How to Match a Tie with a Dress Shirt and Suit

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When it comes to dressing for more upscale events, women have far more style decisions to make than men; we know we’ll be donning some version of a dress shirt and suit. But when it comes to adding the finishing touch – the tie – some men feel confused as to how to choose a tie that will complement the other elements in their ensemble.

The biggest mistake I see men make when trying to match their neckwear to their clothing is that they have bought the wrong tie for the clothing in their wardrobe.

Like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, they will either frantically try to match garments together at the last moment or not care at all and reinforce the stereotype that men can’t dress themselves. In order to easily match your ties with your shirts and suits, you need to own neckwear that complements the more expensive clothing already in your closet.

Match your tie to your clothing, not your clothing to your tie.

The point is don’t buy a tie just because it looks great – buy neckwear that is of the right proportion for your body and is of a color and pattern that works well with your shirts and suits. You want your ties to match your clothing – not look good by themselves.

Coordinating your tie, dress shirt, and suit isn’t rocket science. All it requires is a basic understanding of proportion, pattern, and color which can be used to build an interchangeable wardrobe. Start with easy to match shirts and suits – then add a range of flexible neckties that accent and enhance the outfits you put together. Do this and you’ll find yourself wanting to wear a necktie more often as it adds color to your complexion and makes you look better overall.

Principles of Matching

The Necktie

Necktie Proportion

Necktie proportion relates to the necktie’s width and length in regards to a man’s body build and clothing style. A large man with large suits and a wide front is going to look best when he balances it with a wider than average tie that is long enough to reach his belt buckle. A petite gentleman has the opposite problem and should look for smaller neckties that are not only skinnier width-wise but also shorter in length. These special size ties can be found at many online retailers

For those of us who are close to average in size, proportion can become a problem when we purchase from high-end fashion designers or pick-up vintage pieces from thrift shops. Average-sized men should try to wear ties ranging in width from 3 to 3.75 inches. Anything wider or thinner is best reserved for a man whose size calls for it – otherwise you are drifting into the realm of fashion, not style. Here is an example of a skinny tie worn right.

If you find yourself shopping for ties and need a quick way to measure the width, pull out a dollar bill. If the tie is close to Washington’s nose, you’re safe. If it extends out past the portrait frame or is behind his head – consider passing on the necktie.

Necktie Color

There is not a perfect answer to which color goes best with any given outfit. Two factors that determine the right color for a man include the message he is trying to signal and the color combination that works best with the natural colors of his complexion.

For a muted but sophisticated look, consider pairing semi-solid and lightly patterned blue and green ties with cool blue colored clothing. If you’re looking to draw attention to yourself, opt for the stark contrast of a bold red colored tie on a light colored shirt. The red tie is called the “power tie” for a reason; this combination works well for presenters as it captures wandering eyes and points them right to the speaker’s face.

As far as what colors work well with a man’s particular features, you’ll want to mimic your natural contrast levels. Men with light colored hair and fair skin have low contrast and should stick with pastel and monochromatic color combinations. Men with dark hair and light skin are high contrast and will look best selecting color combinations which have clearly defined lines between them. If you have dark hair and medium to dark colored skin, you can pull off both low and high contrast tie and shirt/suit combinations. Your difficulty in this case will be separating acceptable suit/shirt/tie combinations from great looking suit/shirt/tie combinations. It’s a small distinction, and one best made by taking the clothing in your wardrobe and experimenting with various shades.

What about how the colors within a necktie work with one another? Multicolored neckties fall into two categories – ties whose colors complement one another and ties whose colors do not, because the tie designer/manufacturer did not create the tie with a discerning eye. The colors on the computer screen are not always true to real life, so I purposely choose to buy my ties through businesses whose judgment I trust. I can rest assured that 99% of the time my ties’ color combinations will be solid and complementary, even if the colors aren’t quite the same as what I saw online. Cheap ties and novelty neckwear often violate basic color combination rules and should be avoided.

Finally, it should be noted that 8% of men are colorblind and have great difficulty matching clothing. If you fall into this category, the best advice I can give is to ensure your wardrobe is interchangeable and to consider working with a trusted clothier, friend, or image consultant who can ensure you’re not wearing color combinations that clash.

Necktie Pattern

Matching neckties with strong patterns is the hardest neckwear issue for most men. This difficulty is directly reflected in neckwear sales – strongly patterned ties sell infrequently when compared to solid or semisolid ties. I rarely see them worn, and even then they are almost never worn to full effect. However when worn correctly, these rarely used neckwear gems can breathe life into an otherwise dull outfit.

The key to wearing patterned neckwear is to first ensure that the tie’s own colors do not clash (see above as to how to avoid this) and second, that the tie’s patterns do not conflict with any patterns in your shirt or suit.

When combining a patterned tie with a shirt and suit ensemble, ensure the pattern is not already present in the clothing. A thin-striped shirt should not be combined with a thin-striped tie; however, that same thin-striped shirt will work well with a polka dot, solid, or even thick regimental striped tie as the patterns are not similar. The reasoning behind all this is that similar patterns placed close to each other can create distorted visual effects such as the illusion of movement.

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