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Ties – some love them, some hate them. But regardless of which category you’re in, knowing how to wear a tie properly is necessary, especially if you’re frequently required to dress in business formal.
But this means that it’s something extra to get wrong – or, from an optimistic perspective, something extra to get right.
By wearing a tie properly, you can take your outfit to the next level. But how can you? A tie’s a tie, isn’t it?
But there are certain rules that you can follow (and sometimes deliberately break) to elevate it from a ‘pointless decorative collar fastener’, to an awesome statement piece that works for you.
In this tie guide, I’ll be going over some pointers so you can make sure you’re always wearing the right tie in the right way, and some ways you can break the rules to stand out.
In a nutshell, here are eight tie tips to make sure that your tie looks good on you, and appropriate for the occasion (the first four are especially important):
- Make sure your tie length is correct.
- Find the perfect width for you.
- Tie the right knot for your collar type.
- Learn to tie a dimple in your knot.
- Leverage the power of colour.
- Wear a tie with the right texture and fabric for the occasion (and experiment!)
- Consider your tie’s pattern.
- Take your look to the next level by introducing tie related accessories.
- Don’t stand out for the wrong reasons.
But before I get into these tips, I’m going to quickly tell you why it’s important for your tie to look good.
How Can a Tie WORK For You?
Early ties were used by Croatian mercenaries in the 17th Century, to simply keep their collars together, and to add decoration to their uniform.
Since then, they have continued use to the same effects, most notably to identify military regiments and sports clubs.
Their main purpose was identification.
Now, unless you’re using them for those purposes, they are a pointless formality, and are typically only worn as part of a dress code.
But, by wearing a tie properly, you can give the accessory meaning again by bringing back the notion of ‘identification’.
You can use it to identify to others that you are someone that can be taken seriously, and cares about their personal image.
This will bring many benefits, such as setting a good first impression, which will open doors, and make your life easier.
On top of this, your tie is front and centre in your outfit. Pulling it off well will elevate everything else, and help ‘tie’ – absolute zinger – it all together.
If I had a pound for every man I saw with an incorrect tie length, my problems with crippling debt would be gone.
Correct tie length is typically when, when standing with a good posture, the tip of your tie hits the middle of your trouser waist band, so varies per person, and per trouser. However, with very high rise trousers, proper tie length is whatever looks proportionately correct.
So, in summary:
Too Short Tie Length – The tip of your tie ends above your trousers waist band: when you look in the mirror, you can see a gap between your tie and your trousers. This should never be the case.
Correct Tie Length – The tip of your tie should end somewhere in your waistband, preferably as central as possible. This will look most proportionate and best in most cases.
Too Long Tie Length – The tip of your tie ends lower than your waistband. This is really something that you want to avoid, as it could – how can I put this – accentuate your genitals? However, in extreme cases, such as if you are wearing very high waisted trousers, having your tie be ‘too long’ and extending past your waistband may look best.
The exact measurement is relative to your height and waistband, and if you’re like me, will vary depending on what trousers you are wearing.
Here is a good, even more in depth guide into how long your tie should be.
Tie Guide Tips: To stand out, play with the length of your tie
So, I’ve covered what the so called ‘proper and correct tie length’ should be. But this article is also about showing that you have a sense of style, which means not always following the rules:
Long Back Blade
One way you can bring some style into your tie length is by having the back blade be longer than the front:
The late owner of Fiat, Gianni Agnelli, was in his later life famous for deliberately wearing the back blade of his ties much longer than the front. This created a distinctive style that, when pulled off correctly, I think really works as an eccentric style affectation.
Though, I feel:
- It’s easy to get wrong.
- Only works with high rise trousers.
- Looks best with wider ties, and with a small difference in length between the front and back.
Though it has nothing to do with tie length, I personally like twisting the knot so that the front and back blade of the tie can be both seen at the same time aside each other. I think it’s a nice touch in more casual outfits, such as sports coats, and is easier to pull off than the above.
A more formal alternative would be to wear the tie as usual, but remove the back blade from the keeper loop, so it only reveals itself every once and a while, and not all the time.
Similarly to length, there is a generally accepted ‘correct tie width’ for you.
The width of your tie should correspond to your physical build, and any width related details on your clothing, such as lapels. So, broader men with wider jacket lapels should wear wider ties, and slimmer men with slimmer jacket lapels should wear slimmer ties.
In summary, provided you’re already wearing lapels that match your build, wear ties that match the width of your lapels at their widest point:
- If you’re broader or wear wider lapels, wear a wider tie. (8cm+)
- If you’re skinnier or wear slimmer lapels, wear a slimmer tie (8cm or less)
Here is a more in depth resource as to how wide your tie should be for your stature and clothing.
Tie Guide Tips: Experiment with your tie widths
The above guide telling you to ‘keep it in proportion’ is a safe way of making sure that you look decent. However, it doesn’t mean that only one tie width will look good on you.
For me, I’ve taken the above information and thrown it out the window. Despite being a somewhat slim man of 5”11 statue, I favour typically wider 8cm ties.
But I’m not being silly here; I settled on it after trying 9.5, 9, 7 and 6cm widths!
