In a previous piece, we discussed the basics of matching colors, patterns and layers. When it comes to ties, most guys take a decidedly common approach. They prefer to match their tie exactly to some other pattern in their look be it their socks, their pocket square or their belt. There’s no existing rule that your tie must match something exactly.
In fact, the practice is discouraged.
You want to exhibit cohesive style but you also don’t want to look like you bought your accessories as a packaged gift set. Before you step out of the house in your matching ensemble, heed the following rules.
Never Match Your Pocket Square
This is the only golden rule. You should never match your tie to your pocket square. These two pieces should complement each other, but an exact match makes them feel cheap. Don’t think of your suit and matching accessories as a team uniform. In 2015, GQ poked fun at NFL commentators Curt Menefee, Terry Bradshaw and Jimmy Johnson. Each one chose a blinding tie pattern and matched it exactly to his pocket square.
Their looks were steeped in poor taste—3 manly men who knew nothing about true style and seemed to have picked their accessories from a Macy’s gift set. The article was funny, but it was also a cautionary tale of what can happen when your look gets too matchy.
Instead of exact matches, look to the color wheel for guidance. Use complementary colors and a balance of cool and warm colors to create something cohesive. If you’re wearing a brown tie, opt for a blue square or a subtle pattern that incorporates brown. There’s no need to find a brown pocket square.
When all else fails, use a white pocket square. In a presidential, or square, fold, a white square works with every look regardless of color. It communicates an element of sophistication and looks great without relying on obvious color coordination.
Keep Patterns Subtle
If you wear solid dress shirts, you have the freedom to wear bold tie patterns. Paired back to solid shirts and suits, these ties like our Grey & Green Plaid Cotton Necktie stand out without distracting from the refinement or consistency of your look. Solid dress shirts are the perfect canvas to test out stronger tie designs.
However, if you’re wearing patterned shirts, you should pay closer attention to details. The tie pattern should never be the same size as your shirt pattern. For example, if you’re wearing a gingham shirt, a gingham tie isn’t the answer—even if the colors are complementary.
The only way this would work is if the gingham on the tie was bigger or smaller than the pattern on your shirt. If you’re wearing the same pattern, there must be a difference in size to create depth and texture. Similar pattern sizes create a boring, monochromatic look that feels more like an optical illusion than a compelling ensemble.
Instead, pair a subtle striped tie with your gingham shirt. The patterns pull on different geometric schemes to create a welcome contrast.
Use Complementary Colors
It’s important to remember that warm on warm or cool on cool will create a washed-out look. If your shirt is blue, pick colors from the opposite side of the color wheel that will stand out against it. Find patterns infused with warm colors like orange, red or yellow to bring your look to life.
In general color matching, your outfit’s main colors should contrast with your skin tone to avoid washing you out. Though your tie should be complementary to your shirt and suit, it should fall closer in line with your skin tone. If you’re a guy with light skin, pastel or warm colors work for your tie. They add in a sense of contrast in your look while simultaneously maintaining a sense of continuity with your skin. For guys with dark skin, try ties with cool colors and low contrasts.
Pay Attention to Proportion
Matching your tie to your look isn’t just about color or pattern. Your tie’s size matters, too. Ideally, your tie should never be wider than the lapel of your suit. When it’s wider, it creates a sense of imbalance. For example, let’s say you’re wearing a standard notch lapel suit—an everyday option perfect for the office. You wouldn’t pair this with a skinny tie. Standard notch lapels come in medium to wide widths. Your skinny tie would hang there like a piece of string. Skinny ties are more appropriate for modern suiting with thinner lapels.
Additionally, the tie proportion should help play up your physique strengths. If you’re a bigger guy, you want a tie style that complements your size. The ideal option is wider and hangs down to your beltline. Smaller guys should opt for slimmer ties that are a bit shorter. In this way, tie proportion plays into the overall proportion of your look. Big guys want to flatter their physiques and achieve slimming effects while slimmer guys want to add the illusion of stature. Tie proportion can play a big role in achieving this.
Lastly, fabrication plays a role in successfully matching your tie back to your overall look. Keep your aesthetic in mind. Texture and depth can be achieved in a look by simply varying fabrics throughout. If you’re wearing one of our knit or cotton ties, mix up other aspects. Try a silk pocket square or an oxford dress shirt. Silk ties might be the most common fabric you’ll find, but other materials lend themselves to greater versatility.
To stay ahead of the pack at work, you need to master the skill of matching your ties. On the surface, it seems that it’s all about the color or the pattern. While those aspects are most certainly important, other factors come into play like fabrication, proportion and continuity throughout your other accessories. To match your tie like a pro, pay attention to the details. It’ll pay off in the end.