Picking a necktie, part 4: My personal philosophies

Note: This is the fourth and final part in a series to help you with picking a necktie. Be sure to read the other parts if you have the time or curiosity.

Color, pattern, texture — those are all more-or-less rules and suggestions for how to pick your necktie. Good guidelines meant to be tested to limits until they become natural in the process.

But as you play with the endless possibilities and gradually build up your neckwear wardrobe, you’ll probably, eventually, devise a set of your own philosophies toward what goes under your collar.

These are mine. I hesitate to call them personal rules or maxims, because they’re so personal to me, my wardrobe and what I’ve found works. So, don’t take them as something everyone — including you — should do.

If I wear a tie, I wear a jacket. Or a cardigan sweater, waistcoat, sweater vest or light coat. I feel like you need a layer on over your shirt if you wear a tie, otherwise it doesn’t look right. The tie isn’t framed by a “V” around your upper middle chest and neck. Something’s just off about that for me.

Neckties do actually serve a purpose: to keep your collar upright under your jacket. Most off-the-rack and cheaper shirting will slouch beneath your jacket without a tie (or button-down collar). A tie keeps you from looking sloppy while wearing a shirt and jacket.

There’s such a thing as “too skinny”, but it’s not the same for everyone. I draw the line at 2.75” for knit ties and 3” for regular ties. I find the skinnier my tie gets, the tougher it is to achieve a great knot and dimple.

Don’t be afraid to go “fat” on tie widths. I think that if your lapels are a bit average sized (or wider), then why not try ties that are 3.5” in width or larger? They look imposing and knot gorgeously with even a simple four-in-hand.

Silk knit ties are great for travel. Some people don’t like to wear them with suits, but I often pack them for when I’m traveling for work. You don’t have to worry about creasing them in your luggage and I’ve gotten by with packing just one navy silk knit for an entire week.

More than half of my current tie collection consists of two types: silk knits and navy ties. The silk knits are often where I turn toward for when I need something colorful, with texture and yet a bit more casual. The navy ties are often what I wear to work. I buy solid navy ties in a variety of fabrics, widths and sometimes with conservative patterns on them. I have over a dozen ties where the dominant color is navy and find they work wonderfully into my daily uniform.

Find a few cheap but good solid ties to keep as an emergency necktie. Maybe keep one in your car, your briefcase or your office. Don’t buy anything fancy or expensive — keep it plain and cheap. Same with a plain white dress shirt. You’ll never worry about spilling something on yourself again.

There are two types of ties that get attention. You have those that are loud with their pattern and radiate brightly across the room. Often it seems as if the wearer is using the tie to signal to everyone that he exists — and often upon closer inspection the tie looks kind of cheap. I feel this way about “designer” or especially “novelty” ties, as if one’s sense of humor can be displayed on silk (or polyester). To me, this is the wrong way to draw someone’s attention. The preferred way is to wear a quality tie with subtle details that are only apparent up close to a trained eye, moving uniquely with the wearer’s outfit, integrated perfectly. You wouldn’t know it across the room, but you’d definitely notice it if you were close enough for a conversation. If you want to make an impression with your neckwear, then do it from only several feet away.

When buying new, there’s often a pricepoint where quality does jump significantly, but there’s often a plateau of diminishing returns where you’re probably just paying for a brand name sewed on the back. I have a hard time telling people what they should spend on a tie, but I know that I personally haven’t regretted any of my “expensive” tie purchases. Although, I’ve gotten equal satisfaction with finding steals of equal quality on eBay and thrift stores.

Think about how a tie fits in your wardrobe when buying a new one. I’ve seen a lot of really cool neckties that I would love to own, however, they don’t fit with my wardrobe at all and I’d rarely wear them. There’s often a reason why something is the “least-worn” item in your wardrobe.

Bowties aren’t for me. I have one that I wear with my tuxedo, that’s it. Nothing against people who like wearing bowties and I can think of instances where I might wear one, but I just would rather wear a tie. I like having that length of silk laying down the length of my chest.

For knots: four-in-hands for silk knits and button-down collars. And once in a while I’ll use a half-Windsor, because that’s the one my father taught me.