Though conventional wisdom suggests otherwise, it’s conservative enough to match nicely with the rest of my style, but not too wide that it throws my torso out of proportion.
But I only found out it works for me by trying.
By experimenting with different tie widths, you can take your tie game to the next level and broaden your horizons, as there are probably several widths that look good on you. Though, your favourite tie width will probably be the one that truly looks best and most in proportion.
On top of this, as it looks the best, it will make you the feel the most confident out of all of them.
The truth is, tie widths come and go with fashion, and like all ‘trendy’ pieces, different widths can be worn at any time and year, but require knowledge, confidence, and trial and error to pull off. If it works for you, don’t be afraid to wear it (even if it’s not ‘in’).
Combine this with all the other points on this list, and you’re onto a winner.
In the past, you may not have considered the knot that you tie your tie with, and the large affect it has on your overall look.
To wear a tie properly, your knot should best fill the gap that your collar creates. So, for wide spread collars with large gaps, larger and wider knots should be used to fill the space, and for pointed collars with small gaps, slimmer knots will look best. The less collar you have, the more tie you should have.
So, in summary, you just have to ‘fill the space’:
- Spread collars should be worn with wider knots, such as the ‘Windsor’ of ‘Half Windsor’.
- Pointed collars should be worn with narrower knots, such as the 4-in-hand.
You should already be wearing the collar type that works best for your face shape, so to wear a tie correctly, it’s really just a case of finding the correct tie knot to use for your collar, and learning it.
Again, here is an even more in depth resource that covers which knot you should tie your tie with.
Tie Guide Tips: Mix up your knots
So, it’s that ‘screw the rules’ time again – any tie knot can be used with any collar to create an impact.
For example, to make a statement and produce visual interest, I sometimes wear a tie with a slim knot (4-in-Hand) with a spread collar that has a large gap, such as cutaway.
As discussed, as the spread collar has more room, you should select a larger knot to compensate (left).
However, pairing a narrow knot with a spread collar (right) can create a daringly contemporary look.
In contrast, pairing a wide, large, knot with a pointed collar is another way to stand out, especially since larger knots, such as the ‘Windsor’, will command more respect, as they take up more space and ‘dominate’ the upper facial region.
However, I’ve never seen the latter done well, so if you’re going to break the rules, I’d suggest sticking to a slim knot with a wide collar.
No ‘how to wear a tie’ guide would be complete without the legendary tie dimple.
Though most people only think of a dimple as something cute on the side of a cheek, to a tie connoisseur like you and me, it is the notion of deliberately creating a divot in the knot, like this:
But why would you want to do this?
There are a few reasons:
- It creates visual interest, bringing attention to your face.
- It connotes confidence. You have to be bold to pull it off.
- You communicate your sartorial prowess.
All of these benefits aid in creating dominance, and maximising the impact of your outfit.
Of course, it has to be accompanied by a confident personality, and an all round killer outfit – but it’s a finishing touch to complete an epic look.
There are some great resources on how to tie a perfect dimple out there, and a couple of different methods to choose from:
Tie Guide Tips: Learn to tie some more interesting dimples
Because it’s just a divot in the fabric, there are a few things that you can do with this seemingly linear decoration:
Though it is harder to do and less consistent, you can choose to create two dimples, one either side, instead of one central one. This will give your tie some personality, and potentially impress your friends.
Normal tie dimples have a ‘fold back’, with the dimple inside. The extreme dimple rids of this, and has the fabric go straight down.
I frequently do this, and in my opinion is a sharper and alternative look.
It can be achieved by using the same method as a regular dimple, but requires you to exert more pressure on the pinch when you’re pulling the knot through, to make sure it doesn’t fold back on itself. You can only really achieve this with ties made from finer fabric, such as silk.
Colour is very important when it comes to clothing in general, and it’s no different with ties.
The colour of your tie should work with the colours in the rest of your outfit. As good rules of thumb, your tie should almost always be darker than your shirt, not clash with your suit, and should complement, but not match, your accessories.
How to Match Your Tie With Your Shirt
Unless you’re trying to do something whacky, matching your shirt with your tie should be relatively simple.
- If in doubt, a white shirt acts as clean slate that you can wear any colour tie with. On top of this, sky blue and cream are other versatile and safe choices, that match well with most colours.
- When you move into more colourful options, such as pink and lilac, I would stay within the family, and tend towards red, purple and brown ties. Though, that said, a classic navy tie will pair with pretty much anything.
- Staying ‘within the family’ is also how you should match ties with difficult to pair colours, such as black and charcoal – pair them with a tie within the same colour, for example, a darker grey tie with a medium grey shirt.
But, regardless of if your tie is muted, such as blue or grey, or brighter, like yellow or pink, it should almost always be darker than your shirt.
Here is a more in-depth guide on how to match ties with shirts, and information about colourful shirts such as green, and orange.
How to Match Your Tie With Your Accessories
Contrary to the title of this subsection, your ties shouldn’t ‘match’ with your accessories. An exact match generally looks tacky, and should be avoided.
Your tie should:
- Have a different pattern to your accessories. (unless they’re all solid)
- Have a colour in it that complements your accessories. For example, if you pocket square is brown, your tie should preferably have something in it that complements brown, such as orange, or red.
