Matching ties to suits and shirts has confounded even the best of us over the years. While women were growing up talking about guys and fashion, we were playing sports, watching sports and hanging out with the guys.
No wonder we didn’t develop a keen sense of style and understanding of how bringing together various elements can make a clothing ensemble look harmonious and complete. And matching ties to suits and shirts? We’ve barely just started getting comfortable with tying our neckties, let alone matching them to our suits and shirts.
There is the whole issue of color, and then there is that of pattern. How on earth are we supposed to bring these varied elements together to create a harmonized suit, shirt and tie ensemble?
The answer is to break it down into three categories:
- Tonal Considerations
Bring all of these elements together, and you will be well on your way towards maximizing your dapper potential.
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The first variable to consider when matching ties to your suits and shirts is color. A great place to start our discovery of color is a color wheel. A color wheel serves as a tool for choosing colors that form a harmonious scheme. Harmony with respect to color, just as with anything else, is achieved when there is a sense of order and balance. In the case of color, this is often accomplished through choosing a mix of warm and cool colors.
As we can see with the color wheel here, it is broadly divided into two broad-based camps: cool and warm colors. Cool colors are associated with calm, such as blue, green and purple. Warm colors exhibit vibrance, such as red, orange and yellow.
When looking at different color schemes, we will start with the most subdued color schemes and work towards bolder color schemes.
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Monochromatic color schemes: A monochromatic color scheme achieves balance through matching shades (darker variants) and tints (lighter variants) of the same color. With the color wheel above, shades and tints of blue include navy blue and light blue. Hence, an often popular look that is achieved with using just a “cool” color scheme involves a light blue shirt paired with a navy tie, with a charcoal grey suit. While I would advise against using a monochromatic scheme with warmer colors, such as a red tie against a pink shirt (generally considered very bold!), a monochromatic scheme using cool colors provides a muted, elegant look without the need for balance with warmer colors, such as later color schemes discussed.
Similar color schemes: A similar color scheme is a great way to up your dapper game without introducing both warm and cool colors. Similar color schemes include analogous colors that are close to each other on the color wheel. An example of this is to pair a navy blue tie (shade of blue) with a lighter green shirt. Pairing a solid tie with a small, subtle checkered shirt with a similar color scheme creates both color and pattern contrast.
Triadic Color Scheme: This is where things get interesting. A triadic color scheme involves choosing colors that form a triangle, e.g., blue/red/yellow, and purple/green/orange. While both of these color schemes involve warm and cool colors, the contrast is not as strong as with a complementary color scheme. This slightly muted but highly attractive color scheme is a great way to introduce color into your wardrobe. For many gentlemen, triadic color schemes are not something that they have experimented with in the past. A well balanced triadic color scheme involves wearing a red tie against a blue shirt (a mustard yellow tie works as well).
The Dark Knot Tip: Have one of these triadic colors be the dominant color of your tie, and have the color of your shirt as a background color in your tie. An example of this is the tie and shirt combination below, with a blue shirt and red and navy (shade of blue) tie. Picture this with a solid charcoal grey suit—sounds perfect to me!
Complementary Color Schemes: These are the boldest of the color schemes, pairing the most strikingly contrasting colors that are directly across from each other on the color wheel. As a point of reference, blue’s direct contrasting color is orange, red’s complementary color is green and yellow’s complementary color is purple. Hence, complementary colors form the strongest contrast. It is best to understand this through the basic concept of warm and cool colors that form the basis of the color wheel (as discussed earlier). Because we are pairing warm and cool colors that offer the strongest visual contrast, these colors also provide the most pop. While red and green should be reserved for Christmas, and yellow and purple are worn by only the very bold, combining a blue shirt with an orange tie is a perfect way to step right into bold territory. Add in some textural variation (will discuss more below) as with the example below, and you will have upped your dapper game exponentially.
The Dark Knot Tip: When first starting out with matching ties to your suits and shirts, it is best to work with the color schemes below and to gradually work your way up to a complementary color scheme. Matching complementary colors offers a bold look and may not be something you would want to try at the outset. For those of you more experienced in dabbling with color and pattern mixing and matching, a complementary color scheme is a great way to take your level of dapperness up a notch.
As with color matching, you should use tie patterns that create the most contrast with your shirts and suits. As a general rule, when you are starting out, avoid mixing and matching three different patterns. If done incorrectly, this can create a jarring effect.
When matching tie patterns to your suits and shirts, you want to keep two considerations in mind:
Type of Pattern – Improving your aesthetic with different patterns will certainly create intrigue. While stripes can work against a checkered shirt, mixing up patterns completely such as a paisley or polka dot tie against a striped or checkered shirt can help break up the lines on your shirts or suits (if your suits are striped or checkered) and create a completely different look. As mentioned above, paisley and polka dot ties can work perfectly.
Pattern Proportion – The more important of the two elements, pattern proportion is absolutely critical when matching tie patterns to your suits and shirts. While patterns can be similar, e.g., a striped tie against a striped shirt, it is absolutely imperative that pattern proportion differs, e.g., a wider striped tie against a striped shirt.
With the above having been established, what are some of the different ways we can encompass pattern variation? For gentlemen just starting to introduce pattern variety into your wardrobe, your best option would be to start with one of the following:
One Pattern and Two Solids. A solid shirt with a tie with an appropriate color combination (monochromatic, similar, triadic or complementary color schemes) and a solid charcoal grey or navy blue suit will ensure that you look both elegant and dapper.
