How to Match a Dress Shirt to your Suit and Tie

Faced with a Rack Full of Dress Suits, Where do You Start?

It’s early morning and you’re face-to-face with a rack full of dress suits, neckties, and dress shirts. Most likely, you have plaids and checks, stripes, herringbones, the occasional paisley, and solids. Presumably your suits are the classic dark colors that suggest authority, and your ties are the brighter colors that suggest emotion.

You need a strategy for choosing the right dress shirt color and pattern for your dress suit and necktie, and here it is: select your suit first, your tie second, and then your shirt.

* First, select your dress suit: Colors that are traditional for business suits are subdued: black, navy blue, and gray. We will assume that your dress suits are likewise colored. Your suit should provide a solid foundation for the rest of your ensemble

* Second, your necktie: Your necktie is the most expressive item you wear. If you are strictly about business, then conservative checks, paisleys, and stripes are wise choices; there’s no need to draw attention away from your face. But maybe you’re more interested in making a personal statement. In that case, one of the larger, more striking or artistic patterns may suit you

* This leaves the third element, your dress shirts. It usually has a cool color (light blue, white, gray, etc.) that enables it to serve as a light backdrop upon which the tie stands out. If the shirt is like a canvas, the jacket of your suit is the frame.

It’s no mystery why the plain white dress shirt has been the standard since the beginning of dress suits: it draws attention to the tie, which in turn enhances a man’s suit. Contemporary men’s fashion has moved beyond the white dress shirt, so here are some strategies for combining colors and patterns:

Sample combinations

The easiest approach is to combine three solids that enable the dark dress suit to be offset by a dress shirt and necktie that contrast each other.

* More interesting is the combination of two solid colored articles of clothing with a single patterned article. This could be a solid business suit and solid necktie with a patterned or striped dress shirt, for instance

* The next combination is two patterns with one solid. This could be a patterned business suit and a silk Italian necktie with a solid dress shirt. The pattern sizes should vary from each other, and a unifying color should be present in both patterns.

* The most difficult combination is three patterns. The safest approach is to use two of the same type of pattern (such as a striped dress shirt and necktie with stripes of a different size, for example, that share a unifying color) in combination with another pattern for the dress suit (such as a Prince of Wales check).

When you’re in a rush to select the right dress shirt, you can also think of it this way: your style should become more subdued as you progress from the necktie to the dress suit.

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