When I was in high school, there were two rites of passage during prom season: renting a tuxedo and then throwing up in it after overdoing it on strawberry kiwi MD 20/20 (moderation and MD 20/20 are incompatible). Tux rental is in the news right now because it’s a declining business, thanks to (1) fewer weddings overall, (2) less formal weddings, (3) more affordable tuxedo purchase options, and (4) the fact that many rental tuxedos have been vomited on by teenagers.
The cost-benefit of renting vs buying a tuxedo has been declining for years. Tux rental companies are coy (borderline dishonest) about the cost of renting a tux (it depends on which terrible options you choose) but you can expect to pay upwards of $150 to wear a tux that’s been designed not to flatter you or be comfortable but rather to bear up under the strain of intensely bad, sweaty dancing and subsequent industrial dry cleaning until the last penny of profit can be wrung from its polyester fibers. The Silentist has a great post on why renting a tux is terrible. Now, buying a black tie rig still isn’t cheap. You can find a decent evening suit for between $500 and $1,000, but you still need a shirt, shoes, and accessories that will almost certainly put you over $1,000 total if you’re getting moderately nice, new stuff. You’d need to rent a tux seven times to hit that threshold. As a counterpoint, John and Andrew put together great black tie outfits with small budgets. Both took a decent amount of time and effort, but time and effort enjoyably spent hunting down interesting pieces that fit together.
A third option is just never wearing a tuxedo (somewhere a shiver just went down the spine of voxsartoria). The bottom line is that if you own a tuxedo, you will find occasions to wear it: primarily weddings and New Year’s Eve. And by wearing a tuxedo you keep a laudable tradition of formal (technically semiformal) men’s style alive. But if you don’t own a tux? You’ll find ways around it. A dark suit, a clean white shirt, a subtle tie, and black bals will take you almost anywhere these days. And in a suit you like, tailored to fit you, you’ll look and feel better than you would in a rental tux (that smells faintly of strawberry kiwi) anyway.