The subject of how to pair accessories with a suit or jacket is something I get asked a lot about–especially concerning ties and pocket squares. Today I’d like to respond to readers who’ve asked me to suggest an approach to selecting accessories that complement one’s wardrobe.
It’s true that a well-coordinated outfit must start with a good fit, but balancing the ‘proportions’ of the suit/ jacket with you accessories, as well as knowing how to mix fabric materials are also important.
Adding well-chosen accessories to an ensemble is a natural way to get an aesthetically-coherent outcome, so it’s worth putting some thought into the process of how you select accessories (especially if you like to wear multiple colors).
So, behold, my best effort to present a guide for combining your ties and pocket squares, and putting the finishing touches on your classic menswear look.
Choosing your menswear accessories
Knowing how to combine accessories will help you pull together your entire outfit. A simple guideline to follow: at the end of the day, everything you choose to wear should follow the same theme in order for your look to be coherent.
The next thing to remember is to avoid obvious mistakes, particularly the famous matchy-matchy approach, where the pocket square and the tie are (worst case) made from the same fabric. Other problems can result with poor color-combining, since some colors just don’t go well together–such as brighter blues and greens.
Many sources say that whenever you are in doubt of which accessory to choose with an outfit, mistakes can be avoided simply by deciding to wear a white linen pocket square–and I tend to agree! However, you may not find this tip useful if you enjoy wearing different colors.
How to choose your tie?
Choose the tie which your intuition tells you will fit together with your outfit. For example, if you’re wearing a formal grey or navy business suit which lacks texture, a good tie option may include a dark-colored grenadine tie (but avoid black). Or, you might go for a burgundy garza fina grenadine tie with a grey or navy suit. On the other hand, you might choose a floral print tie which combines a few colors with a darker base color.
Another scenario: if you’re choosing a tie for a casual outfit such as a navy sport coat and a pair of khaki trousers, a tie with more texture is often better than a selecting a sleek silk business necktie.
The simple act of picking a textured wool tie during the winter or a linen or a cotton tie during the warmer season also goes a long way in expressing a developed sense of style.
If you do these four things (1) be consistent with the level of formality of all components of your chosen attire, (2) use textures to create a more casual look and smooth fabrics to create a dressier look–or take the approach of mixing smooth textures with rougher textures for a nice balance (3) avoid matchy ties/pocket squares and don’t clash colors, and (4) use common sense in selecting fabrics–like wool for winter and linen for summer…then choosing your necktie becomes much easier.
There are two other things you may want to think about before you even consider your accessories:
- Patterned suits, jackets or trousers go best with simple accessories. For example, a patterned suit usually needs a solid white or sky blue shirt, and patterns often force you to choose subtle accessories which create a calming effect to the overall look. If your bigger components have a lot going on, it’s also a good idea to wear a solid-colored tie.
- A striped shirt brings life to a plain suit and plain tie combination (while a contrasted striped shirt can look overwhelming with a patterned suit or a patterned tie). Balancing busy-ness with calmness is a key concept to remember.
How to choose your pocket square?
After you’ve selected your tie, consider what kind of a pocket square will look good with your outfit.
In my opinion, a pocket square should add the final touch to your look without stealing the show itself. A well-chosen pocket square complements the key pieces of your outfit or gives an air of freshness to the look. A somewhat nonchalantly folded white linen pocket square looks superb against a dark suit and adds something special without the square drawing too much attention to itself. The simple white square in the TV fold can be recommended for nearly any outfit, but there is one practice to be avoided: Do not use a basic white cotton or linen pocket square when you’re wearing a sky blue shirt.
Color coordination between your accessories
Now, there’s one word to remember, which is the meat of this text : The end result, if it works or not, may indeed be a subjective matter, but after a lot of experience in this field, I can say with confidence that the key word to adhere to in all that you do, is…harmony.
If you’re brave enough to go outside the safer unicolor linen pocket square world, accessory combining can be a bit more challenging. Verify that the colors, patterns, and raw materials of your tie and pocket square complement each other. Next, consider any bigger components like developing your intuition on how your shirt, suit/jacket and trousers are working with your accessories. Remember to also consider the season and the day’s weather. (Note: As a personal preference, I avoid using bright silk pocket squares and instead choose a good quality wool or matte silk square appropriate for the time of the year).
Now, colors. In this instance, I believe in the power of examples.
For instance, pair a solid purple tie with a patterned-pocket square with a “base color” that looks great with the color of your suit/jacket. To top off the look, make sure the pocket square also has few delicate tones of purple which complements your purple tie!
A patterned gold and beige wool pocket square with a dash of purple similar to the shade of your tie is a winning combination.
On the other hand, if you’re wearing an orange tie with a blue floral print pattern, look for a calming pocket square with a neutral base color and some bits of orange.
However, if you’re wearing a patterned suit and a patterned tie, choose a simple contrast-bordered linen pocket square which flatters the color of your tie (balance, balance, and more balance).
If you’re up for the challenge, let’s get a little more advanced.
A strong, colorful and patterned pocket square tends to have one base color and two to three secondary colors.
Perhaps the best rule (for an elegant tie and pocket square combination) is to choose a pocket square with a secondary color or two that matches your tie’s base color. However,the other colors in the square should not clash with the tie color, otherwise the harmony is lost.
With this approach, you will have a coordinated palette that doesn’t look too forced. Avoiding too many patterns is also key and using simple accessories is actually a good way to calm otherwise busy suit and jacket fabrics.
Breaking the rules
When is it correct to stray from the previously stated tips? I would say not too often, and I would not really recommend it to anyone.
Succeeding in combining more unorthodox colors together is not easy and requires an impeccable eye for colors. When I say unorthodox combination, I mostly mean using pocket squares that are in no way connected to any other piece you’re wearing. To be able to do this without making your pocket square pop out like a Pitti peacock in a Moscow suburb is even more difficult. I see even the most stylish men on the scene fail in this small endeavor more often than not, but when one happens to break the rules with success, the results can be truly amazing. That said, I would recommend training with the basics long before attempting the maestro-level combinations, especially when you don’t feel 150 percent confident in your color-eye.
Confidence and feeling good in your outfit
To summarize, if you enjoy the art of dressing, there are a lot of things to think about when choosing your accessories.
Because of my intense interest in creating beautiful visual effects, I could write a book on the subject–but it is my hope that this text covers the main points which can help you combine a few accessories in order to create a little something extra-special in your appearance.
To condense this text into one sentence: Aim for harmony and make sure your outfit does not exist to show-off your accessories but instead, your accessories exist to complement your outfit.
The most important thing you should do is to aim to feel comfortable and confident in your own clothes.
I don’t labor over which accessories to wear like I may have done in the past — as the process of selecting accessories has more or less become subconscious and I tend to go with whatever feels right at the moment.
Nonetheless, the limitations are there and some combinations simply look good while others do not.
If you feel like you need practice, it can be a good idea to stop for a few seconds in the morning and choose your outfit with a little bit of thought and consideration. In time, you will get the hang of the process and can become a natural master with very little thought involved.
If you’re looking for more examples of combinations and are interested in accessories in general, there’s a lot of relevant daily content on my Instagram. I usually take a picture of my accessories each day and include a few short video clips on Instagram moments, and I invite you to visit anytime.
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More on my sartorial adventures on my blog : The Nordic Fit