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The anatomy of a tuxedo

There’ll come a point where you’ll receive an invitation to an event that calls for a tuxedo. But what exactly constitutes a tuxedo? If your idea of a tux is your daily black suit coupled with a black tie, that’s where you’re wrong. The particular style of formalwear is more than just putting together basic wardrobe-essentials.

A tuxedo has many moving pieces that come together to make you look dapper. There’s some wiggle room to flex your sartorial know-how on the occasion, like if you want a zebra-jacquard dinner jacket instead of the traditional black. Otherwise, the anatomy of a tuxedo is pretty cut and dry, just like a uniform.

Here, we break down all you need to know about a tuxedo and its parts from top to bottom.

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The Bowtie

There are a few things to note about ties on tuxedos. One, a bowtie is non-negotiable. It’s what separates a tuxedo from a normal suit. Two, its material should match that of your jacket and its lapels, preferably satin (more on that below). Three, your bowtie should not be a pre-tied knockoff. The best time to learn how to tie a bowtie was yesterday. The second best time is now. Four, and just in case we weren’t clear before, never wear a necktie with a tuxedo.

Maximilian Mogg self-tie silk-satin bowtie, from

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The Dress Shirt

It might not have the most visibility in the tuxedo ensemble, but the importance of the dress shirt cannot be understated. You shouldn’t just throw on any ordinary casual white shirt and call it a day, as it might be missing any of the important elements to a dress shirt. Keep a lookout for the collar, the pleat, the bib, and the placket.

Brioni white slim-fit bib-front double-cuff cotton-voile shirt, from

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The Cufflinks

They say the devil’s in the details, and cufflinks can help place you in the realms of sartorial gods. The accessories can either reflect yourself (like these Deakin and Francis racing car cufflinks if you’re an automobile enthusiast), but the ethos of “less is more” can also be applied to wearing them. A simple pair of silver cufflinks will go a long way. Check out our guide to shirt cuffs here.

Deakin and Francis enamelled silver racing car cufflinks, from

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The Jacket

The centerpiece of your tuxedo is the jacket. What separates a proper tuxedo jacket from a regular blazer is satin. Traditional tuxedos use the elegant material to highlight certain elements of the jacket, most commonly the lapels, buttons, and pockets.

Tuxedo jackets are also not limited to the standard black. Burgundy and green are becoming mainstays as great alternatives, and risk-takers can turn to Tom Ford for designs like the aforementioned zebra-jacquard jacket.

Hugo Boss navy slim-fit cotton-velvet tuxedo jacket, from

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The Pocket Square

A good way to distinguish yourself from the other tuxedo-wearers at any formal event is the pocket square. It’s mandatory with tuxedos, and although white pocket squares in silk are the norm, you can mix things up with coloured ones for an accent. Just don’t rock up to the Shangri-La with an extravagant folding style – save that for Pitti Uomo.

Tom Ford silk-twill pocket square, from

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The Cummerbund

The cummerbund might have been designed to catch falling bread crumbs in the past, but it has quickly become a tuxedo staple. These days, it’s there to hide the unsightly folds of your dress shirt, keeping your outfit looking seamless and you looking smart. When wearing one, always remember that the cummerbund’s pleats face upwards, and it should sit naturally at your waist. However, some might prefer the look of a waistcoat instead, and that’s totally fine.

Berluti scritto mulberry silk cummerbund, from

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The Waistcoat

Another option for the waist is the waistcoat (sometimes called a vest). Unlike a traditional vest in a three-piece suit, a tuxedo’s waistcoat is cut lower and wider to show off your dress shirt’s bib. A waistcoat is traditionally black, although other colours can be suitable for other occasions as well.

Favourbrook navy grosgrain cotton-velvet waistcoat, from

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The Trousers

Thankfully, the other half of a tuxedo doesn’t need much introduction. Black is the norm for trousers, with the occasional strip of satin running down the sides. Your trousers should also be tapered and not sag below your ankles.

However, before you slide on your belt, stop and put it back. Tuxedos are not meant to be worn with belts (and god forbid one with a flashy buckle). Suspenders are the way to go instead.

Hugo Boss black silm-fit virgin wool tuxedo trousers, from


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The Suspenders (or Braces)

It’s considered of a fashion faux pas to wear a belt with tuxedo trousers, despite the contrary existence of belt loops on some of them. To look sleek and debonair, use suspenders (sometimes called braces) instead to support your trousers. They should remain hidden throughout the evening underneath your jacket and cummerbund or waistcoat. You can also simply go sans-suspenders if your trousers are well-tailored.

Favourbrook black leather-trimmed silk moire braces, from

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The Shoes (and socks)

Leave your sneakers on the rack, as patent leather reigns supreme in the footwear department of formalwear. A traditional plain-toe shoe is versatile enough for almost all occasions (except if you’re wearing a white tuxedo). Oxfords and derby shoes are usually the style you’d wear, but you can always jazz it up with a pair of patent leather chelsea boots from Tom Ford.

Black silk socks are usually the go-to so your feet can breathe throughout the night, but wool and cotton would work similarly. If you’re in the mood for a bit of fun, patterned socks with a burst of colour can add some vibrancy and character to your whole ensemble for those who manage a peek (although they should not).

Saint Laurent black patent leather derby shoes, from

The anatomy of a tuxedo

Josiah Neo is a tech writer who contributes occasionally to the fashion, travel, and culture beats. When he’s not busy keeping up with the keynotes, he’s probably stuffing his face with the best Melbournian donuts (at Shortstop, BTW) or watching his favourite esports team, the Los Angeles Valiant, pummel their opponents into oblivion.

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