We may earn a small commission from product links. Blog posts at Nimble Made are written to provide value and advice for our readers—any product(s) we recommend are items readers use and love.
Depending on the event you are attending, you may find yourself faced with a quandary: wear a tuxedo shirt or a dress shirt? If you’re like a lot of guys, you have a hard time telling one from the other. That changes today.
I’d like to introduce you to the ultimate tuxedo shirt vs dress guide. Here, you will learn of the little details that differentiate these articles of clothing, as well as those that are more obvious. By the time you’re finished reading this, you will know which shirt to wear and when.
Tux vs Dress
A tuxedo is hands-down the best choice for men’s formal wear. But wearing the right attire to black-tie occasions can be quite daunting, especially if you aren’t familiar with the various intricacies of formal occasions.
If there is an upcoming formal event that you’re invited to attend and you aren’t sure whether you should wear a tuxedo shirt or a dress shirt, this guide is just for you. As I detail the differences between these shirts, you will become more familiar with their purposes and thus wear them when appropriate.
So to start things off, I’d like to go over tuxedo shirts and when it’s suitable to wear them.
Tuxedo Shirts: Up Close
Tuxedo shirts are usually button-down, long-sleeved shirts that complement tuxedos. As such, the only time you should wear a tux shirt is when you are wearing a tuxedo. Otherwise, your suit will look uncoordinated, sloppy, and completely unsuitable.
Moreover, tuxedo shirts play a fundamental role in streamlining the appearance of black-tie attire. And although you might think tuxedo shirts look boring and have a single style, nothing could be further from the truth.
The fact of the matter is that there are many subtleties to be found among tuxedo shirts. And it’s these little details that can help you raise your formal style to a whole new level.
Know the Differences
There are some major differences between a tuxedo shirt and a dress shirt. In my humble opinion, the most crucial distinction of all is that you should never try pairing a dress shirt and a tuxedo. Period. There are no circumstances where this is deemed acceptable.
Leave the dress shirt for your attire that is casual or, at most, semi-formal. Furthermore, you should stick to wearing dress shirts to work and other less formal settings. Granted, your place of work might have a formal dress code. But it’s highly unlikely that it includes tuxedos.
On the matter of dress shirts, there is typically more freedom to choose the colors and patterns you want, as well as greater flexibility when it comes to styles and fit. With dress shirts, you may also decide to wear various ties or bowties (or choose to go without a tie), and it would be perfectly acceptable to do so.
When it comes down to it, the tuxedo shirt is basically a more sophisticated version of the dress shirt, designed to complement very formal events (think galas, black-tie weddings, operas, symphonies, and the like).
I should mention that when you choose your tuxedo shirt, you should always make sure that it is a crisp, clean white. In doing so, you will ensure that your shirt maintains its timeless look and feel while staying classy and elegant.
You might see celebrities venturing out into colored tuxedo shirts, but this should really only be reserved for weddings and proms. And even then, you run the risk of pictures reflecting the times if you opt for a specific color other than white.
Don’t get me wrong; there isn’t anything inherently wrong with that. But if you want your wedding photos to remain timeless, you’ll have a harder time achieving this if the groom and men are sporting colored tux shirts.
Choosing the Right Fabric
Whether you plan to wear a tuxedo shirt or a dress shirt, it’s best to go with cotton fabric. Why? Because it is incredibly breathable and therefore very comfortable. However, when looking for the best tux shirt, you should pay attention to two weaves within the cotton collection: broadcloth and twill.
Broadcloth has almost no texture and lacks sheen. This fabric is more prone to getting wrinkled and has a little risk of having too much sheer going on. It is, however, lighter and cooler compared to twill.
Speaking of which, twill is usually thicker compared to broadcloth. And although it might not help you stay as cool as broadcloth, twill is far less likely to suffer from wrinkling. What’s more, twill tux shirts feature subtle textures and have a slight sheen to them.
When it comes to choosing your fabric, it’s all about what you prefer. You want to choose something you’re comfortable wearing, sure. But you also want to feel confident. Certain fabrics elicit different emotions depending on who’s wearing them. What makes one guy feel self-assured and powerful might make you feel out of place and uncomfortable.
