For those unfortunate enough to be confined to suits for the majority of their working week, fashion has to take a back seat. Corporate suits can often be mind-numbingly dull and the sea of miserable faces trudging to work every morning is, to my mind, a mix of both work-based hatred and the realisation that they really don’t know how to match up their shirts and ties.
Getting creative with your shirt and tie combinations is one of the best ways to showcase your love of fashion and style within a formal environment, but they’re extremely easy to get wrong. After all, colours and patterns can be confusing individually, but when you start mixing them together, all hell can break loose.
With this in mind, today we bring you our basic guide to men’s shirt and tie pairings…
Colour Wheel Basics
The concept of colour matching continues to stump even the most stylish of men. But the problem you have with combining shirts and ties is that, unless you want your work wardrobe to be very, very dull, you will at some point have to tackle the issue of colour – getting to grips with it once and for all.
The best place to start is with the colour wheel:
The colour wheel above offers you a visual representation of every shade and, more importantly, the similar, complementary and contrasting colours of each. It’s all very simple really: the sections on either side of the colour in question are similar, directly opposite is complementary and contrasting hues are separated by three sections of the wheel.
For example, red is opposite green, making it a complementary colour; purple and orange are either side of red, making them similar colours; and both yellow and blue are three sections away from red, making them contrasting. Yet, even armed with this knowledge, combining colours is easier said than done.
When it comes to shirts and ties, it’s often easier to pair contrasting colours than it is complementary. For example, a mid-blue shirt, burgundy (red is a contrasting hue) tie and navy suit combination is one that every man can pull off.
Complementary colours are harder to match because wearing them full strength is sometimes too much for the human eye to bear. The key here is to vary the shades, such as a light blue shirt with a burnt orange tie. Of course, this will already be second-nature to you because your tie should always be a darker shade than your shirt, without exception.
Of course, the easiest and safest option is to just combine a bold coloured/patterned tie with a crisp white shirt – but where’s the fun in that? Experiment with colour mixing and you will quickly learn what works and what doesn’t, eventually creating some go-to combinations you can reach for on a daily basis.
Choosing Your Ties
Always buy nice ties. Nice doesn’t necessarily mean expensive, but it does mean tasteful. If you have terrible taste in ties then there is very little that we, or anyone else for that matter, can do for you.
As a personal preference, I avoid anything too shiny or smooth. Textured and matte finishes make ties much easier to wear and help deflect attention to your outfit as a whole.
Don’t know whether to opt for a standard or skinny width tie? As a general rule, your tie should be as close to the width of your suit lapel as possible.
These are your wardrobe workhorses and default option during the working week. Essential shirt colours that every man should own include white, sky blue and pink.
Important Note: throughout this guide we will be considering all shirt and tie combinations independently of your choice of suit. The majority of you will be confined to plain, neutral suits in navy, grey or charcoal during the working week anyway, which will help anchor any of the pairings advocated in the article.
As previously mentioned, white shirts offer you maximum versatility. No matter if you opt for a preppy stripe, tartan check or knitted navy version, you can combine almost any tie with a white shirt.
If you are going down the safe white shirt route, make sure your tie is full of character – whether that is provided by pattern, colour or an interesting texture.
White Shirt Lookbook
Blue/Pink Shirt Guidelines
Shirts in blue or pink are where you can show off your colour matching prowess. Below you will find a few go-to combinations for each:
Sky Blue Shirts:
• Try darker patterned or textured ties in the same family. A knitted navy version or navy polka dot tie is ideal.
• Orange is a complementary colour and a burnt orange tie works particularly well with a sky blue shirt.
• Both yellow and red are contrasting hues, so ties in shades of burgundy/oxblood or mustard/gold look great set against this shirt colour. These could be solid ties or mixed with navy (think club stripes).
• Green is a similar colour to blue – try a dark forest green tie if you want to make a refined and effortless statement.
Pale Pink Shirts:
• Similar colours include mauve and purple. Opt for any of these in a nice deep shade and you can’t go wrong.
• Green is complementary, and a matte khaki shade is a bold choice that will really separate your look from the crowd.
• Blue is a contrasting colour and we would argue that nothing looks better than a pink shirt with a predominantly navy tie, whether solid or patterned.
Blue/Pink Shirt Lookbook
Printed shirts are where things start to get interesting. Standard colour rules still apply for classic striped shirts but because you have already introduced a pattern, the design you opt for on your tie needs a bit more consideration.
Block-colour ties are the obvious go-to – whether in similar, contrasting or complementary shades – but when you want to branch out into pattern mixing there is just one key rule to remember: always vary the size/scale of the patterns you combine.
For example, thin striped shirts should be combined with larger patterned ties and wide striped shirts (think butcher’s stripe) should be paired with smaller, more intricate motifs.
Stripes also work perfectly well with other stripes, again, so long as they aren’t the same size. For instance, why not try a thin pencil stripe shirt with a larger club stripe tie? Pick out the colour of the pencil stripe with one of the colours on your tie and it suddenly helps pull your entire look together – showing you are a man that pays attention to detail.
Another great tip here is to simply vary the orientation of the stripes you combine. For instance, a vertical striped shirt can be paired with a horizontal or diagonal striped tie. This offers a clear contrast and helps to differentiate each piece.
Otherwise, polka dots, paisley and geometric designs are all fair game. It all comes down to personal preference, so try out different pattern combinations and see what encapsulates your personality and approach to style best.
Striped Shirts: Tie Combinations Lookbook
You may immediately think that combining a check shirt with a patterned tie would follow a very similar set of rules to those of the stripe shirt. Not so. While stripes require a bigger or smaller pattern depending on their width, a check shirt always requires a bigger pattern on your tie to avoid it becoming lost.
The exception here is a window pane check, which is similar to a pencil stripe and offers much more flexibility due to the scale being so large and the pattern so subtle.
Small gingham check shirts are the most traditional and dress code-friendly on the market, yet those who work in strict formal offices may even find this type of shirt too casual.
If your gingham shirt features a classic white base, bear in mind the colour matching principles outlined above and opt for a tie that is in a similar, contrasting or complementary shade to the check colour. For example, a navy tie looks great with a sky blue or pink gingham check shirt.
If you opt for larger tartan/plaid versions, the key is to pick out one of the more subtle base tones in your shirt with a solid, block-colour tie. Just remember to keep the shade darker than the colour present in the shirt itself.
Stripes are perfectly acceptable to combine with check shirts. Choose a tie with a big bold stripe so that it can easily compete with the pattern on the shirt and, again, make sure that one of the colours present in the stripes is the same as one of the secondary hues used on the shirt. Polka dots can also work well if you follow the same principles.
Avoid more intricate patterns such as paisley or geometrics as they are likely to create an optical illusion for anyone taking a cursory look at your unfortunate shirt and tie combination.
Checked Shirts: Tie Combinations Lookbook
Shirts and ties are a difficult business – get it wrong and you’re the laughing stock of your office; get them consistently right and suddenly you’re seen as the best dressed gent in the company.
Practice and experimentation is the only sure-fire way to make sure that you get it bang on every time, but the general guidelines above should help you on your way.
Make sure you let us know your top tips and favourite shirt and tie combinations in the comments section below…