How to choose the right tie

Picking the right tie can be confusing.
Picking the right tie can be confusing.

A confused colleague recently asked whether his tie matched his shirt. It was a good question. (It didn’t.) Picking the right tie to go with your outfit can be difficult, so we asked for some expert advice.


Remember learning the color wheel in school? Here’s where it comes in handy. When it comes to finding the right tie, you want to focus on complementary colors, which are colors opposite from each other on the wheel. Blue tones go with orange ones, yellows go with purples, pinks go with greens, that sort of thing.

Emmi Sorokin, Boston-based men’s wardrobe stylist and author of “The Business Casual Survival Guide: 30 Looks for Men,” emphasizes that “it’s not about matching, it’s about coordinating.” Matching is when the colors are identical; coordinating is when the colors are complementary. So if you’re wearing a blue shirt, a tie with some pops of orange might be a good choice.

272Knowledge of the color wheel can come in handy when choosing a tie.726
Knowledge of the color wheel can come in handy when choosing a tie.

But let’s say you’re wearing a basic white shirt. What now? Sorokin says to take a look in the mirror: You want to coordinate the brightness of your tie with your skin tone. If you’re fair, Sorokin recommends a pale pink tie. If you have darker skin, a jewel-toned tie (emerald green, amethyst purple, etc.) will work well.

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“You want to make sure your tie doesn’t wear you, but you are wearing the tie,” says Sorokin.

If coordinating your tie is too intimidating, try creating a “color story.” Pick one color and use variations of that color throughout your outfit. So, if you have a white shirt, khakis, brown belt, and brown shoes, find or purchase a tie that follows those colors or has a pattern involving tans and browns.


Patterned ties are a great way to spice up your outfit. If you have a pink-and-white patterned tie that you like — and the pink seems the more dominant of the two colors — pair it with a white shirt. Or you can build your outfit and then add your tie. If you choose to wear khakis and a light green shirt, remember your color wheel and go with a complementary color for the green. A pinkish tie with some pops of the same color green would work well.


Fabrics are seasonal. Wool ties are good for fall and winter, and lighter cotton or knit ties are good for the spring and summer, advises Sorokin. Velvet or satin fabrics are good for special occasions.

Shape and style


Ties come in all sizes: Skinny, wide, extra wide, bow ties — and if you’re the current president, extra long. (Adviser Chris Christie writes in his memoir “Let Me Finish” that Trump believes the extra long ties have a slimming effect.)

Sorokin says for your daily look, stick with something that isn’t too attention-grabbing, so choose a standard-size tie, about 3¼ inches wide. When it comes to stepping into the world of bow ties, Sorokin warns that they can be tough to pull off. “Bow ties have a focal point and create a much smaller neck. Typically, for much larger guys, a long tie is going to be more flattering than a little bow tie.”

The same thinking applies to long and lean people: A slimmer tie will look better than a wider tie, which may appear overwhelming.


Just like our confounded colleague did, don’t be afraid to ask a trusted friend, “Does this match?”

Finding the right tie doesn’t have to be hard, just remember to find styles and colors that make you the main attraction.


And don’t be afraid to experiment. Really, what’s the harm? If you’re a curvy person and want to play with a skinny tie, go for it. If you have a darker complexion and experiment with lighter, more subtle colors, let loose. These are all mere suggestions. If you look in the mirror and like the way your tie looks, wear it.

One final tip, though: Sorokin highly recommends keeping an extra tie in a basic color or pattern handy for those inevitable ketchup slips and coffee drips.

Meghana Patnana can be reached at