible variation in the tie or shirt. Similar to groom in style. May also wear a matching stroller with striped or solid trousers. Identical to the groom with a slightly different boutonniere. Similar to the groom with  coordinating accessories. Identical to the groom with a slightly different boutonniere. Similar to the groom in style; however, if the groom chooses a tailcoat the groomsmen may wear similar color tuxedos.
Fathers Identical to the groom or groomsmen. Identical to the groom or groomsmen. Identical to groomsmen. Either similar to the groomsmen or formalwear of their own choice. Identical to the groomsmen.  A dark suit may be worn if they do not stand in the receiving line. Similar to the groomsmen or a classic black tuxedo.
Ring bearer Identical to the groom or groomsmen. Identical to the groom or groomsmen. Identical to the groom or groomsmen. Identical to the groom or groomsmen. Identical to the groom or groomsmen. Identical to the groom or groomsmen.
Guests Similar to the groom if you suggest "Traditional Morning Attire" on the invitations.  Otherwise, a dark business suit.  Formal wear (see left) or a business suit. A dark suit. A dark suit or tuxedo (specify "Black Tie" on invitations). A dark suit. A dark suit or tuxedo (specify "Black Tie" on invitations).

Evening Weddings (After 6:00 p.m.)

  Very Formal Evening Formal Evening Semiformal Evening
  Traditional Modern Traditional Modern Traditional Modern
Groom

Black full dress (tailcoat) with a white piqué wing collar shirt, white piqué vest & bow tie, & black patent shoes.  Optional:  Gloves, top hat, & cane.

Black full dress (tailcoat), white or other color tailcoat worn with a wing collar shirt, vest & tie match tailcoat in color, except if wearing black full-dress (see left). Patent shoes to coordinate with tuxedo. Black tuxedo, with a white or ivory pleated shirt (wing collar or point collar), bow tie, & vest or cummerbund to match tuxedo lapels.   A white dinner jacket with black formal trousers may be worn in the summer or in  tropical climates. Tuxedo or tailcoat in range of colors & styles.  Lighter colors may be worn in the spring & summer or in a tropical climate.  Accessories in any color or style & patent shoes. A simple black tuxedo with a pleated point collar shirt (usually white or ivory), a four-in hand tie with a matching or coordinating vest, & black patent shoes.  Lighter colors, such as white or ivory, may be worn in the spring & summer or in tropical climates. Tuxedo or tailcoat, in range of colors: dark for fall & winter, pastels for spring & summer, white for any time of year. A white dinner jacket with black trousers is also appropriate.  Shirt may be white, ivory, or coordinate with tuxedo in color & may be pleated or flat. Patent shoes to coordinate with tuxedo.
Groomsmen/
Ushers & Junior
Groomsmen
Identical to the groom with a slightly different boutonniere. Similar to groom in style. The most formal option is identical to the groom. Identical to the groom with a slightly different boutonniere. Similar to the groom in style; however, if the groom chooses a tailcoat the ushers can wear similar color tuxedos.  Accessories to match or coordinate with groom or bridesmaids. Similar to the groom in style; however, if the groom chooses a tailcoat the groomsmen may wear similar color tuxedos. White or ivory shirts, ties & vests to match tuxedos. Similar to the groom in style, however, if the groom chooses a tailcoat the groomsmen may wear similar color tuxedos.  
Fathers Identical to the groom with a slightly different boutonniere. Identical to the groom or groomsmen, or a classic black tuxedo. Identical to the groomsmen. Either similar to the groomsmen or formalwear of their own choice. Identical to the groomsmen, Similar to groomsmen or a classic black tuxedo.
Ring bearer Identical to the groom or groomsmen. Identical to the groom or groomsmen. Identical to the groom or groomsmen. Identical to the groom or groomsmen. Identical to the groom or groomsmen. Identical to the groom or groomsmen.
Guests Should wear tuxedos (specify "Black Tie" on invitations).  If they are relatives, then they may wear full dress identical to the groom (specify "White Tie" on invitation). A dark suit or tuxedo (specify "Black Tie" on invitations). A dark suit or tuxedo (specify "Black Tie" on invitations). A dark suit or tuxedo (specify "Black Tie" on invitations). A dark suit. A dark suit or tuxedo (specify "Black Tie" on invitations).

