It’s not always easy getting dressed for work. While it’s usually relatively easy to choose your suit, or a less formal combination of a blazer and chinos, choosing the right shirt and tie can be difficult. You can choose a solid shirt or a patterned one, or a shirt with a unique texture or very little texture at all. And then ties complicate things further. Should your tie match, coordinate with, or contrast with your shirt? Can you wear two patterns at the same time?
While defaulting to the same handful of solid ties may seem safe — and tempting when you don’t want to stand, deliberating, in front of your closet each morning — there’s no reason to play it safe. In fact, if you keep a few guidelines in mind, it’s pretty easy to choose a shirt and tie pairing that hits the sweet spot between the extremes of boring and wild. Read on for a few guidelines to follow.
1. Choose coordinating or complementary colors
Let’s start with the basics: how to pair a solid tie with a solid shirt. In this scenario, all you’re dealing with is color. Your tie should always be darker than your shirt, regardless of whether you’re using patterns or solids. But if you’re going the all-solid route, you have a few options when you’re deciding what colors to wear. The most basic is to choose colors that are within the same family, i.e., a dark blue tie with a light blue shirt, or a burgundy tie with a light pink shirt.
Alternately, you can choose colors that simply coordinate, or complement each other. So, for instance, you could choose a tweedy gray tie to go with that blue shirt, or even consult the color wheel and try a subdued shade of orange with a blue shirt. Or if you’re wearing a pink shirt, try a tan tie. If you’re wearing a light-colored shirt, such as white or light blue, then you can also choose a tie that contrasts with the shirt. This is a classic look, and one where it’s pretty difficult to go wrong. Think a navy blue tie with a white shirt, or a red tie with a blue shirt. Or, if you’re wearing a pale pink shirt, go with a navy tie.
2. Mix patterns and solids
Here’s our next scenario: Either your shirt or your tie will be a solid color while the other will be patterned. A day when you’re wearing a light-colored, solid shirt is a good time to start experimenting with patterned ties. And that’s not as difficult as you might think; just keep in mind the simple color guidelines you learned when looking at how to pair two solid colors. If you’re wearing a blue shirt, consider a repp tie with red and blue stripes. Or if you’re wearing a yellow shirt, consider a navy tie with yellow dots. The key, when you’re pairing a patterned tie with a solid shirt, is to make sure that the tie’s pattern picks up on the color of the shirt, or complements it, to ensure that the look is cohesive.
If you’d prefer to turn the tables and pair a solid tie with a patterned shirt, that’s an easy scenario to figure out, too. If you’re wearing a blue gingham shirt, add a blue tie on top. If you’ve chosen a blue and white striped shirt, that navy tie will work, too, as will a complementary red or gray tie. If you’re wearing a plaid shirt with a number of different colors in the pattern, choose a solid tie in one of those colors or color families to make sure everything looks unified.
3. Combine patterns
Once you’ve nailed the basics, it’s time to experiment with pattern-mixing. While it’s a bad idea to mix two loud, clashing patterns, it’s actually quite easy to combine a patterned shirt with a patterned tie. The rules for doing it well are simple. You’ll need to pay attention to the scale of the patterns, and most of the time you’ll want to choose a tie with a bigger, bolder pattern and a shirt with a smaller, subtler pattern.
If you’re wearing a shirt with thin stripes, you should choose a tie with a large pattern. If you’re wearing a shirt with wide stripes, you should select a tie with a smaller, geometric pattern. In either case, you can pair a striped shirt with a tie that has stripes of a different weight (and repp ties are a great way to go stripe-on-stripe). Polka dots, small paisleys, and other geometric motifs are also fair game with a striped shirt.
With a checked shirt, your tie should feature a bigger pattern than your shirt. A gingham shirt with a white base can be paired with a complementary or contrasting tie. A shirt with a larger plaid or tartan shirt should be paired with a tie that picks up on some of the subtle base tones, usually in a simple pattern like a stripe or dot.
4. Use texture to your advantage
If you still find yourself uncomfortable mixing patterns, there’s a subtler way to add some interest to your shirt and tie pairings. Choose textured ties to add visual depth to your ensemble. A solid repp tie’s ribbed texture, a knitted tie’s unique depth, a tweed tie’s subtle combination of colors, or a wool flannel tie’s texture are each a unique and attractive counterpoint to a solid or patterned shirt.
The great thing about textured ties is that each tie can be paired with a wide variety of shirts. For example, a navy blue knit tie will look equally appropriate with a striped shirt or a checked one. A tweed tie pairs as easily with a solid oxford as it does with a twill shirt. And a solid repp tie will look great with any patterned or solid shirt in a coordinating color.
On that note, while it’s always a good idea to go with classic styles and colors, you should always buy good-quality ties, even if your taste is far from classic. You need to choose ties that will work well with the shirts (and the suits) that you like to wear, and it’s also important to buy neckwear that’s proportioned correctly for you. As you build your wardrobe and experiment with what works for you, assembling great outfits will become second-nature.