Holidays are tuxedo time – it’s been around for ages. Although the tuxedo began as a casual alternative to the coat for dinners between friends, for the past 100 years it has been more associated with fancy parties. Except in academia, the dress code for tuxedos is often as dressy as it gets.
It’s that unusualness – the tuxedo is not an everyday garment – that makes it difficult at times. It’s a fact and nothing to be ashamed of that not everyone knows how to wear a tuxedo. The Gentleman’s Guide is here to help! Today it’s time to choose the right tuxedo shirt.
More articles in the series can be found here:
- The history of the tuxedo
- Dress code tuxedo / dress code black tie
The tuxedo shirt and its history
To understand why the tuxedo shirt looks the way it does, we need to travel back to the infancy of the tuxedo in the mid-19th century.
A tuxedo shirt was originally just a shirt – the same shirt that was worn with a tailcoat and that a well-dressed man wore for much of the day in various configurations. A crisp white shirt was a sign of class, for how could any simple peasant or worker keep his shirt white and clean?
The shirt was also part of the underwear. Unlike today, it was not considered appropriate for anything other than the cuffs, collar and some of the shirt’s chest to be visible. From there came the fashion to strengthen these parts to make them look particularly impressive. One of the 19th century inventions was shirts with a loose collar, chest and cuffs that could be washed and starched more often than the rest of the shirt. To attach these details to the thick, starched fabric, loose buttons were also needed, bounce . The chest was either single , i.e. without decoration, or plisserat , i.e. folded.
A traditional tuxedo shirt has a wing collar – a kind of standing collar where the lapels are pressed into small ‘wings’ – and a double cuff that fastens with cufflinks. While both collars and cuffs have been around for a long time, these variants were new in the Victorian era. The standing collar was popularized by the politician William Gladstone who wore his patricide with a slight fold down, perhaps to avoid accidents when stabbing yourself on the reinforced snibs? The double cuffs, or french cuffs , was a fashion trend that Alexander Dumas’ top salesman The three musketeers och The Count of Monte Cristo should have introduced. Somewhere early on, the trend of using sophisticated cotton fabrics also emerged – in England Marcella , a weave inspired by French fabrics from Marseille, and in the United States, the piqué.
The early 20th century saw the final modernization of the tuxedo shirt. The style icon the Duke of Windsor (Edward VIII) rebelled against the hard collars and started wearing folded, soft collars. The fly, previously worn under the collar, was now usually placed on the outside of the collar to play a more prominent role.
Traditional tuxedo shirt
For a traditional style, the wing collar shirt works well. Originally the collar was loose and fastened with buttons, but now it is usually sewn on. The chest can be either plain or pleated as in the picture above – both are actually equally classic and it’s mainly a matter of taste.
The shirt may have 1-3 loose buttons. These can be bought separately but are usually included. The buttons can be in gold, silver, platinum or any stone – black onyx harmonizes particularly well with the other black details. Match the material of the cufflinks with the shirt buttons.
The chest of a tuxedo shirt is no longer starched, but the beautiful, rich fabric in pike or Marcella weave still creates a very elegant look.
Modern tuxedo shirt
The modern, more relaxed style introduced by the Duke of Windsor became dominant in the 1930s. So while it looks very modern, it is a style with almost 100 years under its belt.
The difference is mainly in the collar, which is now replaced by a classic shirt collar. You can still keep a classic shirt chest style, or go one step further and use regular buttons instead of studs. Then a covered placket good, where the shirt buttons are hidden behind buttonhole fabric so that the chest is still very clean. The result is a tuxedo shirt that looks like a regular shirt – great if you feel like throwing off your jacket and letting loose on the dance floor.
The alternative tuxedo shirt
Nothing says that a tuxedo shirt has to look a certain way, other than tradition. The history of the tuxedo began precisely as a rebellion against convention. It’s all about understanding the situation. Are you invited to a wedding in New York with a black tie dress code, or do you just want to dress up a bit for a regular party?
If you want to leave the established styles, it’s important to keep your tongue in your cheek. It’s easier to land as a wedding singer or a teenager at a prom than to land right. An alternative might be to try a shirt with a different weave, or with details in a contrasting fabric?