10/07/2011 03:58 am ET | Updated Jun 17, 2013

Attack of the Rental Wedding Tuxedo

I was recently asked to serve as a groomsman for a friend on his wedding day. I was excited and honored by the request -- until I read the fine print. As it turns out, the most daunting responsibility of the groomsman isn't organizing the bachelor party or drafting a witty speech about the groom. In my case, the most challenging part of the job was wearing the rental tuxedo selected for me.

I was perplexed by the request. After all, I already own a tuxedo; a beautiful, classic number which I had tailored to fit me like a glove. I pleaded with my friend to allow me to dress myself on his big day, but my plea fell on deaf ears. I was told I would look foolish as the only member of the groom's party not wearing the same polyester, ill-fitting tux with matching hot pink vest and cravat. Without this attire, I would bring shame to the proceedings and maybe even ruin the entire wedding. Plus, the bride would be friggin' pissed.

What the hell was I thinking?

So I dropped a hundred bucks, put on the mandated costume and bit my tongue throughout the event.

All of this got me thinking: where did this strange tradition come from? Why has it become expected that groomsmen each rent such tacky, matching getups? Given that the wedding is such an important event in one's life -- arguably the most important event -- surely this would justify everyone looking their individual best, wouldn't it? Instead, men in the groom's party are often forced to conform to an arbitrary dress code that necessitates renting low-quality, ill-fitting and impersonal clothes. When did this become a substitute for high style?

This centuries-old tradition actually stems from an ancient superstition which saw members of the wedding party dress similarly in order to confuse and ward off evil spirits who were hell-bent on capturing the bride and groom. This tradition has continued in modern times, and has been reinterpreted as a symbol of unity and solidarity.

In recent decades, the rental tuxedo tradition has served new purposes. It has been used to try and make even the worst-dressed schlubs look half-decent, while also providing a seemingly cost-effective option for those men who don't own expensive dinner suits. More disturbingly, it has given the groom (and the occasional puppet master bride) dictatorial power to ensure that those in the groom's party aren't better dressed than the groom himself.

Enter the 20th century tuxedo rental houses. With a few exceptions, these modern warehouses of horror have compounded the problem by offering an endless array of dizzying neon colors, exotic textures and pointless accoutrements (decorative canes? really?) Such merchandising serves only to confuse and stun the hapless groom into trying to one-up the next guy with the most flamboyantly-dressed wedding sidekicks. Never trust a salesperson who advises you to match the color of your tie with that of your pocket square; it's simply not done.

Everyone is entitled to impose rules at their own wedding. If powder blue jackets and frills are the orders of the day, then that is the prerogative of the bride and groom. While there is certainly no requirement to take one's own wedding too seriously, if the objective is to foster formality and genuine elegance for the ceremony, then matching floral-print cummerbunds, Mandarin collars and lime-green bowties may not be the best strategy. Unless, of course, you are aiming to ensure decades of cringe-inducing family slide shows.

There is no rule -- anywhere -- which states that those members of the wedding party must dress identically. While symmetry among the groomsmen's attire can be pleasing, this could be achieved by offering the groomsmen some simple suit and color guidelines, and the freedom to dress themselves. Why not give them the benefit of the doubt and trust them to select something to wear on their own that is both tasteful and consistent with their fellow groomsmen? Don't be afraid to let the individualism of your groomsmen shine through. After all, true style should be personal, and it cannot be achieved through conformity, or by being dressed by someone else.

And it definitely can't be achieved with a camouflage tuxedo and matching top hat.