I don’t think of wearing a tie as “dressing up”, despite what others might think. You can wear a tie casually or formally. You can have fun wearing a tie, or wear one with seriousness. There’s enough variety out there to fit almost every occasion and environment.


Picking a necktie, part 3: Texture

Note: This is the third part in a series to help you with picking a necktie. Be sure to read the other parts if you have the time or curiosity.

At this point, you should be easily coordinating or matching while picking a necktie based on color and experimenting with picking a necktie by pattern — perhaps mixing stripes and checks and polka dots. You’re getting into some really cool, dandy-level combinations (or perhaps finding your monochrome look) and wondering how to make this whole thing more complicated and interesting.

So, let’s talk a bit about textures in a necktie. The average necktie is fairly standard, satin or reppe in silk. Nothing too terribly unusual and kind of flat. Not that there’s anything wrong with simplicity in texture, because it enables a lot of interesting prints and patterns to be used on its surface. But sometimes you want your necktie to have a texture to it that provides a visual difference.

Why would you want a textural difference? For one, it helps add some dimension to your necktie to diversify it from the other relatively flat surfaces of your jacket and shirt. If you’re wearing a worsted wool, flannel or chino-cotton jacket, then you’ve got a very plain surface that’s lacking depth. So, the necktie is a great place to add some visual complexity in that respect.

Here’s a fairly common sight: a worsted wool suit with a cotton dress shirt. Now, there wouldn’t be anything wrong with wearing a solid reppe silk necktie with this outfit with a chunky knot and a beautiful dimple. But why not play with the edges a bit and use the necktie as a place to get some of that textural contrast? I’ve paired this with a navy grenadine silk necktie, whose weave creates hills and valleys. It’s a more interesting and luxurious look than if you were to go with a solid satin or reppe tie. You see so many people in boring suits and boring shirts in the world, but if you were to have your suit properly fitted you’d be a step above. And if you were to introduce a simple tweak like this, you’d be a league above most while still wearing something very conservative.

Another reason to take an interest in texture is to have seasonally appropriate neckwear. While there’s nothing wrong with having some all-season neckties that can work in any situation, it certainly never hurts to have seasonal neckties to go with your seasonal clothing.

For the spring and summer, look for ties made from seersucker, madras, linen or raw silks. All of these look great with summer jackets made of similar materials. Depending on your style, you can either get these in fairly sober colors and patterns, or go the route of brighter color palettes and whimsical patterns. Either way, these ties tend to be more casual because of their materials, just like jackets in these materials would be. Can you mix these ties into more “serious” outfits? Maybe, but I certainly wouldn’t try it on something like a job interview or testifying in a hearing. 

For the colder months of fall and winter, get out the heftier and warmer fabrics. Ties made of wool flannel, cashmere and tweed will go nicely with jackets made of the same fabrics. Again, much of the seasonal suggestions for the warmer months apply when it comes to pairing these elements. The palette will probably feature more earth tones and patterns will feature classic checks, herringbones and tartan plaids. The one thing I do think goes particularly well with heavy tweed jackets is a knitted silk tie. Yes, this is more of an all-season tie coming to bat here, but I just really like the contrast of the shiny silk against the bland donegal tweed, yet you also have the three-dimensional effect of the knitted silk that works in a way I don’t think other flatter silk ties would. For a similar reason, this is why I recommend using silk pocket squares during the colder months with your heavy cloths — the contrast is very high, but looks great.

When it comes to satin, shiny neckties — solid or patterned — I feel they have a special place during the evening. During the day they’re too bright and flat, and I think the hours of sunlight allows you the opportunity to wear your more casual, texturally deep fabrics around your neck because the light allows these subtleties to be seen easier. The evening, however, and it’s low light is where satin ties look much nicer, taking what little light there is and reflecting it back to your eyes. I think this is why evening wear for men has satin facing on the lapels and benefits from a satin bowtie. 

For the example above, I’ve paired a patterned satin silk tie with a black, wool, double-breasted blazer. The wool flannel is fairly flat, but the satin works in high contrast against it. I’ve worn this several times while going out in the evening and it’s become a bit of a go-to during the cooler months. It’d be tempting to wear a solid silk knit in midnight navy or black, but I don’t think it works as well. Satin’s a bit flashy, but I think it’s at home during the hours of dark.

