“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”
“The details are not the details. They make the design.”
There are usually a few formal fundamentals at the heart of every good tuxedo. Tradition is a big one. Fit is always important. But attention to detail is what transforms even the classiest tuxedo into something really special. I’m not saying that you can’t just slap on a tuxedo and look pretty nice. But to look great you have to pay attention to the details. To get that suave and polished look, here are a few of the finishing touches that will help you look your very best.
One of the guiding principles of Black Tie is that the working parts of the tuxedo are either hidden or dressed up. The outer pant seams are covered with a satin stripe. The waistband is covered with a cummerbund or a vest. The pockets are minimized to slits with satin facing around the opening. And so it goes with the shirt buttons as well.
If you don’t have a placket shirt that hides the buttons altogether, you should use studs for your shirt closure instead. This is in keeping with the principle of dressing up the working parts of your ensemble and will go a long way towards pulling your tuxedo together. You should also wear matching cuff links, regardless of the kind of shirt you are wearing.
While the world of shirt studs and cuff links is wide open with options, the most common sets have black centers with silver rims for black tie and white or off white centers with silver rims for white tie. Sets generally include 2 cuff links and 4 shirt studs. Tuxedo shirts will have an extra hole right next to the regular buttons to accommodate these.
While truly classic tuxedo coats have only one button on the front, most contemporary tuxedos have 2. Occasionally a 3 button tuxedo will come along as well. So it is important to know which buttons to button. Here’s the break-down.
3 Button Coat – Usually button the top button (optional). Always button the middle button. Never ever button the bottom button.
2 Button Coats – Always button the top button. Never ever button the bottom button.
1 Button Coats – Does this really need to be said?
Basically never button the bottom button, unless you have only one button. Incidentally, this rule also applies to vest buttons. Never button the bottom button of your vest.
So if you’re anything like me, you may be wondering why they even make a jacket with a button that can be buttoned but isn’t supposed to be. It seems superfluous. Maybe even wasteful. Well, there’s actually a good reason for it.
It all started when King Edward VII (who was a large man) had trouble buttoning his bottom button. A trend began to keep the bottom button unbuttoned in an effort to avoid embarrassing the king. Then they started tailoring suits to purposefully break away at the center button, which is at the natural waist. Jackets are still made that way today so that they flare out a bit below the center button for a well fitting and complimentary look. Buttoning the bottom button undoes that effect.
Great. So why not just not put a button there? It’s because of the message it sends. Not buttoning the bottom button shows that you know the rules. It’s a sign of culture. It also shows discriminating restraint. Knowing when to quit is an important trait of any gentleman. That bottom button allows you to show that you know when enough is enough and more wouldn’t be good. It’s a good message to send.
A pocket square is a swatch of fabric that you fold up and put in your top jacket pocket. It can be a functional handkerchief or just decorative. There are several types of pocket square folds that each subtly affect the tone of your tuxedo.
While a white satin pocket square is the most common and most formal choice, the pocket square is also one of the few ways that, according to strict Black Tie standards, you can personalize for a little flair or to match your date.
It’s a subtle detail that can make a big difference. Incorporating a nicely folded pocket square really adds a finished look to your tuxedo. It also helps you look like you know what you are doing. And that’s nice.
Ok. Don’t laugh, but socks are on this list too. Why? Because a lot of guys get it wrong, and when it’s wrong, it can work against you. Formal trousers shouldn’t have much of a break at the bottom. When you sit down, your ankles are somewhat exposed. It’s actually important that your ankles don’t betray your otherwise very put together vibe. Here are a list of some helpful sock rules:
Sock Rule #1: Wear Socks. Some guys forgo this option. I’m not sure why. It doesn’t work well.
Sock Rule #2: Wear Black Socks. Nothing can ruin your Black Tie ensemble like white socks peeking out just above your shoes.
Exception to Sock Rule #2: If you are wearing a tuxedo that isn’t black, navy, or grey, try finding formal hosiery in the same color (i.e. white, ivory, brown, etc.)
Sock Rule #3: Wear formal socks. Formal socks are thin and stretchy and come up to mid/high shin. Also referred to as formal men’s hosiery. Thicker socks aren’t formal.
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All of these details serve the same purpose. When you dress up, you want to look your best. You also want to look savvy and suave. It’s through these little details that you complete your formal ensemble and show the world that you know what you are doing in formal wear. Kind of like James Bond. With a little attention to the small details, you can transform a tuxedo into a Tuxedo.
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