Menswear Cover Image


Business to Style


Michael P. Londrigan

Fairchild Books Library

Table of contents

Formal Wear

Book chapter

DOI: 10.5040/
Pages: 308–329

In this chapter, you will learn the following:

  • the origins of the tuxedo

  • the various design features that are incorporated into formal wear

  • the differences in formal attire

White tie, black tie, semi-formal, should I rent, or should I buy? Formal wear can give rise to more questions than the average man on the street can answer. This chapter will present a brief history of the tuxedo and clarify some of the misconceptions about formal dress in today’s society. The rules of formal dressing have changed for men, as well as for women. The easiest way to see the dramatic change in the way men and women dress for a dinner or evening party is to look at movies from the 1940s and 1950s and see how elegantly both men and women dressed for these occasions. In these movies, men attending dinner parties or formal affairs are usually wearing formal attire. Formal wear was de rigueur for members of society’s upper classes who attended such affairs in the United States and in much of Europe.

The History of the Tuxedo

Two theories prevail regarding the origins of the tuxedo. One theory credits Pierre Lorillard as the father of the tuxedo, while the other theory credits the Prince of Wales (who later became King Edward VII). Most information available supports the Lorillard theory. However, the British version tells the following story: James Brown Potter, who happened to hail from Tuxedo Park, New York, was vacationing in England in 1886. After meeting the Prince of Wales, Mr. Potter and his wife were invited to a formal ball. Not knowing the proper manner of dress for such an occasion, Mr. Potter asked the Prince for advice. The Prince sent Potter over to see his personal tailor. “Potter was fitted for a short black jacket and black tie, unlike the formal white tie that was worn in the United States for formal occasions” (Bellis, 2007). When Potter returned to the United States, he showed off his new formal wear at the Tuxedo Club in Tuxedo Park, New York. Pierre Lorillard was at the Club that evening and loved the new look. He modified it by increasing the length of the jacket and adding black trousers. He gave it the name tuxedo in honor of the Tuxedo Club.

The Lorillard family had made their fortune in tobacco, so Pierre had a bit more clout in the neighborhood than James Potter. It was natural for Lorillard to get the credit for naming the tuxedo. His son Griswold first wore the modified design to a formal ball in October 1886. The rest is history; the tuxedo caught on as the new formal wear for men and has not changed much since the original version.

As for the question of who really invented the tuxedo, it might be said that the idea originated with the Prince of Wales’ tailor and was developed further by Pierre Lorillard.

Figure 9.1

A classy guy, Mr. Fred Astaire, in a classic tuxedo

Formal Wear Etiquette

When should you wear a tuxedo? The following outlines the rules for men’s formal wear:

“Black Tie” is not an unfamiliar term in today’s party planning scene, so you may decide to add “Black Tie Optional,” “Black Tie Preferred,” “Black Tie Invited,” or simply “Black Tie” to your invitation. Although the clothing industry is trendy, there are some definite rules. Bill Tzizik, President of Classic Tuxedo, suggests these guidelines: “If an invitation reads ‘Black Tie Optional’ or ‘Black Tie Invited,’ you can expect a nice affair and there will be people attending in tuxedos. Your host is leaving it up to you to dress formally or not. If your invitation reads ‘Black Tie Preferred,’ your host is suggesting that you dress formal and hoping you do, but you can make that decision and he won’t be offended if you don’t. Any invitation that has the words ‘Black Tie’ requires you to dress formal. ‘White Tie’ requires you to dress in evening tails. White Tie is the ultimate in formal dress for men.” (Classic Tuxedo, 2003)

As Tzizik suggests, the choice is yours. It depends on the type of affair you are hosting and your expectations of your guests. Some of the answers can be determined by the venue you choose. Imagine you are celebrating a milestone anniversary. You are hosting a formal sit-down dinner in a five-star hotel with banquet accommodations. It would be appropriate to suggest “Black Tie Optional” or “Black Tie Preferred.” If the event is in a banquet hall and you are having a buffet, any type of formal wear would not be appropriate. You might even suggest casual clothing, or not make mention of attire on the invitation at all.

Tuxedos: Rental or Purchase

In years past, a tuxedo was associated with wealth. The occasions for wearing tuxedos were usually such that any man attending them had the financial ability to buy his own tuxedo. The notion that every man could afford his own tuxedo began to change when it became fashionable to wear tuxedos to proms and weddings.

This fashion trend established the need for a rental market for tuxedos. Rental shops still dot the landscape throughout America and can be found in local tailor shops or dry cleaners.