In summary:

Texture can bring visual depth to your otherwise flat outfit to elevate its complexity. It can help solidify a seasonal outfit through fabrics and color palette. And it can be used to help differentiate dressing for the day and the evening. Contrasting textures are often as important as complimentary textures.

If you want to learn more about types of neckties, The Necktie Series at Put This On written by dieworkwear is a fundamental resource to give you an overview (and tell you where to buy some great neckwear).

Tomorrow: personal philosophies.

Previously: patterns.


Picking a necktie, part 2: Pattern

Note: This is the second part in a series to help you with picking a necktie. Be sure to read the other parts if you have the time or curiosity.

After you’ve wrapped your head around picking a necktie based on color, then it’s a good time to talk the other obvious thing most people see when glancing at your neckwear: the pattern.

I’m not going to discuss the use of solids here. It’s fairly obvious: you can put a solid necktie with anything, whether the shirt and jacket are variations of solids or patterns. Likewise, if you’re wearing just solids, then picking a patterned necktie to go with your outfit is perfectly fine.

What’s worth discussing is the mixing of patterns in the various parts of your outfit. Notice: the focus here isn’t just on the necktie, but rather the outfit as a whole. You should keep in mind the patterns of each element: shirt, tie, square, jacket.

Because of my limited shirt and tie selection, there’s no way I could go over every single possibility you might encounter, but hopefully by discussing each of these looks you’ll get a better idea of the weird mental calculations to make when mixing patterns together.

Stripes & crests vs. checks:

We might as well start with what I wore. While I won’t get too much into color again, it’s worth noting that I chose to color match the tie and shirt here, but kept the shades different. In regards to mixing patterns, this actually blends three patterns together: crests (or what you could call a repeating “dot” or “geometric” pattern if a different symbol were to be used), stripes and checks.

When you have a check pattern, I feel it’s good to go with one of two routes: a tie whose primary color is different from the dominant color of the check and features a stripe that references the color of the check — hopefully with the stripe being significantly smaller in size than the “stripe” of the primary color.

The other route I like to take with check patterns, especially gingham, is to have a tie that has a repeating “dot” pattern on a grid. I feel this brings a high contrast. This tie arranges crests in place of dots along a diagonal, which works nicely. Despite keeping the tie in the same color as the shirt, you get some distinct visual separation from the tie and shirt.

Dots vs. checks:

This is another (perhaps clearer) example of using a “dots” arrangement on a tie to pattern mix against checks. The repetition of the dots mimics the repetition of the check pattern, however, it contrasts not just in terms of shape, but of alignment. Notice how the dots are arranged on a grid pattern that’s been rotated on a 45-degree angle to the axis. You have two otherwise orderly patterned elements now at direct conflict with each other visually. This helps distinguish the two elements to the eye and yet manages to balance the look.

Paisley vs. checks:

Another option to pair with a checked shirt (or a bengal striped shirt) is a paisley tie. Again, notice I’m staying with the same color, but varying the shades of the tie and shirt. The paisley has a huge pattern contrast with the grid-like gingham. Why do I think this works? Let’s take a look at a similar example below.

Floral vs. checks:

This outfit actually manages to mix three patterns: gingham checks, floral and dots (on the square). When you have a chaotic pattern, I often find it’s good to bring some order to your outfit by introducing strong patterns that are uniform in nature. Checks, grids, evenly-spaced stripes and dots all help contrast the randomness with some visual normality. The point is to bring some balance.

It’s for this reason that I think it’s dangerous to wear a chaotic necktie in paisley (or worse: a Jerry Garcia design) on a solid suit with a solid shirt and a no square (or a solid one). You have nothing to counterbalance that out-of-control element and frame it. The print just gets the run of the solid-palette yard and takes over. Visually, it’s distressing to witness and often I think it’s a sign of an unsophisticated dresser who says, “Oh, I’m totally going to wear this wacky, crazy, cool tie!” and seeks to make that something that will get him noticed. You’ll often find these people wearing novelty, cartoon or “holiday print” ties. Or worse, ones designed by Ed Hardy.

