Man School 101: How To Tie One On

The word on the street is that the necktie is becoming less popular. Today’s young man thinks he can go about his day wearing a simple v-necked tee-style shirt or plaids and dungarees or… or a barrel held up by suspenders! What a bunch of shiftless rabble, right? Right.

Well, perhaps ties aren’t as ubiquitous as they once were, but there’s still a time and place for a fine four-in-hand (that’s a tie knot, FYI), and when you, sir, find yourself headed to one of said places, you’d better know how to pick the right tie! After all, while womenfolk get to festoon themselves with bracelets, tiaras, and fancy baubles of all types, menfolk have a scant few accessories with which to, um… accessorize.

If the clothes make the man, the tie makes the clothes. As in it makes them work, that is; like as an outfit. Whatever, you know what I mean. The point is that by adhering to just a few simple rules, you can head out to that wedding, job interview, or steakhouse power brunch looking great!

So… how do you pick the right tie?

Step 1: First Pick Your Outfit

Don’t build an outfit around a tie, as tempting as that may be: it’s all too common a mistake, and many men have fallen into this sartorial quicksand before. Chances are you own or have borrowing rights to plenty of ties, so first pick your suit and your shirt, or your pants/shirt/blazer, or simply slacks and shirt, etc. I’m not going to pick the damn outfit for you, I’m just priming the pump here! Once you have your clothes selected, keep in mind that you will likely end up with your jacket off, so make sure the tie you choose is not dependent on it being worn.

Step 2: Narrowing Things Down

It Looks Good On Him

It Looks Good On Him

Narrowing things down–ha! What a clever pun that is, for indeed the first step to selecting the right tie is to consider its thickness! As a general rule of thumb, skinny ties are wretched and should be burned with fire. Any tie thinner than two inches at its widest point is just not cool anymore. Any tie much thicker than 4.5 inches is likewise not a good idea, sir. In general, though, a slimmer man should opt for a slimmer tie (say 3 – 3.5 inches in width at its widest) while heftier men can sport heftier ties. Brilliant, right? There’s no “right” or “wrong” width for a tie as long as it looks natural, and the best way to achieve a natural look is to match the widest part of your tie to the widest part of your blazer’s lapel.

Step 3: The Long and Short of It

Good Length

Good Length

This one is mercifully easy, gents: the widest part of the tie should rest right above your belt/pants, with that little triangular section below it hovering before your belt buckle. When you have that golden ratio (that is not the golden ratio, by the way) achieved, if you cannot tuck the thin tail into the loop on back of the tie, your tie is too short! Or you are too tall, don’t go blaming an inanimate object, buddy. If, on the other hand, your tie’s tail hangs nearly to your pants, then your tie is much too long! And et cetera.

Step 4: Choosing the Cloth

Silk Uber Alles

Silk Uber Alles

Most men cannot pull off wearing a knit tie. If you think you can, go right ahead and the best of luck to you. But in general, knit ties are not professional-looking, and they’re usually not… um… cool. Wool or cotton ties can be both stylish and appropriate for elegant or business settings, but make sure they are well-made and tightly woven. In general, you want to pick a silk tie with a 100% wool backing which helps the tie keep its shape. (Imitation silk will feel papery and will tend to wrinkle easily, FYI, so watch out for it!) When push comes to shove, go for a quality silk tie every time. Later on, once you achieve Expert Level Necktie Know-How, you can get a bit wilder with things.

Step 5: Color Me How?

The Trusty Color Wheel

The Trusty Color Wheel

There is no According to Hoyle guide for picking a tie of the right color (or color combination), but there are a lot of ways to mess it up! You need to select a tie that works with, rather than against, your jacket and shirt. A tie should never stand out from the outfit; rather it should accent it gracefully without blending entirely. So a bright blue tie with a dark blue suit? Bad idea. But likewise a dark blue tie with a dark blue suit is a boring idea. Wouldn’t a dark red tie or perhaps a gold and gray tie look better? Remember that the old Color Wheel from art class? Of course you don’t, you were too busy chasing tail or swapping penny candy or whatever! Well, anyway, you can use it as a simple guide: choose complimentary colors that sit across from each other, such as blues and oranges/browns. Once you’re a regular ol’ tie guy, consider analogous colors, too. (You’ll have to look that one up yourself.)

Step 6: Look for a Pattern

How to Choose?

How to Choose?

This is the trickiest step of all, but fortunately, it’s the last one! That is, assuming you know how to tie a proper knot. (Which if you don’t… why have you even read this far? This is a Sisyphean exercise for you, man.) The name of the game here is: Mix, Don’t Match. The easiest way to consider the right pattern for your necktie is to make sure it is unlike any patterns in your jacket or shirt. If you’re blazer has thin pin stripes, your tie should be paisley, checkered, or have very thick stripes indeed. If your shirt has checkers, your tie should be a solid color with a printed pattern like dots or other repeating shapes (say Polo horsemen, for example, because why the hell not). If you’re nervous you’re going to blow it, you can always opt for a single-color tie without a pattern; it’s not going to impress anyone, but it won’t have anyone snickering about you, either.

Now you know how to choose a tie, so…

…tie on that tie! Pull on that jacket! And then sit your ass down and wait, because the reservations aren’t for more than an hour and a half, why are you even dressed already?