What’s the difference between a tuxedo and a suit?

I was just asked this question the other week and it’s a very common one. The short answer is that a tuxedo is dressier than a suit and has satin on it. But is there another difference between a tuxedo and a suit? Before we get into the details, it’s worth taking a step back and asking another question.

How formal will your wedding be?

As you may expect, a very formal wedding will likely be a black tie event, and therefore, you’ll want to wear a tuxedo, which by the way, should only be worn in the evenings. Whereas a casual or semi-formal wedding is usually a better time to wear a suit since even the dressiest of suits are still a notch below a tuxedo.

Only wear a tuxedo for evening events

However, the short answer is that you should wear whatever you want to! It’s your wedding! When my brother was married a couple years back, it was at a ranch outside of Durango. The outdoor wedding would typically call for something dressed down and more casual, but Brett wanted to wear a tuxedo. So he did. And he rocked it! He had dusty shoes and pant legs after the reception from walking around the pasture where the tent was, but tuxedos can always be dry cleaned, can’t they?!

Now, let’s get a little more specific.

The tuxedo

The tuxedo, aka the Dinner Jacket, is the daddy of them all. Every man looks good in one.

The primary attribute that makes a tuxedo different from a suit is the presence of satin. A tuxedo will usually have a satin facing on the lapels, pockets, buttons, and sometimes (although it’s getting rare these days) on the pant leg.

Lapel

It’s easy to assume that a tuxedo can only have a shawl lapel (i.e. the kind with no visible notch or cut), because that’s what we most often see in popular culture. But so long as there is satin involved, you can really choose any of the three available lapel styles: Notched, peaked, or shawl.

However, opting for a notched lapel is just too casual for a tuxedo. You can’t go wrong with a shawl lapel, it’s classic and works for any occasion. Just slightly less dressy is the peaked lapel, but both lapels will make for an awesome tuxedo.

Fabric

Technically, one could build a tuxedo in a linen or cotton and still add satin to the lapel, but it certainly would’t make for a cohesive look. With satin being as luxurious and sleek as it is, the only cloth that can really stand up to it is a fine wool. A Super Number of 150 would be a safe bet, but great woolens can be found starting at around the 120 level and up. However, we’d be remiss if we didn’t note that a silk and viscose blend can make for an excellent ivory dinner jacket.

Pattern-wise, stick with something relatively basic like a beautiful navy or midnight blue. While plaids can sure be fun, it would be a bit of a niche jacket, so you may not be able to wear it to many events after the intended one.

But if you want something besides a true solid, there are some fabrics out there that have a nice textural look to them. For instance, this tuxedo appears to be midnight blue.

difference between a tuxedo and a suit

But up close, it has a bit of a geometric pattern. It’s almost like a camouflage motif, but much more James Bond.

an example of a cool tuxedo

The takeaway is that while solid fabrics are very standard, spend a little time looking around and you’ll find a whole world of unique fabrics that will really set you apart from the crowd.

Here’s a question: Can a tuxedo be made in white or ivory? Sure it can. And it can be a great look. Just about every James Bond, including the present actor, has worn a white dinner jacket. However, this look should be reserved for use in warm locales or during summer events only.

Finally, tuxedos always have one button on them when single-breasted, and usually two buttons when double-breasted.

For a more in-depth explanation of how to buy a tuxedo, read this guide.

When wearing

Always wear either a bow tie or a neck tie with a tuxedo. Ideally in black, but you do have some creative freedom to add a little color. Just don’t go open collar and try for a “dressed down” look. There is no dressed down look with a tuxedo!

Always wear a tie or bow tie with a tuxedo, there is no casual look!

The suit

A suit isn’t going to have any satin on it. So, no matter what the suit style or fabric (i.e. two button, one button, peaked lapel, notched lapel, etc.), if there’s no satin present, it’s not a tuxedo.

Suits cover the spectrum from very dressy, like the one below, to more casual. How dressy or casual the suit is generally depends on two things: Fabric and lapel choice. A peaked lapel suit, like the one that Brett is wearing in this photo, is very dressy and bold, whereas a notched lapel is more of a standard for the office.

Suits can be made in all different types of fabric. From casual linens and cottons, to unique blends, to the gold standard woolen. Very fine fabrics tend to look very sleek and feel very smooth to the touch. More casual fabrics will be more textural like a corduroy or tweed.

Wrap up: Difference between a tuxedo and a suit

Do you understand the difference now between a tuxedo and a suit? I hope this article helped. There’s lots more information on the Bespoke Edge website and on my YouTube channel!

Related reading

Don’t forget, here’s how to pin a boutonniere!