Look Your Best

Now that you know what to wear and when, you need to know what style will look best on your body type!

Short & Thin

The key for you is to avoid a jacket that will overwhelm you, so you will want to avoid double-breasted styles.  Try a two- or three-button  single-breasted jacket with a low button stance.  Opt for thin lapels; a wide lapel will add width to your upper body.  Accessories with large, obvious patterns can also be overwhelming.  Try a solid cummerbund or a subtly patterned vest and a matching bow tie.  

Short & Stocky

A classic black one- or two-button tuxedo is an excellent choice for you!  Black is slimming color, and the longer lapels will add length.  Speaking of lapels, a shawl lapel is best for adding length; a thinner notch lapel works almost as well.  If you have a thick waist, try a vest instead of a cummerbund.  The horizontal lines of a cummerbund will add width, while the vertical lines of a vest will add length and draw attention upwards, toward your face.  Pair the vest with a four-in-hand tie to really emphasize the look and add length.

Tall & Thin

You can wear almost any style of tuxedo (Aren't you lucky!).  You will look equally good a classic black tux, a longer 5-button jacket, or a double-breasted style.  The same goes for accessories - you have a lot of options!   

Tall & Stocky

You will want to avoid double-breasted jackets and wide lapels since they will add bulk.  Instead, opt for a thinner lapel and a traditional tuxedo jacket.  If you have a wide face or a thick neck you may want to avoid thin ties and wing collar shirts, which can look constrictive.  Speaking of shirts, you may want to opt for a non-pleated or wide-pleated shirt.  The thinner the pleats are, the more of them there are, and that tends to add bulk.  If you have a thick waist, try a vest instead of a cummerbund and bow tie.  The horizontal lines of a cummerbund will add width, while the vertical lines of a vest will add length and draw attention upwards, toward your face.


Tuxedo Etiquette:  Then & Now

If the invitation says "White Tie" or "Full Dress"

A white tie is literally required--think of the scene in Titanic when the first class passengers dressed for dinner.  This is reserved for very special occasions that are extremely formal, such as a diplomatic ball or reception, a debutante ball, a Mardi-Gras ball, or opening night of an opera.  Wear a black tailcoat, matching trousers, white piqué shirt with a wing collar, white piqué vest with a matching bow tie, and black patent shoes.  Don't forget to add formal jewelry (studs and cufflinks) to complete your ensemble.

If the invitation says "Black Tie"

The event requires formal attire.  Traditionally, this meant a black tuxedo, white wing- or point-collar shirt, and a black cummerbund & bow tie. These days it means to dress formally, not specifically to wear a black tie.

If the invitation says "Black Tie Preferred"

Simply put:  Your host would prefer that you wear a tuxedo (emphasis on prefer).  A dark tuxedo, usually black, with your choice of accessories is appropriate, but tails are not.  A white dinner jacket worn with black formal trousers may be worn in tropical climates or in the summer.  (If you really want to be traditional, the summer season is mid-April through Labor Day.)  A dark business suit may be worn but is not preferred by the host.

If the invitation says "Black Tie Optional" or "Black Tie Invited"

Similar to "Black Tie Preferred", but the choice is yours.  The attire listed above is appropriate.

If the invitation says "Semiformal"

In the strictest tradition this means "Black Tie" since anything less than "White Tie" is considered semiformal.  Today, if a host wants you to wear a tuxedo he or she will usually use the phrase "Black Tie", in which case the above rules apply.  "Semiformal" now gives you a greater choice in your attire.  You may wear formal attire if you think that it is appropriate for your event.  A dinner party in an upscale setting might warrant a tuxedo, while a dinner party at a friend's home will probably not.  If you are in doubt just ask the host.

If the invitation says "Traditional Morning Attire"

This is rarely used today and is almost exclusively reserved for weddings.  Traditional morning attire consists of a cut away jacket (usually charcoal grey or black), grey striped trousers, a white pleated shirt, a grey vest, a coordinating ascot or four-in-hand tie, and black dress shoes.  A top hat, spats, and grey gloves are optional.