What's in a Name?:
Tuxedo originally applied exclusively to the
jacket. Only later did it come to include the matching
trousers. Today, a misinformed American public frequently uses
the word to refer to tailcoats and
cutaways as well, in essence employing the word was a synonym
for "formal wear". Many formalwear retailers have followed suit rather than trying to educate their customers on the proper use of the term.
Black Tie versus Tuxedo: Worlds Apart
Because the black tie dress
code requires wearing a tuxedo, novices may assume that wearing a
tuxedo means being dressed for black tie. Fifty years ago that assumption would have been correct but
today it could not be farther from the truth. The difference, for those seeking the CliffsNotes version of
this Guide, is that black tie is a grownup’s tuxedo.
When the terms white tie and
black tie were introduced to the public lexicon in the 1930s they
were simply catchy synonyms for formal and informal evening dress.
It was implicitly understood by polite society that formal evenings
called for a tailcoat with its specific white accessories while
informal (or “semi-formal”) evenings required a tuxedo and its black
Then came the post-war
burgeoning of the middle class, increased availability of
ready-to-wear clothing and a global fascination with modernity.
A proud and confident America was particularly eager to promote its
youthful and individualistic values in light of its remarkable
military success against much older world empires. These concurrent trends meant
that the tuxedo was now affordable for a large new segment of the
population but that this segment was mostly unfamiliar with or
uninterested in tradition. When colored dinner jackets were
introduced to this demographic in the mid-1950s they were such a
significant departure from convention that the tuxedo could no
longer be considered necessarily synonymous with the black-tie dress
code. From this point onwards the two would be distinct entities.
Over the following decades
designers created formal fashions that deviated
ever further from tradition. These have proven to be
especially popular with teenage prom-goers and young bridegrooms who
view formal wear as a rented polyester novelty. They appreciate its association with entry into adulthood but
at the same time rob it of its adult traits by reinventing it to
convey their youthful individuality. Furthermore, the groomsmen who routinely wear their tuxedos
at afternoon weddings blatantly contradict its longstanding role
as exclusive evening attire. Thus it is now impossible to
define the tuxedo any more precisely than as a formal suit.
Conversely, during this same
period of fashion and social upheaval the accepted definition of
black tie remained largely untouched. The people responsible
for maintaining the traditional interpretation of the tuxedo include
men successful enough to represent their corporation at gala
fundraisers, cultured enough to regularly attend opening nights or
connected enough to socialize in circles that celebrate special
occasions in high style.
These men are intrinsically aware that for such prestigious
after-six occasions no other form of dress can compare to
traditional evening wear’s ability to make a man look handsome,
sophisticated and powerful. With this knowledge comes the self confidence to move beyond
juvenile attention seeking and instead focus on showing
consideration for the evening’s host, the women on their arms and
their fellow guests.
Just as important as what
divides the two camps is what doesn’t divide them: money. A tuxedo that follows the rules costs no more than a tuxedo
that doesn’t. And since those
rules are clearly laid out in this Guide, the only real difference
between looking like a CEO and looking like a waiter is personal
preference. If you
prefer the grownup option you’ve come to the right place.
The tuxedo as a juvenile party suit.
The tuxedo as a transition to manhood.