Not all ties are created equal. In addition to different prints and patterns, there are also different fabrics and widths—so how do you know what to wear when? Your tie usually ends up becoming the focal point of your look, so it’s important to get it right. So here’s everything you need to know to make sure your tie game is on point for any occasion.
The Proper Length
No matter what color or width your tie is, the length should always be the same. After you tie it, the bottom tip should hit right at the top of your beltline—above the belt is too short and below it is too long. Shorter fellows might find it useful to look up the Windsor knot—it uses more fabric, so it’s a little easier to get the perfect length. Even if it takes a few tries, it’s worth spending a bit of time retying to get it right. On a side note, a lot of guys leave their ties tied after taking them off to avoid having to try for the perfect length and knot again; although it does save time, it can compromise the original shape and longevity of the fabric.
The Best Width
These days, you can get ties in almost any width, many of them being much thinner than traditional neckties. The perfect width really boils down to preference. While narrow ties are definitely a more modern look, you don’t want to go so skinny that it looks like you’re wearing a shoelace around your neck, especially if you’re a bigger guy. A good rule of thumb for an average-sized man is to go no skinnier than 2.25 inches across (at the tie’s widest point) and no wider than 2.75 inches—slimmer men can pull off skinnier ties. The width of your tie also depends on the style of the suit if you’re wearing it with one. Ideally, the width of the tie at its widest point should be around the same as the widest width of the lapel.
Tying the Knot
As if there already aren’t enough tie options at your disposal, there are also different ways to tie the knot. The most popular (and practical) one is the four-in-hand, which is the perfect medium-sized knot, so it goes with both narrow and wide spread shirt collars. If you’re feeling adventurous, there’s also the Windsor knot (wide triangle), the Balthus knot (an even wider triangle), and the Eldredge knot (an intricate, layered knot), to name just a couple. Just make sure that the knot properly fills the open collar of the shirt. If you really want to step up your tie game, check out the book The 85 Ways to Tie a Tie by Thomas Fink and Yong Mao.
Matching Colors and Patterns
This seems to be where a lot of guys get stuck. The basic rule about picking a tie is that it should have some sort of synergy with your shirt, whether it’s matching colors or patterns. There are three ways to play it safe: a solid-color tie on a solid shirt, solid tie on a patterned shirt, or patterned tie on a solid shirt. When working with patterned ties, try to pick one that incorporates the shirt color somehow, like a blue shirt with a tie that has a bit of blue in its print. Of course, you have a little more liberty with a solid white, black, or blue shirt—pair any of them with a classic striped or checkered tie and you’re good to go.
Mixing strong prints (patterned tie with a patterned shirt) is a little trickier to pull off, because it can look ridiculous if it’s not done properly. For starters, make sure the tie itself doesn’t have contrasting colors in it—in other words, make sure it’s not ugly. Next, you want to make sure that the pattern on the tie complements the pattern on your shirt. Try to avoid pairing the same print together—so if you’re wearing a shirt that has thin stripes on it, don’t wear a tie with the same print. Instead, pair a striped shirt with a dotted or thicker striped tie. Think of it this way: if the tie has a bold pattern (like paisley), the shirt should have a subtler one, and vice versa.
There’s nothing wrong with trying out different fabrics for your tie as long as they’re paired properly. For instance, you wouldn’t wear a cotton tie with a heavier wool suit, but it would work perfectly with a light-colored cotton suit in the summer. For that wool suit or even with a tweed sport coat, a knit tie would work well. The same rules apply for the length and mixing patterns.
Where to Put the Tie Bar
A tie bar (a.k.a. tie clip) is a great way to dress it up a bit more, but a lot of guys have no idea where it should go, so they often end up wearing it too high or too low on the tie. According to style experts, the bar should sit right between the third and fourth button on your shirt. Also, the clip, which should never be longer than the tie width, is supposed to fasten both tie pieces to the opening between your shirt buttons.
How to Store Your Ties
Invest in a good tie rack (or two)—there’s no reason for a man to throw his ties into a drawer to get knotted and wrinkled. Hanging your neckwear makes them look crisp, clean, and wrinkle-free every time you wear it and makes it easier to see your options when trying to match pieces. If you’re really tight on closet space, then loosely roll your ties with the narrow end on the inside and store them in a drawer. (Avoid stacking them or packing the ties in too tight.)