If you live in or near a city and need to rent a tuxedo, your best bet is to find a Men’s Wearhouse, an After Hours shop, or a Mr. Tux, or Squire Tux as they are sometimes called. Mr. Tux and Squire Tux are actually owned by After Hours and represent 511 stores in 35 states. These shops can be found in local malls or in downtown shopping districts. Prior to 2006, After Hours was a separate company; in November 2006, Men’s Wear-house acquired After Hours Formalwear. Men’s Wearhouse now counts 1,165 combined locations for buying and/or renting formal wear. With their newfound strength in the formal wear market, Men’s Wearhouse is positioned to offer men a much wider selection of products, as well as many more locations. Although Men’s Wearhouse acquired After Hours, all four entities have maintained their own identities and still trade under their original names. Each has added an e-commerce site to give consumers even more choices when looking to rent or buy formal wear.

Figure 9.2

Tuxedo rental shops, like Men’s Wearhouse, both rent and sell formal wear

At Men’s Wearhouse, rentals start as low as $59.99. However, if you find yourself attending several occasions in one year, you might want to consider purchasing a tuxedo of your own. In today’s global economy of mass production, you can find a basic tuxedo for under $200. Even JCPenney has entered the tuxedo sales business. Of course, by the time you buy the accessories, such as studs, cuff links, shirt, tie, and vest or cummerbund, the price rises somewhat. However, given a price of $200 for a tuxedo, so long as one is careful not to buy the most expensive accessories, it might be more affordable to buy than to rent several times a year. In any event, it is more affordable to own a tuxedo today than it was years ago, when it was a look reserved only for the rich and famous.

Figure 9.3

Image not included in this online edition due to copyright restrictions.

After Hours Formalwear

Figure 9.4

Wool and wool blends make great fabric choices for tuxedos. This shows wool in its natural state.

The tuxedo itself will be made of 100 percent wool, with top-of-the-line tuxedos made from super 100s, 200s, or even higher count wool yarn. The terms super 100s and 200s speak to the fineness of the wool yarn. The higher the number, the finer the yarn; the higher number indicates that more yarn is used in the weave, giving superior hand feel and drape to the garment.

A customer on a budget can also find a well-made tuxedo in a wool-polyester blend. It is important to keep wool as the chief value; the wool content should be a minimum of 55 percent of the garment as this will provide a reasonable fabric that will still exhibit the better qualities that wool has to offer, such as hand feel and garment drape.

The weight of the wool can vary, so be sure to select a wool tuxedo that you feel most comfortable in and one that you can wear to most occasions. Some wool and wool blends might be too heavy to wear year round and might be suitable only for fall or winter affairs. The tuxedo is mainly an indoor garment, so most manufacturers will use a light- to mid-weight wool. One exception to this rule would be tuxedos worn by those in the hotel and entertainment fields who might actually work outdoors, such as doormen. In these cases, a heavier-weight tuxedo might be a better option.

Styling and Accessories

The fashion-conscious man should be aware of the styling and accessories that are associated with both black tie and white tie.

Black Tie

Tuxedo Jacket

When the tuxedo was first introduced in 1886, the tuxedo jacket was the central focus. It was not until later that the addition of pants and accessories became part of what is known today as a full tuxedo. The jacket, or dinner jacket as it was called, was black or a midnight navy bordering on black. In low light, the midnight navy appeared black.

Main features of the jacket include the following:

  • Collar: The collar traditionally has three versions: peaked, notched, and shawl. Peaked and shawl collars signify dressier models; the majority of the rentals choose the safe route—the notched lapel—as this is the most traditional of all collar styles. The lapels, which are extensions of the collars, are made with satin or grosgrain, and appear very shiny. Today, some Hollywood stars may be seen sporting collarless tuxedos on the red carpet. This style is considered very fashion-forward and will be very limited in its appeal. It has not been fully accepted in the mainstream of fashion and, therefore, not many are sold or rented. However, the younger prom set may gravitate to the newer styles and, therefore, apply pressure to the rental shops to carry those looks.

    Figure 9.5

    The collarless tuxedo makes a fashion statement

  • Pocket treatments: The more elegant jackets feature besom pockets. The only variation would be the addition of flaps, which make the styling a little more casual.

  • Front closure: Traditionally, the jacket was styled in a one- or two-button single-breasted model. There is also a double-breasted version of the tuxedo. This style accounts for a small portion of the overall sales, as the wearer must have a slim body type to pull it off.

