Buying Basics

Renting vs. Buying


It is often recommended that consumers calculate how many times a purchased tuxedo will have to be worn in order for its price to equal the cost of an equivalent amount of rentals.  The theory is that if a man expects to meet or exceed that break-even point in his lifetime then he should buy instead of rent.  This pragmatic approach makes sense for most types of purchases but when it comes to the sublime pleasures of black tie it’s a bit like assessing the merits of haute cuisine by comparing it the cost of fast food.


For starters, the potential of meeting the financial break-even point must take into account the fact that a man will likely attend more formal events if he has a tuxedo already hanging in his closet than he will if he has to go through the rental rigmarole every time an opportunity arises.  Secondly, how does one determine the dollar value of the intangible benefits of tuxedo ownership?  How much more enjoyable is a man’s special evening when he is not constrained by a rental shop’s often poor selection (gimmicky styles, heavily-worn garments, poly-blend shirts and vinyl footwear), hand-me-down fit and time-consuming order, pick-up and return process?  What price does one put on wearing clothing that exudes permanent sophistication instead of borrowed gentility?


Once all of these benefits are factored into the equation it becomes clear that if a man can afford to buy a tuxedo then he can’t afford to rent.  As an Esquire etiquette manual once summed it up, “Tuxedo rental is all right for the junior prom, but the sooner you stop wearing somebody else’s clothes, the better.” 



Primary Purchases


The Basic Outfit


First-timers will make the most of their money by purchasing an outfit that is as timeless as possible.  Unfortunately, retailers love to use this term – along with “classic” and “traditional” – to describe just about any tuxedo offered in black, regardless of how trendy its styling and thus how limited its shelf life.  The Black Tie Guide, conversely, uses the term to refer to traits that have stood the test of time for decades and will continue to do so for years to come.  These traits are analyzed in depth in Classic Black Tie and Contemporary Black Tie but for those who prefer the abridged version here is what you need to create the most versatile ensemble possible:



black single-breasted one-button jacket in your choice of lapel shape (shawl or peak) and facing (grosgrain or satin)

turndown collar shirt in your choice of front (piqué, pleat, fly-front)

black waist covering of your choice to match lapel facing (be aware that cummerbunds are a lot easier to find than proper evening waistcoats)

self-tied black bow tie in shape of your choice and material to match lapel facing

formal shoes in model (pumps or plain-toe oxfords) and leather (patent or calfskin) of your choice

mandatory formal accessories (socks, suspenders, cufflinks) in acceptable variations of your choice


Once this core wardrobe has been assembled you can easily inject contemporary flair simply by adding a new accessory from time to time.  Otherwise, for the vast majority of men, this outfit will last them as long as their figure does.  


The Expanded Wardrobe


For the privileged minority that has a need for frequent formal dressing and an income for haute couture, their tuxedos will likely have to be updated every few years.  “The assumption that a tux is just a tux is a fallacy that fells even the smartest and purportedly worldly member of the governing class,” suggests William Thorsell, former Director and CEO of the Royal Ontario Museum.  “Nothing bespeaks the fading of a gentleman from relevance and currency in society than the wearing of an obviously dated tux.”  (Oh, to be faced with such high standards.)


Style and Fit


Finally, whether prince or pauper, every man should study Style Basics before purchasing to ensure his style choices will suit his general physique and after purchasing to ensure his product choices get fitted to his specific anatomy.

White Tie: The Apex of Elegance

White Tie: The Apex of Elegance


Tailored to fit, “white tie” can give any man a special dignity and distinction as do no other clothes.

Complete Book of Etiquette

White Tie requires full dress which, as its name implies, is the highest order of male civilian attire.  With a patrician pedigree dating back to the English Regency its rules are as rigid as its clothes are resplendent.

The dress code is also extremely rare these days as it is associated with only the most ceremonious of occasions.  Therefore should you find yourself fortunate enough to receive a White Tie invitation it is vital you pay attention to detail as this will likely be your sole opportunity to get it right.  While the less formal Black Tie code provides leeway to channel a variety of looks from 1930s movie stars to modern day superspies, White Tie is a virtual uniform that brooks little deviation.  When executed sloppily it is no more than a magician’s costume.  When carried out skillfully, its adroit balance of militaristic authority and refined elegance elevates the most ordinary of men to Royals and Rockefellers.

