It’s been a couple of months since I last did a post on either subject, so today I thought I’d create a beginner’s guide to pattern matching shirts and ties.

Much of the feedback I receive on the website comes from people looking for help combining different prints together.

Please note, as always, this is merely an introduction to the subject: it’s about getting started, not perfecting the system…

Step One: Start with the Shirt

Why do you need to start here? Because your shirt is the base on which you’ll be placing your tie. It fills the largest area on your upper body, and therefore should be where you fix your initial focus. Analyse the shirt in some detail before matching up your ties.

Man's Cotton Shirt - Pinstripe

In the example above, the fabric is white with a dark charcoal pinstripe running vertically over the entire length of the shirt. It’s a fairly light and unimposing pattern, but provides enough ‘flavour’ for today’s purposes. If you don’t yet own a patterned shirt, this sort of design would be a good place to begin buying, as it’s easier to match with other patterns than something more complex, such as paisley.

Step Two: Examining Ties

Put on your shirt, button it up, and start placing ties against your neck whilst looking in the mirror. Hold the tie in such a way as to let it fall from the center of the neck down to the middle of the belt buckle – i.e. the length it would naturally hang if you’d been wearing it ‘on’. It’s useful learning to test in this way so you can match up neckties in store at a later date, without having to try each of them on individually.

Baby Blue Necktie

It’s important you do this whilst actually wearing the shirt, as it’s necessary to get a good match with your skin tone as well as the fabric; for example, whilst this solid ‘baby blue’ tie complements everything pretty well, it actually looks too bright for my mid-tone skin. If I personally wore this combination, everyone I met would be looking at my tie rather than my face.

Step Three: Pairing the Two

You need to think carefully about color, texture and size when combining patterns. You want to start by finding harmonious elements in the two; you don’t want strong contrast, but at the same time you need to avoid being too monotone. Discount the ones that look awful, and slowly make a shortlist of half a dozen potential matches.
Below I’ll take you through three potential matches and say what’s good, bad and indifferent about them with the shirt in question; remember, there are no “right” and “wrong” looks, just what suits you and what doesn’t.

Example 1: Navy Blue with Cyan Dots
Navy Tie w/ Cyan Dots
Here, the navy complements the white and charcoal well, but those cyan microdots are simply adding “too much blue” to the mix. This combination doesn’t really work together in context.

Example 2: Navy Blue with Purple & Lilac Stripes
Purple Stripe Tie
The larger diagonal strips provide ample contrast to the fine shirt stripes, whist retaining proportional line spacing. Although the colors complement the charcoal grey and white relatively well, it’s still quite a stark match up given the texture of the fabric (difficult to see in the photo) and the strength of the print. Nevertheless, this combination will work relatively well.

Example 3: Black with White Dots
Black Tie w/ White Dots
In this case, the shades are accentuating each other and the microdots offer pattern without looking too busy. There’s not much variation going on here, but there’s more overall harmony here than the other examples. This combination offers a good match, if perhaps a little too monochromatic for some.

Step Four: Choosing the Best Look

Having looked at what works together and what doesn’t, it’s time to choose the best on offer given the occasion. In the previous step we looked at the advantages and disadvantages in each look; in this particular case, given what’s on offer, I’d choose examples two or three over the alternatives on offer. As I mentioned earlier, the ‘baby blue’ tie wouldn’t look good on me personally, and those cyan microdots look rather strong in a ‘real life’ scenario.

Step Five: Accepting Defeat & Finding an Alternative

It’s perfectly acceptable to say, “Okay, none of these are a suitable match for this shirt”. If that’s the case, don’t be afraid to pick out a new necktie some other time and choose an alternative shirt, for now, instead.

Final Hints

Lastly, remember the following simple tips when you’re matching patterned ties and shirts together:

  • Avoid patterned suits. You’ve got one pattern on your tie and another on your shirt, don’t go too far by adding a third.
  • Find common shades. Try to find matching colors in different tones; this way you’ll maintain the harmonious elements without looking monotonal.
  • Contrast pattern size. Balance your looks by ensuring the size and scale of the patterns are different between necktie and shirt; if they’re too similar they’ll look incongruous and busy. The only time you should break the rule is when matching two check patterns together – in this case, always have the larger pattern on the tie.

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About The Author

Johnathan Bell is the founder, owner and main author of Guy Style Guide, a website dedicated to everyday male fashion, style and grooming. The primary mission? To guide clueless men through the tricky mindfield that is the growing world of male couture. Find him on , Twitter and Tumblr.

5 Responses

  1. Ibrahim

    I would add: Once you find a combination that works, put it inside an Excel file! Like that, you will build a database of stuff that you like and whenever you’re in a hurry, you can always check it out! 🙂