Style Guide

The 10 Commandments of the Tuxedo

Essential rules for looking sharp and feeling good in your evening suit.

Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby playing a scene in High Society in 1956.

Photographer: Mondadori Portfolio/Mondadori via Getty Images

There is a cruel paradox at the heart of dressing correctly for a fancy evening—or so it may seem, on the dance floor, when once again you find yourself tugging your cummerbund back to whatever you guess its proper place to be. In theory, the elegance of the tuxedo stems from its simplicity—it’s an ultimate classic, the one outfit you don’t mess around with. In practice, many men find the rules governing this suit and its accoutrements to be annoyingly complex and complexly annoying. 

According to the most plausible origin story, the future King Edward VII ordered the ur-tux from the Savile Row house of Henry Poole, setting a trend followed by members of a grand country club outside Manhattan in Tuxedo, New York. Hey, man, listen: These aren’t just fun facts—if you understand this stuff correctly, you will take a major step toward eliminating evening-suit stress. The very grounds for the existence of the garment was a man’s desire to chill out. Edward opted to wear a short black jacket for relaxed dinners at home precisely because he wanted to escape the fussy formality of a tail coat. 

The first rule of the Tuxedo Club is, don’t be stuffy about rules regarding tuxedos. After that, do whatever makes you comfortable. We strongly support the further rules below, and we strive to obey them in our nightlives. In keeping with the core principle that the tuxedo is leisurewear, however, we also like to encourage selective divergence from those rules, the better to stay down to earth and up to speed.

 

Rule #2: Your tuxedo must be black or midnight blue.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 23:  (EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION IN UK TABLOID NEWSPAPERS UNTIL 48 HOURS AFTER CREATE DATE AND TIME. MANDATORY CREDIT PHOTO BY DAVE M. BENETT/WIREIMAGE REQUIRED)  Daniel Craig (L) and Berenice Marlohe attend the Royal World Premiere of 'Skyfall' at the Royal Albert Hall on October 23, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Dave M. Benett/WireImage)

Blue, midnight blue. Daniel Craig and co-star Bérénice Marlohe share a bonding moment at the London premiere of Skyfall in 2012.

Photographer: Dave M. Benett/WireImage

How serious is this rule? Quite serious. The black evening suit is not broken, and even if it were, a burgundy knockoff would not fix it. Midnight blue, being blacker than black, is not merely an exception to the rule but an exceptional choice for shimmering with distinction under the moonlight. 

Any exceptions? As I type these words, the Madison Avenue windows of both Canali and Brunello Cucinelli feature some highly alluring tuxedo jackets in medium gray. It’s tempting to believe that the hushed tone of these shades makes the deviation acceptable, but you’ve got to wonder how well these designs will age. Whenever I see a dinner jacket in the style of those jewel-toned numbers from the 1950s, a doo-wop song gets stuck in my head.

 

Rule #3: Your tuxedo must be your tuxedo. 

What’s that supposed to mean? Buy, don’t rent.

Really? You’re not gonna get a correct cut if you borrow, bro. Which is not to mention the probable quality of the fabric. I refer you back to the first rule and point out that you want this thing to fit more comfortably than a made-to-measure sweatsuit.

Come on. I’m young. I’m hurting for cash. If you absolutely must, then check out the Black Tux, an online rental agency promoting a “fit algorithm” and (easier to comprehend) a “fit guarantee.” If you need to visit a tailor to let out a sleeve or take up a hem, they’ll credit your order $15.

OK. That helps. Glad to help. As long as we’re flouting the law, I’ll mention that men determined to engage in youthful experimentation with breaking Rule #2 will find some flashy get-ups on this site. The most regrettable is a “split tartan tuxedo” so loud it induces a headache at a glance.

 

Rule #4: You must wear a bow tie.

Leonardo DiCaprio at the BAFTA Film Awards 2005 - Arrivals at The Odeon Leicester Square in London.  (Photo by Fred Duval/FilmMagic)

Leonardo DiCaprio tends to prefer a straight tie with his tuxes.

Photographer from left: Fred Duval/FilmMagic, Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images

Why? Tradition. You’re wearing a tuxedo to show respect for an occasion, and you’re wearing a bow tie to show respect for tradition. You must be at ease in your tuxedo, and part of that involves being at ease with tradition.

Do you realize the irony of getting uptight about rules about being easygoing? I’m gonna wear a necktie. If you absolutely must pull this move—which will make you look as though there’s an acceptance speech in your pocket—be aware that it makes more sense to wear a jacket with a peaked lapel (as opposed to a shawl lapel). The outfit will at least be coherent in its gangsterish tone, whereas the shawl situation will cause you to resemble a deranged killer-whale gigolo. 

