Tie Patterns (And When to Wear Them)

So who still wears a tie? The tie, it seems to me, is under threat; especially for work. These days it’s worth wearing a tie simply to stand out from the crowd because you can take it for granted that most of your peers will not bother to wear one. And that’s assuming they own ties.

Personally, I blame Tony Blair.  His adoption of that informal, ‘Just call me Tony,’ rolled up sleeves, open neck shirt, approachable Prime Minister ‘from the block’ (well actually, very posh middle class neighbourhood but let’s not quibble) made it OK to do away with the tie.

If the Prime Minister doesn’t feel the need to wear a tie how stuck in the mud do you have to be to wear one?  To be fair, Blair was only following in the footsteps of Reagan (as do most US politicians these days….)

Reagan on radio

But I’d like to stand up for the tie; we men don’t have many accessories, not least ones which can add a splash of colour.  The tie allows us to do that in a uniquely masculine way. Colours and patterns that men wouldn’t normally wear we can get away with wearing in our ties.

Pink & White Puppytooth tie (with Navy Nailhead suit), Charles Tyrwhitt

So I don’t normally wear orange, but I’ve got an orange tie.  Fuschia; lime green; yellow with spots?  Wouldn’t be seen dead in a shirt in those colours but I have a tie in each. And speaking of spots how many spotted shirts or trousers do I have? Exactly none.  But numerous spotted ties.

Benson Green & Sky Herringbone, Charles Tyrwhitt

Ties, of course, have no practical function. I am not sure that they ever did. Belts keep our trousers up. Watches tell us the time. Shoes protect our feet. Hats keep us warm or cool or keep the sun out of our eyes.  Ties, in sharp contrast, are just an ornamental piece of fabric.

And it appears that men have been tying bits of fabric around their necks for quite some time. The Terracotta Army discovered in China dating back to over 200 years BC includes a large number of figures with fabric knotted around their necks!

Navy Pink Barbershop stripe, T M Lewin

So why do we do it? I suggest that whilst the tie has no practical function it has an ornamental or sartorial function. It is a splash of colour which can identify people, one of the reasons for regimental or school/college ties. That same splash of colour can help to help set people apart from the crowd.  But that’s where we came in….

Hutchings Purple Fleur de Lys, Charles Tyrwhitt

Ties come not only in a variety of colours but also of patterns. Spots, stripes, paisley (remember them?), plaid are common examples but there are also squares, dogtooth, fleur-de-lys, and of course plain.  However, even plain ties come with different weaves or fabrics which can set them apart.  And that’s without talking about novelty ties.  In fact the less said about those the better.

Charcoal Herringbone, T M Lewin

The basic rule with ties is the simpler the better. Simple spots, stripes or plain are classic looks which will never go out of style and will work with a wide variety of shirts.

Burgundy Blue Pindot tie, T M Lewin

A tie which can ‘tie together’ various bits of your ensemble by picking up various colours and holding them together is ideal. However, a tie can also add a splash of colour which is not otherwise present, or is very muted elsewhere in your ensemble.

Pink Blue Fine twill stripe tie, T M Lewin

With striped shirts your probably want to wear a plain or lightly spotted tie. If you do chose to wear a striped tie with a striped shirt then preferably wear stripes of different widths so that the stripes aren’t overpowering.

Navy White stripe tie, TML (with Blue white stripe slim fit shirt)

And try to avoid ties which are both bold in colour and pattern.  If you are going to go for a bold yellow tie, probably better one that is plain or with subtle spots than one which incorporates lurid purple stripes.

Probably best to start with some ties which work with the most common shirt colours, blue and white, and the most common suit colours, Navy and grey. So try ties in yellow, navy, burgundy or pink. Once these are in place you can experiment with less common colours.  Perhaps even brown…. Or Orange!

A classic traditional look will combine a plain shirt with a striped tie.  A variation on this them might be a subtly checked shirt with striped or spotted tie. For a very restrained look, perhaps an interview (for which one should always wear a tie), or if moonlighting as a newsreader, perhaps a plain tie with a plain shirt.

Purcell Orange, Navy & Sky Double stripe tie (with royal blue gingham shirt), Charles Tyrwhitt

So the next time you’re going in to work: Why not consider a tie?  And make sure you tie it properly….

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