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.”
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.