 

Rule #5: Your bow tie must be a real bow tie.

Black bow tie.
Photographer: malerapaso/Getty Images

Why? Because phony ones are very transparently bogus. You can fake a lot of things in life, and some fake things are quite worthwhile, but the knot of a genuine bow tie is not in either category. 

But I don’t know how to tie a bow tie. It’s never too late to learn. It’s the same level of difficulty as tying your shoes.

But I don’t want to learn how. Ask a grownup to tie it for you. Remember to say "please" and "thank you."

 

Rule #6: You must wear your cummerbund with its pleats facing up. 

tuxedo-primer-bloomberg-cummerbund
Source: Canali

How serious is this rule? It’s 100 percent serious. Fundamentally a girdle, the cummerbund wants to give uplift, which goes a long way toward explaining why the thing itself is 95 percent ridiculous. Because it is a relatively recent addition to the evening-clothes canon, I suggest that you can simultaneously respect tradition and obey Rule #1 by feeling free not to wear it. If your tuxedo is double-breasted, you’re already not wearing a cummerbund. If you’re wearing a vest under your single-breasted jacket, then you, too, are already not wearing a cummerbund. I propose that the rest of us join together in ridding ourselves of the tyranny of this glorified waistband. 

What if someone scolds me for wearing a single-breasted dinner jacket without a cummerbund and it hurts my feelings? Go to bar for an excellent martini variation—the Tuxedo Club Cocktail.

What if I want to wear a cummerbund but the proportions of mine seem off? You’re not alone. Canali sells sized cummerbunds—medium, large, and XL. 

 

Rule #7: Your shirt must have French cuffs.

11th July 1960:  Duke of Windsor (King Edward VIII) (1894 - 1972) enjoys a cigar.  (Photo by William Lovelace/Express/Getty Images)

The Duke of Windsor (formerly King Edward VIII) enjoying a cigar in a tux.

Photographer: William Lovelace/Getty Images

How serious is this rule? It’s not that serious because it’s not really an issue. You’d need to search very hard to find a bibbed tuxedo shirt (pleated or piqué or foppishly ruffled) without French cuffs.

You’d need strong confidence in your fashion sense (justifiably or otherwise) to wear a nontuxedo shirt under a tuxedo jacket.

French cuffs are doubly necessary on plain-front tuxedo shirts, which on most guys look quite plain indeed.   

 

Rule #8: Your studs must match your cufflinks (but you can avoid wearing studs).

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 25:  Jared Kushner (L) and Ivanka Trump attend the Bloomberg & Vanity Fair cocktail reception following the 2015 WHCA Dinner at the residence of the French Ambassador on April 25, 2015 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/VF15/WireImage)
Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump attend a Bloomberg & Vanity Fair cocktail reception.
Photographer: Dimitrios Kambouris/VF15/WireImage

Where the hell did I put my studs? You’re on your own with that one. Good luck with the search. In the meantime, I recommend a Ralph Lauren tux shirt with a fly-front placket panel that covers the buttons and leaves a clean look where those troublesome studs would be. 

Jared Kushner wears such shirts quite handsomely. Maybe he’ll wear one out as he makes the rounds of inaugural balls. Which reminds me: A certain sort of Trump supporter will want to know that the tuxedo shirt with a turndown collar was popularized by the Duke of Windsor.

 

Rule #9: Your socks must be knee-length black socks. 

tuxedo-primer-bloomberg-socks
Source: Brooks Brothers

Why? We're looking for aesthetic unity here. Disruptions below the trouser leg—stripes, shins, whatever—threaten to ruin the whole effect.

Does this imply that one must wear socks? You’re going to slide your bare feet into velvet slippers or something? And then go out on the town in December? OK, fancy lad, just carry moisturizer for your ankles.

 

Rule #10: Your shoes must shine.

tuxedo-primer-bloomberg-shoes
Source: Tom Ford

How serious is the rule? Dead serious. But we’re giving you a lot of leeway here. Some menswear pundits insist that only opera pumps walk the one true path, but it is obvious on its face that those precious ribboned things, also called court shoes, are not completely in step with modern life. Others will allow any patent leather shoe, with a few granting special exception for bit-toe loafers. We say than any simple black shoe brought to a high gloss will toe the line. Be comfortable.

What about black sneakers? No.

But they’re really nice! No. I’m trying to keep this list to an even 10 rules and just thinking about the tux-and-sneakers thing makes me think of further rules, foremost: “Have a good time at the dance, but get home by curfew.”

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