Two Patterns and One Solid. For those of you that are starting to engage with pattern matching, two patterns and one solid are a great place to start. To make things interesting, I would stick to using the two patterns with the shirt and tie, and ideally keep the suit solid. Because a shirt’s pattern generally has more detail than that of a suit, with more vibrant color and pattern schemes, matching the right tie to your shirt will really allow your combination to pop.
Once you have experimented with the above, why not try three different patterns in the various degrees below?
If you are a newly initiated into Sartorial Land, similar patterns can help alleviate some of that confusion. Similar patterns provide both congruency and an element of contrast at the same time. Narrow striped shirts are well complemented by wider striped ties. Similarly (pun intended), a window pane suit as in the picture below can be well complemented by a plaid tie and a small checkered shirt.
The Dark Knot Tip: Well, less of a tip and more of a necessity here – as mentioned above, if matching patterns, please ensure that pattern proportion is varied. The importance of this is compounded when wearing similar patterns. So in the example below, we can see three different proportions of checkered patterns, which is what makes the ensemble work!
Two Different Patterns
Two different patterns can work fantastically (can mean two different patterns over your three-piece ensemble), provided that there is an element of contrast with regard to proportions. For example, a small animal print tie would not contrast well with a small checkered shirt (similar pattern proportions). However, a wider striped tie, on a narrow pinstriped suit and a smaller checkered shirt could produce a pronounced effect. Or as in the case below, a polka dot tie against a checkered shirt and suit.
Bringing it All Together With Three Patterns
Mixing and matching three patterns requires a discerning eye. If pulled off correctly, it can be a head-turner. With three different patterns, you need to maintain proportions and effect so that you don’t overdo congruency and you don’t exaggerate differences.
Matching Ties to Shirts Based on Pattern Scale
An alternative way to consider matching tie patterns to your suits and shirts is to look at tie pattern versus shirt pattern. While I have emphasized the importance of pattern proportion earlier, we can take a look at a few examples of how this plays out with specific reference to shirts and ties.
Solid Colored Shirt With Patterned Tie
If your shirt is a solid color, find a tie with the same color in the background. Ideally, avoid wearing a solid tie against a solid shirt. While this look is understated yet elegant, a patterned tie will introduce variety into your suit and give it an extra element of flair. For example, if you are wearing a light pink shirt, choosing an abstract tie with the same shade of pink as the secondary color of the tie will create a dapper, harmonized look.
Smaller Scale Shirt With a Larger Patterned Tie
If your shirt pattern is small scale, you can wear a bolder patterned tie. This will contrast well with your subdued shirt pattern.
Larger Scale Shirt With a Smaller Patterned Tie
If your shirt pattern is larger scale, you can wear a smaller, intricate tie pattern.
Generally, it is easier to start with smaller scale patterns closer to your body and work your way up. This will help create the desired level of contrast, with your tie visually popping the strongest.
Tonal considerations refer to how contrasting your shirts and ties are as stand-alone items of clothing. A low contrast shirt refers to a shirt that appears more subtle in appearance. These shirts are predominantly designed with one major and one minor color, with the minor color not being overtly prominent. Hence, from afar, these shirts often look like a single tone shirt. However, upon closer inspection, the subtle designs embedded within these shirts, such as faint pinstripes or herringbone stripes, can be seen more clearly.
Pairing a higher tonal tie with a lower tonal shirt will go a long way in achieving that appealing aesthetic, such as is the case below. While you can opt for a high tonal shirt with a lower tonal tie, the effect here will be much less pronounced. Similarly, a high tonal tie on a high tonal shirt can seem overbearing, while a low tonal tie on a low tonal shirt can appear extremely dull.
Ok, so that was a ton of information to digest. Before I go into summarizing the main points of this article, if there is one takeaway from all of this, is that start with a more muted backdrop for your shirt, and work your way up with your tie and suit. So a lighter colored shirt or a smaller, more subtle patterned shirt will serve as an ideal canvas to pair a higher tonal, larger, darker patterned tie with.
Matching ties to your suits and shirts requires closer examination of three critical components: color theory, pattern mixing and tonal considerations.
When matching colors, a color wheel is a great foundation for understanding the properties of color harmony. A color wheel is essentially divided into two major categories; warm and cooler colors. Cooler colors represent calm (blue, green and purple) while warmer colors represent vibrance (red, orange and yellow).
In terms of color schemes that create contrast, from least to most we have: Monochromatic color schemes (using tints and shades of the same color), similar color schemes (colors that are analogous on the color wheel), triadic color schemes (using colors that form a triangle in the color wheel and hence use both warm and cool colors), and complementary color schemes (use colors that are directly across each other from the color wheel, hence creating the strongest contrast).
When matching tie patterns to your suits and shirts, there are two key elements to pay attention to: pattern type and pattern proportion. Proportion is the most critical. If you are pairing two patterns, irrespective of whether they are similar or different, it is absolutely imperative that pattern proportion is different, so as to create contrast (e.g., wider striped tie against a finely striped shirt).
When first starting out with matching patterns, starting with two patterns and a solid will allow you to build a great foundation upon which you can further your understanding of pattern theory.
When choosing an appropriate necktie, you can create the most visual contrast by picking a shirt with a smaller scaled pattern and match it with a tie with a more broadly spaced pattern.
Pairing a low tonal shirt (muted, and appears as one color from a distance) with a higher tonal tie will accentuate contrast, all while helping you maintain an elegant look.
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