Choosing the Right Collar
Here’s an interesting tidbit you might not know about: The collars on tuxedo shirts are made to outline the shape of your face. As such, tux collars are more important to your formal appearance than you might think.
When it comes to dress shirts, you can find collars in a variety of shapes. These can include classic straight, Windsor spread, button-down, or band collar (which is the name given to formal shirts without collars).
Take Nimble Made’s “The Grand Canal” striped blue dress shirt. This slim-fit shirt features an English semi-spread collar with a twill pattern and two-button adjustable rounded cuffs (more on cuffs later). The versatility of this dress shirt makes it a perfect option for a variety of occasions and is a fine example of the difference dress shirt collars make.
Tuxedos, on the other hand, have only a few types of collars to choose from. Which one you ultimately decide on really depends on the style and look you’re trying to achieve. Let’s take a moment to explore the different tux shirt collar types to give you a better understanding of what purpose they serve.
This is the most common collar type, and it’s also the one with the most versatility. Spread collars match well with both tuxedos and suits, as well as ties and bowties. What’s more, spread collars feature various angles and points.
You can find narrow-spread forward-point collars or wide-spread cutaway collars. When you see the word “spread” with collars, know that it’s referring to the distance between collar points.
Wing Tip Collar
Wing tip’s name comes from the folding collar design that resembles wings. This is the ultimate in formal collar options, designed to match a tuxedo and bowtie. If you want a casual look, this one is not for you. Furthermore, do not use the Wing tip collar with a suit or tie.
As I mentioned a moment ago, band collar formal shirts are shirts that are made sans collar. The intent is to offer a slightly casual look while still adhering to formal dress codes. That said, you should only wear a bad collar tuxedo shirt when the event isn’t overly formal, and you feel confident in this look.
Plackets and Bibs
These are two essential components that make a big difference in your appearance. The bib is a rectangular piece that extends upwards in the center of tuxedo shirts, basically doubling the fabric to make sure your shirt is opaque. What’s more, you should only pair a shirt with bibs with a tux and bowtie.
As such, I don’t recommend you attempt to match a shirt with bibs with a traditional suit and tie. If you do, you will likely look woefully mismatched.
There are several different styles of tuxedo bibs, including pleated bibs. This is simply a tuxedo shirt style that is lot more traditional. If you want to add texture and character to your tuxedo, choose a ruffled bib.
However, you want to remember that ruffle-style bibs exude a casual atmosphere. Therefore, they might not be suitable for overly formal events. And if you prefer minimalism, it’s best to choose a tux shirt without a bib. If you must have very formal clothes, consider the piqué bib. Its fabric is a lot harder and does not wrinkle easily.
The placket is a fabric strip extending along the center of tux shirts. It basically serves to hide your tux shirt’s buttonholes, thereby making your shirt look clean and streamlined. The placket can either completely hide your buttons or be decorated with studs, often where the four top buttons are located.
This can add some character and appeal to any tux shirt. If you want your tux shirt to have sports studs and this is the style you’re going for, make sure to stick with a bowtie in your attire so as not to cover them up.
And lastly, a quick and handy rule to follow for the front details of a tux shirt is to never have a pocket on the chest. If a pocket is present on your formal shirt, then it is not a tux shirt.
Before we move on to the next section, I’d like to briefly talk about the various bib and placket types in greater detail. What you ultimately choose comes down to your personal preferences. But you can really make a statement and stand out from the crowd with the right style.
Pleated Tux Shirt Bib
The pleated bib uses vertical pleats and extends along both sides of the button placket. It is a traditional detail of a tux shirt. Modern narrow folds can add a touch of sophistication to the original traditional appearance.
Piqué Tux Shirt Bib
Piqué bibs are made of hard fabric, usually woven with a dimple pattern, and are considered more formal than pleated bibs. Piqué knitting was actually invented for white tie activities, but you may have worn one or two polo shirts with piqué collars and just never knew it.
