While getting dressed, why is it so common for men to hold their tie up against their suit and shirt to see how it matches? Most men can spot a poorly matched tie when they see it, but what’s the science behind matching suit and shirt with their tie?
Matching a tie involves taking into account the type of occasion, the shape of the face, body frame, suit colour, suit pattern, shirt colour, shirt pattern, and pattern size.
Since the tie is designed to complement what you’re already wearing, it should go without saying that you should start by picking out your other clothing, and only then should you pick a tie which compliments it (if you elect to wear a tie at all). Let’s get started.
Matching Tie Colour
Colours can largely be categorized in one of two ways: Warmer Colours and Colder Colours. Warmer colours such as red, and orange display excitement and enthusiasm. Colder colours on the other hand, such as blue and green offer a cool and more relaxing feeling.
For a bold look, it’s generally a good idea to pair a warm colour with a contrasting colder colours. When this is done, there is obvious visual contrast that makes the combination look great. However, matching on the same side of the colour wheel is typically easier to accomplish.
The simplest way to start matching ties is by using a monochromatic colour scheme. In this colour scheme, match darker and lighter shades of the same colour e.g.
Light blue with dark blue. With this colour scheme, you’re not matching different sides of the colour wheel, but it is a very safe, conservative and easy choice if you want to start matching.
However, matching with a monochromatic colour scheme should only be done with ‘cool’ colours. Different shades of red will typically not match well together.
The next step up is matching adjacent colours. This option involves matching colours which are very close to each other on the colour wheel, such as matching a dark blue shirt with a purple tie. However, a green shirt and purple tie combination will rarely work well because they are too far apart on the colour wheel, despite both being ‘cool’ colours. Adjacent colour schemes are a bit more adventurous and add a bit more flair without being too bold.
If you really want to stand out, the best option is utilize the complementary colour scheme. It’s something you probably learned in school; green with red, purple with yellow, and so forth. The goal with this colour matching scheme is to match a colour with its opposite on the colour wheel. Be warned that this matching option will offer a very bold look, so it can be unwise to utilize this colour scheme in business settings for example where it’s typically better to dress more modestly.
Size and Proportion
Colour is only one of the aspects to consider when matching ties. Generally speaking, larger and wider men should aim for wider ties (at least 3″ wide) where as skinnier gentlemen should aim for tie that are at most 3.25″ wide. It’s best to balance one’s body size proportionally to the size of their tie. Most regular ties are 3″ to 3.5″ wide, and if you consider yourself a man of average proportions, you’ll generally want the width of the tie to be in this range.
Also, it’s important to give some consideration to tie length if you’re a shorter or taller man. Most ties in North America tend to be between 53″ to 59″ long, but if you’re exceptionally tall, consider getting a tie that’s over 60″ long.
Collar and Knot
When taking ideal tie width into account, you’ll also need to consider the type of shirt collar as well as the type of knot you intend to tie. While there are multiple collar types and styles, the main differentiator between many of them is the amount of ‘spread’ between the points of the collar. If the collar has a narrow spread, such as with the ‘point collar’, the shirt is best suited to have a skinnier tie (3″ width or less). Also, it’s best to do a smaller knot such as a four-in-hand knot or half-windsor knot.
In contrast, if the collar has a wider spread, such as with the cutaway collar or spread collar, wider ties (3.25″ to 4″width) and bigger knots such as the full windsor knot are better suited as they will leave less empty space around the collar.
As a general rule of thumb, you’ll find it easier to match solid ties and semi-solid ties (with a subdued pattern). Bold-pattern ties are more challenging to match. Whatever pattern you end up going with, make sure the pattern on the tie does not proportionally match the pattern on the shirt. It’s important for there to be some contrast between the tie and the shirt; if the pattern is the same on the both, it will look horrible.
If you’re wearing a solid shirt, avoid wearing a solid coloured tie. If you’re wearing a polka dot shirt, avoid wearing a polka dot tie. However, a polka dot shirt will work well with a striped tie, when colour matched appropriately.
When it comes to matching the tie with the suit, black, charcoal, grey and blue suits are quite versatile. Most tie colours go well with these standard suit colours. However conflicts can again arise when there is a pattern similarity between the suit and pattern and the tie pattern, so avoid a pinstripe tie if wearing a pinstripe suit.
Pattern matching is an art, not a science. There are things you should generally avoid, and guidelines that should usually be followed. Overall, it’s a good idea to ensure there is pattern contrast between the shirt and tie as well as the suit and tie.
SharpSense Tip: In addition to varying the type of pattern between the shirt and suit, consider varying the size of the pattern; if you have a large checkered shirt, pair it up with detailed small-pattern tie that isn’t checkered, or go for a solid coloured tie.
Fabric & Style
Silk ties are by far the most common type of tie offered, and are always a safe bet. They come in many different varieties of prints; solids, striped, dotted, paisley, and foulard neckties are some of the most common prints available. Just make sure the pattern on the tie doesn’t match the one on the shirt; you need to have some level of contrast.
If you’re looking for a less formal option, but don’t want to go tieless, consider wearing a knitted tie. Knitted ties offer a unique textured look that you simply won’t be able to achieve with any silk tie. The majority of knitted ties are a single solid colour, but it’s not uncommon to find knitted ties with 2-3 colours. Due to the knitted nature of the tie, detailed patterns are typically not possible to find or create, but more simple patterns such as stripes are fairly easy to find.
While far less common than the traditional silk tie, wool ties can be a great alternative during the winter months due to the heavier fabric utilized. The coarseness of the tie will be readily apparent when looked at closely, and wool ties typically come in less flashy colours.
This Guest Post was written by Paul Sibenik, the founder of SharpSense, an online made-to-measure menswear company.