Stripes vs. stripes:

Beginner advice often says to avoid “stripes on stripes”, but don’t pay that much attention. You can have stripes on stripes — but you want to avoid having stripes of the same width on both your shirt and tie. Basically, if you have a pinstriped shirt, then avoid wearing a tie that also has pinstripes. Got a bengal striped shirt? Then don’t wear a tie with equally wide stripes as the shirt. My advice is to just know what kind of striped shirts you have and then buy striped ties that have a much more varied pattern.

Stripes vs. checks:

The rules here are somewhat similar to the stripes-on-stripes rules: try to vary the proportion of your stripes and your checks in each element. The checks on the tie are larger than the stripe width on the shirt. You want visual disparity in terms of proportion when playing with these patterns which are composed of linear elements. The eye shouldn’t have a hard time telling them apart.

Checks vs. checks:

Oh sh*t! It’s just checks on checks on checks! A houndstooth check shirt with a Prince of Wales check tie with a windowpane check jacket. Again, the way to make this work is to not only vary the proportion of the different check patterns, but to also vary the types of checks being used.

Super-mixing patterns:

One of the hardest things to do is manage to bring together four unique patterns together in an outfit. Like what’s going on above. It’s easier to do if you stick to a monochrome theme, but it looks even dandier if you go for several colors at once. Definitely not for beginners, but it’s worth giving it a shot to teach yourself about pattern and color mixing/matching. It’s not something I do often — frankly, my mind isn’t that alert in the morning.

In summary:

You can either mix or match patterns, but you should try to vary the proportionality and size when matching (or even mixing, but it’s not as necessary when mixing). Keep in mind color rules while thinking about patterns. Tame chaotic patterns with orderly elements. Try to achieve visual balance.

If you want to really learn a lot more about pattern mixing (and about just every single topic in menswear), I suggest picking up Alan Flusser’s “Dressing the Man”, which goes over this topic quite nicely.

Tomorrow: textures.

Previously: colors.


Picking a necktie, part 1: Color

Note: This is the first part in a series to help you with picking a necktie. Be sure to read the other parts if you have the time or curiosity.

Arguably a fundamental piece of knowledge when it comes to choosing a necktie, the color (or colors) you choose to put around your neck can serve various purposes.

I’m going to go through a few permutations here:

  • Monochrome color matching your tie to your shirt and jacket:
  • Contrasting the your tie to your jacket and shirt:
  • Matching your tie to your shirt:
  • Contrasting your tie to your shirt:
  • Matching your tie to your jacket:

I think color is a good first topic when it comes to picking a necktie. Before you get into buying patterned or seasonal ties, you’re probably going to want to get a few solid-colored pieces of neckwear that will be more versatile as your wardrobe is still in the incubation stages. While this first part doesn’t necessarily deal exclusively with solid ties, many of the fundamentals can be easily grasped by focusing on color rather than pattern or seasonal texture — both of which topics I’ll cover in the upcoming days. 

I think color is the toughest thing to master for a lot of people, mainly because there are a lot of possibilities about what could work. But once you understand a few guiding principles, it should become easier — and probably easier than pattern and texture.

Monochrome color matching your tie to your shirt and jacket:

Choosing a monochromatic color scheme, where all the colors you’re wearing are various shades and hues of the same color, is probably one of the simplest ways to pick an appropriate necktie. It’s also one of the easiest ways to dress yourself. Pick a color, get a jacket/suit, shirt, tie and square that all fits in that color.

That’s what I’m doing today: using the color blue as a common theme for all the elements to follow. The jacket is a mid-range blue, the shirt goes a bit lighter. The tie darker than both. The pocket square echoes the shirt’s shade and its border mirrors the contrasting blade of the tie.

While this is relatively simple to illustrate with solids, it’s worth looking at a monochromatic scheme with patterns as well. 

Using a monochrome approach with patterns means finding the dominant color in each element. Again, I’ve picked the color blue. Notice that it doesn’t mean all elements must be void of all other colors. Neutrals — grey, black, white — can be introduced and not upset the balance. Patterns can also be used, but keeping with letting one color remain dominant throughout.

