Even if you’re a guy that regularly dons a suit and tie, you might feel at a loss when it comes to preparing for a black-tie event. With men’s formal wear, the rules are somehow simultaneously more strict and more confusing. What makes a tuxedo jacket different from a suit blazer? Can you just wear regular dress shoes? And, most of all, why does it all have to be so expensive?
That last question probably weighs the heaviest, especially because formal wear is something you’re only likely to wear, at most, once a year. Even if you find yourself at a wedding every other weekend during wedding season, you’re more likely than not going to just be wearing a business suit. After all, not showing up the happy couple applies to the men, too. But for those rare occasions when that invitation reads “Black Tie,” you’ll probably want to do it right. Or maybe it’s your big day, in which case you’ll definitely want to do it right (congratulations, by the way). That’s why we’ve rounded up some high-quality (but affordable) men’s formal wear, which you can check out below. But first, it’s worth clarifying some key details.
A black suit may look a lot like a tuxedo, so it can be hard to tell the two apart. But the first place to look is the lapel. The majority of tuxedos have some satin detailing, and the place it’s most pronounced is the collar. Whether it’s a peak lapel or shawl collar jacket, the lapel will have the slightly glossy sheen you might associate with silk. Tuxedo pants will also typically have a satin stripe along the outseam. There are other details such as the buttons that you can look at, but the easiest way to tell the difference is by the presence of satin.
Since there’s less room for experimentation with men’s formal wear, the details become all the more important. You’ll want to leave your daily dress shoes at home and instead opt for designated tuxedo shoes — patent leather is a good option. Patent leather shoes have a high-shine finish compared to the matte look of your standard derby shoes. If you hadn’t guessed by now, a common theme among men’s formal wear is shininess.
The place where there’s probably the most variance is the shirt. At the most formal end, you’ll find wing-tip collars with studded buttons, French cuffs, and maybe even a pleated bib front. But, for anything but the most formal events, you can get away with a spread-collar white button-down with barrel cuffs (think your standard dress shirt). And while you could wear a necktie, now’s the time to break out the bow tie.
It’s a lot to take in, which is why we’ve rounded up the best affordable men’s formal wear to buy right now. Included are all the elements needed to build a head-to-toe outfit, ranging from the tuxedo and shoes to smaller details like the pocket square and bow-tie.
1. Kenneth Cole REACTION Men’s Tuxedo
Kenneth Cole is a trusted yet affordable brand, and this simple black tuxedo can suit a variety of events. It has a satin shawl collar, a single button, and a satin stripe along the outside of the pants. You can also choose different collar styles and colors from this listing. The slim fit gives it a sleek modern look, while a touch of spandex means you comfortably move around.
Pros: Affordable option for a tuxedo, satin detailing gives it a formal look while the slim fit keeps it modern.
Cons: Sizing is only for the jacket, so it can be difficult if you have long or short legs.
2. Calvin Klein Men’s Bernard Loafer
The shiny patent look of these loafers from Calvin Klein makes them a great option for wearing with a tuxedo. They have a slender shape and a slightly pointed toe, so they’ll look good with slim-fit tuxedos. There’s a decorative ribbon strap across the vamp which will match the ribbon detailing found on many tuxedo pants. Plus, the extended sizing ranges from as small as 7 to as large as 16, including wide sizes for each.
Pros: Simple option with a modern fit. Lightly cushioned insole for comfortable all-day wearing. Available in a large number of sizes, including wides.
Cons: Can run a little tight.
3. Van Heusen Men’s Dress Shirt
When it comes to suiting up on a budget, Van Heusen is a reliable standby. The shirt is made of a flexible and comfortable cotton/poly blend with spandex. The spread-collar makes it versatile enough to wear with a bowtie to a wedding or a necktie to work. Likewise, the barrel cuffs are a little more casual than French cuffs, making this shirt a good option for different settings. It’s available in over two dozen colors, but we recommend sticking to white for formal settings.
Pros: Comfortable stretch collar isn’t too constricting. Barrel cuffs and spread collar detailing means it works for business and semi-formal settings.
Cons: Some may prefer the more formal detailing like French cuffs.
4. Bow Tie House Pre-Tied Bow
Bow Tie House specializes in, you guessed it, bow ties. These solid-colored bow ties are available in nearly forty colors, so you can choose the best one depending on the setting. Plus, they’re affordable enough that you can pick up a few. If you’ve never tied a bowtie before, don’t worry — these are pre-tied. They come in three sizes for toddlers, youths and adults, and they’re also adjustable for comfort.
Pros: Available in a wide variety of colors to suit different settings.
Cons: Some may prefer a shinier look than these matte gabardine ties.
5. Jacob Alexander Men’s Pocket Square Solid Color Handkerchief
Pocket squares have more variety than you might think, and the pocket square you wear to work should also be different than the one you wear to a black-tie event. That said, a tiny decorative square of fabric isn’t the place to splurge, which is why we like this affordable option. Like many things formalwear, the thing that sets it apart from business wear is a little shine — this microfiber pocket square has a shiny and glossy look. The pocket square is available in forty colors to easily match any outfit.
Pros: Silky look gives these pocket squares a more formal look. Available in many colors.
Cons: Somewhat cheap hand feel.