Short Rise Pants

For specialty menswear stores short rise pants are an integral part of their business when fitting a man properly. These pants fit a shorter man or regular size man with thinner thighs and seat then other men with the same waist size. Also the zipper is shorter, legs and seat are narrower then regular trousers, taking away the baggy britches effect when regular rise pants are just too  full cut.

-Joe Sugar

Sugar Quote Of The Day

“When understanding your proper pant length measurement,its always best to use the outseam measurement. An Example of this is if the outseam is 42 inches and the crotch depth is 10 inches the inseam will be 32 inches, however if the crotch runs long or short, 32 is not always the correct inseam. Also excessive weight gain or loss or “changes in the body overtime” can lead to a change in your pant length. Therefore it is good to have an professional  to recheck your proper outseam measurement.”

-Joe Sugar

Shirt Fit




In order to fit comfortably, a shirt’s collar size should be determined by fit and not by measurement.  Shirt makers are supposed to allow for about a half inch of shrinkage but some manufacturers provide much less leeway which means that a perfectly fitting new shirt will end up choking the wearer after several washes.  To confirm that there is room for shrinkage in a new shirt, try it on and make sure you can easily slip two fingers between your neck and the collar.  Another method is to lay out the shirt and actually measure the distance from the center of the button to the outer edge of the button hole to make sure it is half an inch more than your actual neck size.    

If wearing a turndown collar that is semi-spread or spread style, the points of the collar should end beneath the jacket.  The collar should also remain flat against the body no matter how far the head is turned.




The majority of ready-to-wear shirts are made to fit obese men.  As a result, everyone else has to put up with a sea of excess fabric or pay a tailor to alter the shirt.  The most basic alteration involves taking in the shirt along the side seams of the body and the arms.  For a truly form fitting garment, two darts will have to be added in the back.  While the feminine aesthetics of darted shirts are a matter of debate, this is a moot point with formal wear because it is not good form to remove one’s jacket at a black-tie event.  What’s important is that the less excess fabric there is, the smoother the shirt will lie against the body and the neater the overall outfit will appear.   

The shirt’s shoulder seam should sit on top of the curve of the natural shoulder, not down the side of the upper arm.




The shirt’s sleeves should be just long enough that they don’t pull back from the wrist when the wearer extends his arms fully when wearing a jacket (the jacket’s armhole will impact the practical length of the shirt sleeve).  Because mainstream shirt-makers save money by offering shirts only in odd numbered sleeve lengths half of all men will likely end up with a sleeve that is too long and subsequently too blousy.  (A so-called “34/35” sleeve is really a 35 – it can’t be both.)  This excess fabric can bunch up within a narrow jacket sleeve causing it to pull back the shirt sleeve when the arm is extended.  Fortunately, a good tailor or dry cleaner seamstress will be able to shorten a shirt’s sleeves if needed.




In order to stay put at the wrist, sleeve cuffs – both French (double) and single – should button snugly.  If your hand can slide through a fastened cuff then it is too loose and the buttons or link holes need to be adjusted. 


A French cuff’s bulk should also be able to fit easily inside your jacket sleeve to allow the latter to move independently of the shirt sleeve for reasons explained above.  If it doesn’t then find another shirt.  

Wear and Care


Like any suit, a tuxedo should be dry-cleaned as little as possible.  This is because the chemicals used in the process tend to dry out the natural moisture of a suit’s fabric and consequently reduce its lifespan.  Instead, keep the suit fresh by following a few simple steps after wearing:

brush out superficial dirt and raise the nap of the fabric with a good clothes brushremove wrinkles with a garment steamer at home or with professional pressing at a dry cleanerremove minor stains with a damp clothhang the suit up in a washroom or laundry room to air out odors

For those times when dry cleaning is necessary for either the jacket or trousers, The Encyclopedia of Men’s Clothes wisely recommends that both garments be cleaned together in case the process affects their coloring slightly.