  • Back: Both single- and double-breasted models can have a center back vent or a double vent. The majority of the double-breasted models have a double vent.

Although styles and tastes vary greatly, the safe choice is to go conservative and not experiment, especially if you are making a rather large investment in a tuxedo that you will have for many years.

Tuxedo Pant

The significant styling that sets the tuxedo pant apart from a regular dress pant is the satin or grosgrain stripe running down the outseam of each leg. The stripe has its roots in military dress and was used by the military to cover and reinforce the outseams of the pants. Given the military origins of the stripe, there is no clear evidence as to why it was adopted for tuxedos. It certainly looked smart and gave the tuxedo pant a distinctly dressier look.

Figure 9.6

Tuxedo pant with satin stripe running down the outseam of the pant leg

The fabric used in the stripe is generally 1 inch wide and is the same fabric used in the lapels of the jacket. The pockets are either on seam or quarter top. The tuxedo pant is always hemmed, it is never cuffed. There are no belt loops because the cummerbund or suspenders are worn as accessories to complete the outfit. The back of the pants can have one or two back besom pockets, with the wearer’s right pocket having a button-through or button-loop closure. The front of the pant may also include an extended tab with a clasp closure or simply a button closure.

These styling features are dictated by fashion trends; they are also a function of cost. The more features there are, the higher the cost, since more labor is required to make the garment.

Tuxedo Shirt

The tuxedo shirt is one part of the outfit with which a man can add a personal touch and create a somewhat distinctive look. The shirt is pleated in the front, with the pleats ending at the waist. The number, width, and style of the pleats are determined by the designer.

Most of the shirts are made in 100 percent cotton broadcloth, although some blends can be found. Some designers are experimenting with various weaves, such as oxford, pinpoint oxford, and even herringbone looks. One other option is a 100 percent silk tuxedo shirt. The silk is more difficult to care for than cotton, but it can give a look of elegance for the few times it would be worn.

Figure 9.7

The traditional wing collar tuxedo shirt with wing tips positioned behind the tie

As far as colors go, white is the safest choice, and it is the color that is worn the most. Some designers are trying to push the fashion envelope by introducing pastels and even bolder colors. As with the introduction of anything new and different, designers and retailers are betting that new colors will increase sales. It is generally those who consider themselves fashion-forward, regardless of age, who will experiment with new trends. In the end, the designers and retailers will generate the majority of their sales in white.

The two prominent collar styles for the tuxedo shirt are the wing collar and the straight-point collar. The wing collar is the traditional style, as it is not seen in normal day wear. When wearing the wing collar, the collar tabs should be positioned behind the bow tie, not in front. The cuffs are generally French cuffs, or double cuffs, and they are worn with cuff links or studs. The straight point collar is the typical style found in many dress shirts.

Figure 9.8

Tuxedo shirt with straight point collar and stud closures


Shirt Closures

The front closure of the shirt can be fashioned with buttons, on the less expensive models, or with studs. Some shirts are actually sold with a strip of buttons to keep the shirt closed in the packaging. The strip of buttons can be removed on purchase and replaced with studs. When studs are used in place of buttons, the tuxedo shirt will have two sets of buttonholes, one on each side of the shirt. The studs are inserted into the holes to hold the front closed. If studs are chosen over buttons, simplicity should be used as a guide for making the best fashion choice. Studs can be made of gold, silver, onyx, and even silk. Studs can be used as cuff links; they function the same way at the cuff as they would on the front of the shirt.

Cuff Links

Choosing cuff links is purely a matter of personal taste, but the same rule applies: simple is better. Many jewelers and department stores carry a line of cuff links. Prices vary greatly, depending on the type of materials used and the workmanship incorporated into the cuff links. The materials can range from sterling silver to diamond-encrusted gold. Therefore, the prices will be commensurate with the cuff link that you select.


The cummerbund is worn around the waist. It is pleated with wide pleats pointing upward. Some say the pleats are there to catch crumbs, but the real purpose of the pleats is to hold theater or opera tickets. The cummerbund has straps at each side and a clasp that closes in the back. It can be adjusted to fit most sizes. Besides catching crumbs or holding tickets, it also acts as a wide belt and hides the waistband of the pants. The cummerbund fabric generally matches the bow tie. Some designers have opted to add color or patterns to the cummerbund and the bow tie, rather than use the traditional black.

Bow Tie

When choosing a bow tie, you need to consider the following questions:

  • Should the bow tie be colored or the traditional basic black?

