When it comes to putting together a shirt and tie combination, some gents seem to be born with an uncanny ability to just put together great ensembles of colors, patterns and texture. Many other men however often fall into one of two camps: 1) the “I will wear the same exact combinations and hope no one notices” camp and 2) the “I will point my fingers at my closet, close my eyes and spin around 5 times to see what the day has in store for me” camp. These poor chaps are intimidated by the mere thought of having to think about their wardrobe, relegating their choices into a safe play of recurring solids or the plausible deniability of random selection.
Looking for a shortcut to great combinations? The concepts below will help you understand how to put together your own suit and tie combinations, but if you’re just looking for examples, check out our story on Suit and Tie Combinations for All Seasons.
And while there’s nothing wrong with laying it up for the occasional luck shot…sometimes, you’ve got to have a better game plan. And you sir, are reading this because you are a student of the game. So in this article, we’re going to provide you with a few basics tips that will help you refine your approach to picking out some winning shirt and tie combinations. Start here and you’ll be a pattern-matching veteran in no time.
Combination #1: Solid-on-Solid
Before we get to pattern mixing, let’s touch on a classic, low-risk combo: the solid tie and solid shirt combo. For the most part, doing this is nearly fail safe, but there are definitely ways to do it better. Here are two ways to approach solid on solid matching:
- Use contrasting color combinations. No surprise here – you’ve probably already been doing this. If you’re rocking a foundation shirt like a solid white or a solid light blue or pink, you can pretty much wear any color solid tie you like. It’s a great way to make your outfit pop with a bit more color.
- Use analogous color combinations. This is a very classy, sleek look that many overlook. Wearing a solid light blue shirt? Try it with a solid dark blue tie. Pink shirt? Go with a red, maroon or purple tie. Just keep it in the fam’ (color wise). While doing this won’t have the same “pop” as a contrasting color combination, it’s a minimalistic pairing that symbolizes a certain level of sartorial sophistication.
Like all aspects of style, gaining an eye for color is simply a matter of trial and error and finding what works for you. Experiment with online color matching tools like color explorer to find hues and analogous colors for your tie or shirt color. And one thing to avoid? Wearing a color combination where the color in your respective shirt and tie combo are too close – e.g., avoid wearing a light solid shirt with a light solid tie. Furthermore, never wear a tie that is the same exact color as your shirt unless you’re casting for some teen vampire movie. Why color with just one crayon when you’ve got 95 other colors in the box?
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Combination #2: Solid-on-Pattern / Pattern-on-Solid
Going with a solid-on-pattern requires a bit more thought than just matching solids, but rest assured that you’re still swimming in the kiddy pool. In fact, a solid tie on a patterned shirt is one of the easiest ways to work patterns into your outfit. Here’s the simple but key tip to pulling this off: match the color of your solid tie to the color family of one or more of the colors in your shirt pattern. In the above image, the dark blue in our Solid Blue Tie works perfectly with the blue checks in the shirt.
The reverse, a patterned tie on a solid shirt operates on the same principle. Just match one or more of the colors within the pattern of the tie to the color family of the solid shirt. Wax on, wax off and go practice these basic combinations!
Combination #3: Pattern-on-Pattern
Now that you’ve snatched the pebble from our hand, on to something with a bit more flare. Mixing a patterned tie with a patterned shirt isn’t rocket science, but some guys seem to stray from it because they’re afraid they’ll end up looking like this. Step one to avoiding a disaster like this? Skip the paisley shirts. We’re going to show you a few examples of patterned ties with patterned shirts that actually work. We’ll also explain how you can apply some simple tips to make successful pattern-on-pattern combos as easy as bacon and eggs.
- Vary pattern type. Avoid having the same pattern appear in both your shirt and your tie. If your shirt has polka dots, don’t pair it with a dotted tie. Easy.
- Vary pattern size/scale. In general, the patterns on your tie should be larger and bolder than the patterns on your shirt. For example, a thick, wide-striped tie would work with a thin-striped shirt, but not a thick, wide-striped shirt. A big check would mix well with a smaller check. Having patterns of the same size (and/or type) can result in an overly busy look.
- Match a detail in the tie with the dominant color of the shirt. Determine the dominant color in your shirt and look for a tie with some of that color within the pattern. For example, white and blue, finely checkered shirt (that looks predominantly blue) would pair nicely with a brown (or any other base color) tie with bold blue stripes.
Here you see an example of using a dotted pattern on the tie and complementing it with a gingham pattern in the shirt. The differing pattern type and size won’t confuse the eyes while the light blue of the gingham shirt ties in nicely with the navy in the tie.
Here you have a boldly striped tie against a fine grid check shirt. The smaller grid pattern of the shirt works well in creating a more muted canvas for the louder stripes of the tie while the fine stripes of lavender in the tie pick up the purple in the shirt.
Lastly, here you see a plaid tie with a striped shirt. The shirt employs lines, but is fine enough to not clash with the busy plaid pattern of the tie. The fact that the lines of the shirt go vertically while the plaid lines move diagonally also add to the visual balance and prevent your coworkers from seeking out optical illusions in your shirts.
Matching in the Context of Suits
For those of you stylish gents who are already thinking about adding a pinstripe, windowpane or other patterned suit to the mix, here’s a simple tip:
Dress one of the three basic elements (suit, shirt and tie) as a plain or solid. While some men can in fact pull off three highly patterned pieces, you’re going to have less headaches adhering to this guideline. Having a neutral canvas as the base such as a solid charcoal suit is a great way to complement a highly patterned shirt and tie and avoid running the risk of looking like you’re trying too hard.
Above all, remember this: learn these as simple guidelines to form your own stylistic expression. If you think you can pull off that pattern-on-pattern-on-pattern combo, then go for it. Play around with different combinations and above all else, don’t be afraid to discover and express something unique! As Oscar Wilde once said, “You have to be yourself, everyone else is taken.”