The Big Freakin’ Difference

Suit-Blazer-Tux
Just like there is a difference between types of shoes, types of Mexican food, and types of sexuality, there is a difference between a suit, a blazer, and a tuxedo.  And it’s mindblowingly simple.  With this knowledge, you’ll be able to know what type of clothes you need and you’ll be able to communicate what you want when you’re out shopping.

The Tuxedo

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Vintage tuxedo on Spencer

This is the most formal piece of clothing a man will wear (unless he does white-tie).  The tell tale signs of a tuxedo is the shiny stuff on the lapel.  If you look at the picture, you can tell that a part of Spencer’s peak lapel is made of a different fabric than the rest of the tuxedo jacket.  This is usually made of grosgrain or satin and is the MAIN DISTINGUISHING FEATURE  of a tuxedo.

This shiny stuff is also present on a vertical single stripe on the sides of the pants.  Just like a suit, a full tuxedo is made of a jacket and pants of the same material.  
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Photo from Ebay

Traditionally, a tuxedo is black or midnight blue and worn with a bowtie but fashion has evolved!  Now we have blue, purple, and even brown tuxedos. Even though there are more colors available to you, just remember this simple fact: if the jacket has a smooth and shiny material, its a tuxedo jacket.  

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Vintage Tuxedo 
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H&M Tuxedo 

The Suit

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Suit from H&M

A suit is also made of a jacket and pants of the same material, but lacks the shiny lapels and the stripe on the pants.  For example a brown, plaid, tweed suit will have a brown, plaid, tweed jacket and brown, plaid, tweed pants.  Thick of a suit like a piece of paper that was cut in half.  The two pieces still feel exactly the same and will match perfectly if put together.

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Vintage Suit 

Look at this picture of Spencer.  There is definitely a pattern and color in his pants and jacket.  They are exactly the same because it is a suit.

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Vintage Suit 

So if you go to the store and ask for a suit, you’re going to get a matching set of pants and jacket in the same exact pattern and fabric.  

However, you can always wear pieces separately.  It’s a great way to diversify your closet and use everything as much as possible!  If you do this, it won’t be a suit because it’s not a matching set anymore.  Its only a suit when the matching pieces are worn together. 

Blazer and Pants

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 Tweed blazer

Blazer, sportcoat, etc are all the same thing.  This term basically refers to something that resembles a suit jacket, except there are no matching pants made with it.  It is a stand alone item.  

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Windowpane Sportcoat 

Sportcoat got its name because sportcoats typically ave patterns and textures and are more “fun” than a suit or tuxedo.  Basically, sportcoats have more varieties in color, pattern, textures, lapels, and other details that weren’t typically available before.  As I’ve said before, modern menswear is constantly evolving to make things “cool” so there are just as much varieties among suits as there are blazers.  Now, a blazer is just a stand alone item. You can pair them with suit pants, stand alone trousers, or jeans, but it still won’t make it a suit. 

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Textured DB sportcoat 

While blazers can have cool textures and patterns, they can also exist as plain pieces.  I have plenty of blazers that are single color (Blue, purple, white) and plenty of pants that are also plain.  However, that doesn’t make it a suit.

Conclusion

While there are traditional uses for each piece, the main difference is summed up below:

Tuxedo

  • Matching Jacket and Pants  made of the exact same material and color 
  • Jacket has shiny material on lapel (satin or grosgrain)
  • Pants has shiny material on vertical leg stripe
  • Typically black, blue, white or other colors
  • Rarely have patterns
  • Not traditionally worn separately

Suit 

  • Matching Jacket and Pants made of exact same material, pattern, and  color
  • No shiny material on jacket or pants 
  • Can be plain or patterned
  • Only called a suit if matching jacket and pants are worn together
  • Pieces can be worn separately

Blazer or Sportcoat 

  • No matching pants 
  • Can be plain, textured, or patterned
  • Variety of  types
  • Never called a suit

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This is a great example of my point.  On the left, I am wearing a sportcoat and cream trousers.  On the right, Rajesh is wearing a navy blue suit.

Hopefully you learned something new about the realm of menswear!  Using this new vocabulary will not only help you sound more educated when improving your style, but you’ll be able to know which piece you actually want!  If you walk into a store and ask for a tuxedo, you’re going to get a black matching set of jacket and pants with shiny stuff.  Shop smarter and learn more.

Always a pleasure,

Ethan W.

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