  • Should the bow tie be clip-on, pre-tied, or self-tied? The following points should be considered before making a purchase:

    • The clip-on can easily be detected and is reminiscent of children’s bow ties.

    • The self-tied bow tie should be chosen only if you have mastered the technique of tying a bow tie the old-fashioned way.

    • The pre-tied version comes already tied with a strap that runs around your neck and clips to the back of the bow tie. With this choice, you always have a perfect-looking tie.

Figure 9.9

The cummerbund with pleats up to catch crumbs


When selecting a tuxedo, the customer has the choice of wearing a vest instead of the cummerbund. In many instances, the designer of the tuxedo makes this choice, as most tuxedos come with one or the other. If a tuxedo with a vest is chosen, the vest will have the following features:

  • It will generally have a shawl collar.

  • The front will be cut low to show off the pleats on the tuxedo shirt.

  • Studs or buttons can be used for closures.

Figure 9.10

Vests are a great option to create a fashion flair

  • In most instances the vest will not have a back; instead the tuxedo vest will have an adjustable strap in the back to keep the vest snug. The tuxedo jacket is meant to stay on, so the backless vest is not an issue.

  • The vest can be made from the same material as the pants and jacket, while at other times it will be used as a fashion statement and the material, colors, patterns vary greatly.


Two other accessories must be considered to complete a man’s black-tie look: the shoe and hosiery. The shoe should be a classic pump or dress pump. This traditional style is meant for formal wear only and may appear feminine to some, as it has a grosgrain ribbon on the top front of the shoe and a low heel. Most men prefer to wear a good pair of black leather dress shoes, either slip-on or laced. When renting, the shoe of choice is the dress pump.

As for hosiery, a pair of lightweight, over-the-calf black socks will do. In this category, some prefer fine silk or lightweight wool, but a fine synthetic-fiber sock will do just as well.

White Tie

White tie is the epitome of formal wear and is typically worn to affairs of state or formal balls. Occasionally, white tie is the formal wear of choice for a groom and his wedding party. The white tie can also be called full dress. The jacket style is different from that of the basic tuxedo. The style is in the tradition of the riding jacket, with its cutaway look and long split tails in the back. No cummerbund is worn with this style;instead the backless vest is worn with a single-or double-breasted jacket. Traditionally, if a man was wearing white tie, he would also sport white gloves and a top hat. However, today, the choice is generally the wearer’s. The invitation can always be used as a guide for what to wear.

Figure 9.11

White tie, reserved for the height of formality, diplomatic balls, receptions for heads of state or really fancy weddings.

Concluding Thoughts

Chapter 9 turned your attention to the world of formal wear and the main element in this area, the tuxedo. The goals of this chapter were to help you learn the following:

  • the origins of the tuxedo

  • the various design features that are incorporated into formal wear

  • the differences in formal attire

These objectives were covered through discussions of the two prevailing theories of the origins of the tuxedo as well as research into the design features. The text also pointed out the pros and cons of renting versus buying a tuxedo outfit and discussed some of the key players in the tuxedo market. The following quotation sums up the chapter: “A tuxedo is by far the fashion mainstay of the sophisticated man who wants to stand apart from the crowd. You may not be loaded, but by wearing a tuxedo you can look and feel like a million dollars. Even if it is just for one night, make it the night of your life” (Men’s Flair, 2007). When you wear a tuxedo, it does set you apart and make you feel special.

Chapter 10 will define men’s sportswear by identifying the elements that make up this aspect of the business. You will study the differences in the men’s sportswear classifications so that you can better understand how the market is segmented. While doing so, you will examine key silhouettes within the various sportswear classifications.

Key Terms

black tie

bow tie

cuff links




white tie

Class Exercise

  1. a) Visit a Men’s Wearhouse retail store and inquire about the various tuxedos they have for sale. Note the styles and prices. Why are some more expensive than the others? Next, ask to see their rental section, and compare the tuxedos that are for sale with those that are for rent. Note the differences.

    b) Visit a local tailor or dry cleaner that rents tuxedos. How do their prices and services compare with those of the Men’s Wearhouse? How does the style selection vary?

    c) Which option would you choose if you needed a tuxedo? Would you buy or rent? Which establishment would you go to for your rental or purchase?


Bellis Mary. (2007). The history of men’s tuxedos and male formal wear. [online]. Available: [November 1, 2007].

Classic Tuxedo. (August 15, 2003). Become style savvy: Tuxedo terms for grooms. [online]. Available: [April 10, 2007].

Men’s Flair. (2007, March 22). Tuxedo styles.[online]. Available: [April 6, 2007].