Of course, with muted accessories, like blue or white pocket squares, your tie doesn’t have complement them – it’s fine. But, if you want to try and bring in more interesting colours into your accessories, your main priority should be to make sure that they don’t clash.
Complement the Suit
This is the easiest of these three points, as most ties go with most suits. But you have to play it by ear – if you’re trying to pair a bright green tie with a fawn suit, it will probably look a bit odd.
For this, I would just refer to basic colour theory.
Tie Guide Tips: Use your tie’s colour to your advantage
Case for Muted Colours
Muted colours are cool; you can wear something as simple as navy tie and still look bad ass.
Given you follow all of the other tie tips in this tie guide, they work as an anchor for the outfit, making you look effortlessly stylish, and like a man of taste.
Case for Bright Colours
Colourful ties aren’t just a way to gain attention and create conversations, but also a vehicle to subtly convey messages.
They have this capacity because of the same reason we react to coloured animals, such as rattle snakes; we are conditioned to the red in their skins to feel a sense of danger.
But what else do we associate red with?
Authority, power, romance?
By bringing in a colourful tie, not only are you showing confidence, but you are evoking emotions.
Red has been specifically proven to convey power and strength, so its use in clothing can’t be understated.
And it’s the case that other colours have associations too, so, though you might think that colour in your tie is only a way to stand out, it may in fact give you Jedi mind tricks.
The material that your tie is made from, and the texture it is woven into, has a huge affect in how it looks, and its formality.
Textured ties only visually ‘buff up’ your ensemble, and, as a rule of thumb, the more texture a tie has, the more casual it is, leading to the ideas that:
- Flat silk ties are the most formal type of necktie.
- Because of their very rough texture, knitted ties are some of the most casual you can get.
You can use this to your advantage by forgoing textured ties when you need to look your smartest, and bringing them in when you need a casual look.
Like with texture, the fabric a tie is made from drastically alters the formality of it:
- Silk ties are most formal, and are appropriate for all year round.
- Wool ties have medium formality, and give a heavier look, making them perfect for cooler months.
- Linen ties are least formal, and can be used to provide a lighter look. As a result, they can be perfect for the warmer months.
What Tie Texture and Fabric Should You Wear?
It’s important to match your tie fabric and texture with the formality level of the dress code you’re wearing. It will be out of place to wear a knitted tie to a very formal event – I wouldn’t break this.
Tie Guide Tips: Experiment with different textures and fabric
It’s no surprise that I’m again going to suggest that you experiment, though, as I’ve already said, I would keep the formality rules in mind.
Many people shy away from these elements, but bringing different textures and fabrics (when appropriate) will certainly put you way above everyone else.
Most people wear plain ties. I get it, it’s easy, and looks good.
But you can stand out by introducing ties with patterns, such as:
- Polka dot
I love stripes, and think they’re a good place to start when trying out different tie patterns.
But when it comes to formality, ties with smaller, simple, and no patterns are more formal than ties with larger, and more complex ones.
How to Match The Pattern of Your Tie With Your Outfit
You match patterns with the rest of your outfit by making sure they are of a different size to anything you are already wearing.
For example, if your shirt has a fine pattern, then your tie pattern should be of a larger size.
Here is a more in-depth guide into this.
There are several interesting accessories that enhance the visuals and function of your tie, such as:
Tie Bar/Tie Clip
The tie bar is a really functional accessory that prevents your tie from swinging around, and getting in the way of your tasks – it also looks awesome in the process.
Here are the basics:
- You should place the tie bar between your second and third shirt button.
- You shouldn’t wear a tie bar wider than your tie.
Here is a more in depth guide on how to wear a tie bar.
The tie tack is another accessory that keeps it in place, but, unlike the tie bar, is intrusive, and has to be pushed through your tie.
This irreversible damage means it’s not very popular, but something you may want to consider to properly stand out.
Here is a good video on how to wear a tie tack:
Moving away from functionality and into aesthetics, the collar bar pushes the knot of the tie upwards, producing a nice forwards curve and drape.
Shirts that specifically take collar bars are hard to find, though you can insert a ‘safety pin’ like collar pin into a shirt you already have, to transform it.
I’ve talked a bit in this article about ‘formality levels’. And this all comes down to making sure your tie is appropriate for the situation you are in, and not standing out for the wrong reasons.
You have to know and understand the occasion you are dressing for, as different ties are appropriate for different situations.
As a summary of all of the ‘formality’ information in this article:
- Ties with a flat texture, made from a silk material, with small or no patterns, and in a dark colour are most formal.
- Ties with a rough texture, made from a material other than silk, with larger patterns, and in lighter colours are most casual.
If you’re still unsure, here is a good article that goes into which tie you should be wearing for what occasion in greater detail.
How to Wear a Tie Guide – Conclusion
In this tie guide, I’ve outlined nine tips to make sure that you’re wear you tie correctly, and some optional information to help you stand out, and push the boundaries.
By understanding and acting on these points, you’ll elevate it from just a ‘decorative piece’, to a confidence boosting item that projects style and competence.