This is the choice for the minimalist, as the no-bib tuxedo shirt is stylish and modern yet incredibly simple. If the bib-style tuxedo shirt feels a little too serious for your tastes, fear not. Most people won’t even notice that you don’t have a bib. Plus, there are plenty of other methods you can employ to achieve a textured appearance.
Ruffled Tux Shirt Bib
Unless you lived through the ‘70s, you can’t know the fashionable styles that existed back then and their influence on modern designs. Indeed, modern ruffled bib tux shirts are a quick and easy way to add personality and appeal to your attire.
On the right occasion, you can use the ruffles to indicate that you have a broad sense of fashion, you like to have fun, and you dress outside the box.
This style looks very similar to the French front style. But the four buttons on the top are detachable and can be fitted with tuxedo rivets. This is a style that you should only ever wear with a tuxedo and never with a suit jacket.
The most common style of placket, you can’t miss when sporting a front placket. The fabric is folded and sewn with fused interlining to create a classic symmetrical appearance.
This is essentially the no placket look. The French front shirt doesn’t feature a strip of fabric that is folded and sewn along the buttons. And not having an opening makes your shirt cleaner and simpler, making it ideal for formal and casual attire.
Also known as the covered placket, the fly front placket is a modern yet formal style placket that has an extra piece of fabric covering the buttons of your shirt. As such, it’s a great fit for when you want to create an enticing look.
All right, gentlemen, we’re on the home stretch now. So far, we’ve discussed nearly every aspect of formal shirts. The only thing that really remains is the cuffs. This is an essential component of formal attire, as your cuff style can make all the difference in how you look and feel.
Personally, I like French cuffs, as they provide me with just the right amount of cuff length to comfortably bend and raise my arms without my shirt running up into my jacket sleeves. Of course, your mileage may vary, and you might hate the way French cuffs look and feel on you.
In any event, let’s wrap things up by going over the various cuff styles and then briefly talking about accessories.
Barrel Cuff (One Button)
The one-button barrel cuff is both low-key and classic. You really can’t go wrong with this choice, as it works well with a variety of styles. Simple? Yes, but when you don’t want to risk going overboard with your fashion choices, the one-button barrel cuff is as safe as you can get.
Mitered Cuff (One Button)
One-button miter cuffs are sophisticated options that feature attractive, mitered corners at the button, and one-button cuffs are smaller in size so as not to risk overly produced attire. This is another safe bet that should serve you well in various settings.
Rounded Cuff (Two Buttons)
This one is certainly a bit dressier by comparison but still relatively subdued in its appearance. As such, it keeps things simple while offering a slightly different spin on the classic barrel cuff. It also gives you a bit more flexibility in your styling options, allowing you to try new things without getting overly complicated.
An instant classic in its own right, the French cuff only recently started gaining traction as being more widely accepted. What was once reserved for only the most formal of events, the French cuff is now worn by young and elderly gents alike and across a variety of settings.
As you search for tux shirts, barrel cuffs and French cuffs are going to be the most popular cuff style you come across. The most notable difference is that barrel cuffs do not need cufflinks. Instead, they are fastened with buttons.
French cuffs, on the other hand, are folded back and secured with cufflinks, which is an accessory you should definitely invest in when wearing a tux shirt. There are countless cufflink options available, each offering something unique.
When it comes right down to it, if you want to enhance your formal style, it’s best to choose a shirt with French cuffs and find some attractive cufflinks to help make your style unique.
As I mentioned above, you can always add more style to your tuxedo shirt by adding studs where the four top buttons are located. And if you can pull it off, you can always add suspenders to your clothes. Doing so will contrast with the white of your tux shirt and aid you in your timeless appearance.
It’s a daring addition, to be sure. But one that will add plenty of character to your attire if the look suits you. Not everyone can or should wear suspenders. Those who can, however, stand to breathe new life into their ensemble, with endless suspender style options to choose from.
You certainly have a lot to consider in your quest for the right shirt. But knowing the key differences between tuxedo shirt dress shirts will ensure that you always choose the proper attire for any given occasion.