How To Match Your Shirt And Tie
Decode the art of this most complex of sartorial pairings with our definitive guide
It used to be that only “white-collar professionals” such as bankers, lawyers and doctors wore a shirt and tie as a default uniform. But as sartorial standards have smartened up over the past 10 years, men are choosing to wear ties on a daily basis rather than just for special occasions.
It’s usually the choice of tie that gets us into a bind. Many of us can identify a nice one in a line-up, but it’s when we then come to work it into a complete look that we can get stuck. Our rule? It’s a good idea to know exactly what’s in your wardrobe and buy with purpose – finding a tie that will work with the tailoring, knitwear and shirts that you already own.
So how do you know what works and what doesn’t? It’s part science, part art. Follow the definitive guidelines that are illustrated in the six combinations below and you’ll be sure to stand out for all the right reasons.
How to combine scales and patterns
Start with the shirt then choose a tie with a similar colour in its pattern. Pair large patterns with smaller ones so that they visually harmonise rather than “fight” one another. Avoid mixing patterns that have similar proportions (eg, gingham check with narrow stripes). In general, the pattern on your tie should be larger and bolder than the pattern on your shirt. The fine pink stripe in this Drake’s shirt, above, is complemented by the wider pink stripe of the Kingsman tie. In formal tailored looks such as this, keep one of the three basic elements – suit, shirt and tie – plain or solid. While some men can pull off three patterned pieces, it’s a move with a higher level of sartorial difficulty. Note how the plain navy Boglioli suit serves as a neutral canvas to offset the pattern and colour in the shirt and tie and keeps the overall ensemble from looking too busy.
When to match texture and formality
Consider the occasion when selecting texture. Whereas silk ties and dress shirts with a little sheen tend to mean “business”, coarser and more textured fabrics work best with less formal situations. A knitted tie can unlock several dress codes and thus every man should own at least one. It can be dressed up when paired with sharp tailoring (imagine this with a navy blue or charcoal grey suit) or down when worn with chinos and a cardigan, as shown here. This classic combination of knitted navy tie with a button-down chambray shirt would be a smart choice for a job interview – especially if you’re not entirely sure if the expectation is casual or formal.
Make sure everthing is in proportion
You can combine colours and patterns perfectly but if the proportions of your shirt and tie don’t tally, it will throw the whole look off. There are two main factors to consider here. Firstly, your own body shape: if you are slight of stature then a shirt with a large collar or a wide-lapelled jacket can make you look like a kid wearing his dad’s clothes; conversely, if you are stocky then wearing a too skinny tie and collar could make you look bulkier than you are. Secondly, the proportions of collar depth, tie width and lapel should all “agree” with each other. So if you’ve chosen a double-breasted jacket, you would not ideally wear it with a skinny tie and collar. If the tie fabric is thick then the resultant knot will be large and so will require a collar of sufficient depth to accommodate it. A loose tie knot looks slovenly. Sculpt yours neatly using your thumb and middle finger. Then for a stylish flourish, insert your index finger up into the knot from the front as you fix it in place to help create an elegant dimple. If you need more guidance, here’s how to nail a tie dimple.
How to mix tone on tone
In this look, two rather daring patterns are combined: a floral print Boglioli shirt, which almost looks like a polka-dot design from a distance, and a pair of check trousers from Missoni. The complementary hues of blue help to both soften and unite them. The textured silk tie from Kingsman is plain but note that it is a deeper shade of blue than the navy shirt. As a rule, your tie should always be darker than your shirt – a dark shirt worn with a lighter coloured tie looks tacky. A note on tie length: the tip of the tie should just reach the waistband of your trousers when you’re standing straight. We would normally advocate that you do up your top button but dialing down the formality can look stylishly dishevelled – a quirk that Mr Thom Browne has made a trademark.
The art of adding accessories
Tie slide, collar bar, cuff links, pocket square, boutonnèire, bracelets, kitchen sink: like over-seasoning a dish, too many elements can spoil the overall effect. But just a dash of the right amount of accessories can add pep to an otherwise plain ensemble. Just make sure each accessory you choose actually serves its purpose: a collar bar is there to promote a tie knot; a tie slide helps to keep the tie in place on the shirt’s placket. If you choose a pocket square, make sure it does not directly match the tie. When styling this look, we initially included a bold silk handkerchief before deciding that the tonal Lanvin lapel pin added enough of a flourish on its own and the pocket square would have been overkill. If in doubt, adhere to Ms Coco Chanel’s advice on the subject: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory.”
Add a fresh twist to a classic
From the traditional take at Gieves & Hawkes to the contemporary slant at Casley-Hayford, pinstripes are back after years of being marginalised as stereotypically “city boy”. At Saint Laurent, Mr Hedi Slimane has delivered a typically narrow take on a classic pinstripe suit. Notice how the proportions of the shirt and tie agree with the lapel width – and also how their comparative plainness allows the pinstripes to take precedence. Also, consider the tie knot. Mathematicians recently found there are 177,000 ways to tie your tie. Nonsense. For a man of style there is only one: the classic four-in-hand you learnt at school. Do not even think about the stylistic noose around the neck that is the full Windsor.