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How to Style a Tuxedo

by LaMont Jones, Jr.

When a fellow dons a tuxedo, it’s a sign of a serious occasion. Whether for a wedding or formal gala, this form of menswear is a traditional and reliable go-to and is both elegant and refined. While the tuxedo jacket and pants provide the foundation, the details make the difference between ordinary and outstanding.

Key Components

A crisp white tuxedo shirt, preferably pleated with a wing collar, is the most classic shirt to wear. Although neckties have become acceptable, the more formal and traditional tux neckwear is a hand-tied bow tie. Basic black is the norm and the most conservative color choice, although the occasion may allow or even dictate other colors and patterns. A cummerbund or vest – never both together – adds an air of sartorial sophistication to the total look. If a cummerbund or vest is part of the ensemble, the jacket should be worn open and the bottom button of the vest should remain unbuttoned. A debonair finishing touch is a luxurious silk or satin tuxedo scarf tucked under the jacket collar and draped behind the lapels.

Jewelry Accents

You don’t want to over-accessorize a tux. The most formal tuxedo shirts have French cuffs, and they should be fastened with cuff links. If you have a matching set of links and shirt studs, it’s fine to wear them together or switch out either for something different but still complementary. A bracelet or wristwatch should not be worn with French cuffs, as the cuff links are sufficient wrist-area jewelry and chunkiness around the wrist can make shirt sleeves appear uneven. A ring – or wedding band, if you’re married – is nice, but multiple rings can look garish. Earrings have become an acceptable jewelry option for men, just keep them tasteful and understated. A tie pin can be a nice touch if you’re wearing an ascot. If you wear a vest, nothing tops off a distinctive look like a pocket watch.

Shoe Options

The beauty of a tuxedo shoe is its simplicity. Black patent leather slipper-style tuxedo shoes are always appropriate. Oxford-style black patent-lace-ups are another respected contemporary alternative when you don’t want to go with the most formal traditional option of black patent opera shoes with a grosgrain bow. It's usually best to avoid shoes in bright colors and neutrals such as gray, brown and white, as well as footwear with tassels, buckles and other flashy design elements. Sneakers and other casual shoes are never appropriate with a tux.

Other Tips

The points of a wing collar should always be worn behind the bow tie, and a cummerbund is always worn with the pleats up. Tuxedos can easily appear stiff and stuffy, so try not to wear accoutrements such as a bow tie and cummerbund as a matching set. Consider wearing something -- neckwear, vest or cummerbund, for example -- in a color strong enough to hold its own in all the black and white, such as green, red or purple. Be careful with metallic fabrics – they can easily cheapen and overpower your total look. Men who like to push the style envelope and stand out may prefer an ascot, brocade vest or double-breasted tuxedo jacket. Finally, socks are an opportunity to show personality and whimsy. But if you deem stripes and zany patterns inappropriate for the occasion, rest assured that the basic black sock is a friend unfailing.

About the Author

LaMont Jones was an award-winning fashion and beauty editor for a decade at the "Pittsburgh Post-Gazette." A five-time nominator and judge of the CFDA Awards, he covers New York Fashion Week regularly. Jones is a 2011 inductee into the Pittsburgh Fashion Hall of Fame and coaches fashion models.

Photo Credits

  • Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images