If you decide to take the monochrome route, just keep in mind that you want to create a high amount of contrast between each element. Maybe keep your shirt on the light side, your tie on the dark side (with perhaps a lighter element) and your jacket somewhere in between. You don’t want to wear a hues too close together, making it impossible for each element to be distinguished. If you’re wondering if you’re doing it right, imagine your photograph was taken in black and white: would you be easily able to see your tie, shirt and jacket’s outlines? Or would they blend together?

Contrasting the your tie to your jacket and shirt:

This is also fairly easy to do. Keep most of your outfit simple, perhaps based around a neutral or monochromatic palette. Then use your tie (and perhaps pocket square) as a way to create a high contrast. Just note that if you do this, then your tie will be distracting away from the rest of what you wear. In some cases, I think this looks great. The example above is a play on the typical “navy blazer, white shirt, red tie”, which always looks good. You could swap that red tie out with almost any other primary or secondary color that’s not blue and have it look fine. Keep the tie simple, with only one other color — perhaps incorporating a color from the shirt or jacket — and it’ll probably work.

Matching your tie to your shirt:

This is probably the first thing many guys think about doing once they get a new shirt with way too many colors and find themselves looking for a tie that “matches” their shirt. Matching is obviously fine — it’s the basis of the monochromatic look, after all — but the problem often comes in when a shirt has a base color (white or blue) with several other colors in its pattern (imagine 1-3 different colored stripes or checks in the pattern). Remember: the more colors in your shirt, the harder it gets to match a tie to it. It’s for this reason I recommend solid-colored shirts or shirts with only two colors — a base color and one accent color.

In the example above, moving away from red, white and blue scheme would be possible, but it’s much easier to use the existing colors in the shirt. Looking at the shirt, the red definitely overpowers the white and blue, so it makes the most sense to downplay the red in the tie (or perhaps exclude it) and promote the white and blue. It’s a bit of team effort here in the part of the square and the tie. The tie’s navy color helps bring out the blue in the shirt, but doesn’t contrast the jacket. The tie’s red stripe hints at the shirt’s main color and also plays to the square’s secondary color. The white stripe acknowledges the shirt and also enables the pocket square to reference it, too.

You can see how this gets really complicated and limiting the more colors you involve in a scenario like this. Can it be pulled off? Sure, but buying shirts with lots of colors right away when you’re building a wardrobe probably isn’t ideal — because you’ll need ties to match it, which may not go well with other parts of your wardrobe. Something to keep in mind.

Contrasting your tie to your shirt:

The last example could have gone a simpler and even more colorful route: ignoring matching and going for contrast. And it’s the same thing I’ve done here with this purple shirt: high contrast.

Contrasting is relatively simple in the case of this purple gingham shirt: look at a colorwheel and pick the colors directly across from each other. In this case, the opposite-facing color is yellow. And this same yellow tie would’ve worked, too, with the red-white-blue shirt in the previous section.

This works best when your jacket is on a neutral tone — or close to it, like a navy suit. Takes a bit of thinking early in the morning, but the results are colorful and yet still pleasing.

Matching your tie to your jacket:

This is a neat trick to remember when you have an odd jacket, such as this Harris Tweed blazer, which has quite a few other colors in it beyond its brown base. The jacket has gold and blue fibers woven into its herringbone pattern, so it makes sense to use the necktie to bring out those elements a bit more.

Additionally, the tie in this case contrasts the shirt fabric, while the pocket square also picks up the colors in the jacket, yet compliments the pocket square by highlighting the gold as its base and blues as its secondary color.

In summary:

Learn to identify dominant and base colors. Then look at secondary colors in each element. Think of how you can play them off of each other, match them to each other, or compliment elements. It’ll take some practice, but it’ll help you decide on your next shirt or tie purchase if something fits into your wardrobe or if it’ll mean having to buy other additional elements to work with it. It’s worth keeping a colorwheel in mind and when you see someone wearing a great combination of colors, make a note of it mentally and try to think about why it works together.

Tomorrow: patterns.

About The Silentist

A menswear blog on finding your personal style, written by Kiyoshi Martinez.

I work at Khaki's of Carmel and live in the Monterey Bay area. Formerly from Chicago.

E-mail me, I'm fairly nice: thesilentist@gmail.com

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