Cravats untied

While some men out there adore wearing suits as a fashion statement, there are some of us that simply wear it because we need to, for work, and as an extension of that, view the tie that we wear as providing a functional role as opposed to one of fashion.  Sure, that makes sense if you don’t really enjoy donning your suit in the first place.  But if you do need to wear it, whether it be to work or a wedding, why not use that tie piece as a testament to your fashion sense and personality!  Your suit and shirt of choice can attest to your overall sense of dress, but your choice of tie can really help bring out your personality, your desire for certain colors and your overall ability to mix and match.  Choosing the right fabric and color to line your torso (which as explained below, will include a combination of factors), can really help you look like the perfectly dressed gentleman.  With that being said, let’s look at what you should assess when choosing a cravat that complements the rest of your attire well:


Ideally, you should be looking for colors that complement the color scheme of your suit and shirt.  Look to use the color wheel below.  This is not an exact science, but helps to provide ideas for colors that will complement what you are wearing.  Note that if you draw an imaginary line that equates to 5:55 on your clock, you will see a separation between ‘cool’ and ‘warm’ colors.  This aesthetic contrast between warmer colors such as yellow, orange and red contrasts well with the ‘cooler’ colors of green, blue and indigo, resulting in combinations that are both visually and emotionally appealing.

For a direct contrast (which is often bold), wear a tie that directly contrasts the color of your shirt i.e the color directly across from your color of choice on the color wheel.  Hence, with a blue shirt, you could wear an orange or a rust colored tie.  Truth is, most people are not going to wear an orange tie.

Evidence of contrast working well

Evidence of contrast working well

Which takes us to the next step of the color wheel!  We can choose colors that form an equilateral triangle – so if your shirt is blue, you can form a triangle on the color wheel with yellow and red.  Therefore, a yellow or red tie would work.  Conversely, if you are wearing a lilac shirt, a mint or salmon tie would prove to be great contrasting choices!colorwheel

What really works is to have one of these complimentary colors be the dominant color of your tie, and have the color of your shirt as a background color in the tie.  This results in a visually appealing final package.  Imagine a blue shirt with a red tie that has a hint of blue in the background, matching against a grey charcoal solid suit.  Sounds beautiful to me!

So, if you can get colors that contrast or compliment (using either colors directly across from the color wheel, or colors that are part of that equilateral triangle that you form on the color wheel), and manage to find a necktie that has the color of your shirt as a background color on the tie, you’ve done a great job!  Not only are you matching colors well (color of shirt and necktie have some overlap), you are creating colors that compliment or contrast what you are wearing as your suit / shirt combination, which looks very visually appealing.

For those of us that are more conservative in our dress sense and don’t seem to enjoy the prospect of contrasting and complimenting colors, another thing you can do is wear colors that are a shade lighter or darker than the color you are wearing (i.e using the same branch on the color wheel).  This can help to create a harmonious look – an example of this would be wearing a navy blue tie against a lighter blue shirt.  Just make sure that your suit is also not a navy blue, as blue on blue on blue, no matter how different the three shades are, is simply overkill!


Pattern – Just like with colors, you want your pattern to create contrast with the patterns that your suit / shirt hold.  As a general rule of thumb, you do not want to be wearing three patterns – imagine how heavy this is on the casual observer’s eye!  What we ideally want is 2 patterns and a solid, 1 pattern and 2 solids, or three solids.  I would say 2 patterns and a solid or 1 pattern and 2 solids generally work very well.

Contrary to what many of us originally think, for patterns to have contrasting features, the patterns don’t necessarily have to be completely different patterns (i.e checks against stripes).  They can be different patterns, BUT they can also be similar patterns in different proportions (hence, you can often see people wearing wide striped ties against narrow striped shirts or vice versa).

The key is to create contrast.  So let’s visit the two main areas where you can create contrast, and finally, cardinal rules for what you should NOT do!

  • Pick a pattern that is same in scope but different in proportion.  If you are wearing a solid colored grey suit with a narrow striped blue shirt, a wide striped tie using color theory described above could contrast very well.
  • Pick a pattern that is completely different – instead of using a wide striped ties, as suggested above, you could contrast the striped shirt pattern with an abstract design or repeating patterns such as animal print motifs.
  • You could choose to not contrast the pattern of the shirt with another pattern, and instead contrast it with a solid tie.  A solid tie on a patterned shirt, or a patterned tie on a solid shirt, always go very well, provided that the color combinations match each other as well.
Similar patterns with different proportions can work well

Similar patterns with different proportions can work well

Remember, what you do not want to do is wear a patterned tie on top of a patterned shirt on top of a patterned suit.  This is simply too much!  Ideally, with any dress combination, we want both elements of contrast and balance.  If everything is contrasting but there is no balance, the look can be overwhelming.

Any ideas or suggestions based on what you guys feel works?  Please post in the comments section!

Categories: Color Theory, Ties

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

8 replies

  1. Nice use of the color wheel. Awesome colors!

  2. I second Segmation’s comment there about the wheel-colour. By the way, I noticed in one illustration, the gentleman has a pocket-square as well as a boutonnière. I’ve always felt this to be a little too much (and break certain conservative rules). What are your thoughts?

    • Thank you for your comment Charlie! I’ve used that picture for illustration purposes, but yes, I do agree, it can be a bit too much. I think if you pull it off, one of the elements has to be very understated. Thanks for your feedback!


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