Everyone knows that matching your tie to your handkerchief shows a lack of style, even more obviously a lack of imagination. Personally, I don’t even like matching a tie to my socks – still seems ever so slightly affected.

So I’ve come up with my own Matching Table, in an attempt to regulate this abstract area.

matchymatchy

Let’s take socks as our constant, with everything else in the outfit being the variables. Matching your tie with your socks is relatively affected (in my opinion). Matching your jacket lining with your socks is pretty odd. In between is a range of options, from the obvious to the obscure. Pick the range that you think is acceptable, according to your own personal taste, and I’ll tell you mine later.

Obviously we are talking about coloured socks here. Plain socks – blue, grey, black, probably brown – should match the trousers rather than anything else.

Here’s the table, from most obvious to most obscure. Matching your socks to your:

[Obvious]

Dominant colour in tie

Dominant colour in handkerchief

Shirt

Secondary colour in suit (overcheck, coloured stripe)

Braces

Secondary colour in tie

Secondary colour in handkerchief

Cuff links

Tertiary colour in tie, handkerchief or suit

Suit lining

Underpants

Colour you’re thinking of

[Obscure]

The last two options are obviously silly. They are a reflection of the fact that it feels slightly silly just thinking about this topic in such rigorous detail.

But there is a serious point here. It always looks inelegant to match colours exactly, to match things that are too close together or to match things that are both large components of an outfit. Matching should be subtle.

So which of the matching pairs above do you think are acceptable, which silly and which optimal? Personally, I think everything from secondary colour in your suit to tertiary colour anywhere is tasteful. It shows style if a faint blue overcheck is picked up in the socks, or the blue flowers on your yellow handkerchief are similarly reflected. But my personal favourite is matching cuff links and socks. (I often wear coloured silk knots for the options they give in this regard.)

One could argue that cuff links are more obvious than the secondary colour in one’s handkerchief or tie. Certainly they pop out more, though smaller. But I love the effect of matching these two parts of one’s dress – two hidden allies, secretly in cahoots, happy for the shirt, tie and handkerchief to carry on their brash party upstairs.

End of silly theory.

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Oskar

Interesting that this post came up just after i ordered 10 different colored pairs of socks. I agree that it can be too much machy machy, but I still love the outfit on the man in the picture, I don’t think he would’ve looked better with a pair of dark socks.

So, sometimes matchymatchy is better than nothing at all imho.

Stephen Starling

I’m just recently trying to learn more about sartorial matters, and I have read several times that socks are to match the pants. (And never to match the shoes) What gives?

Horatio

Stephen,

The rule is to match the socks to the pants. The socks should be the same shade, or slightly darker than, the pants. Anyone can follow this simple rule and look good.

The challenge is to find ways to bend and break the rules and yet still look good. If you’re new to the game, play by the rules. You will look much better that way. Once you have mastered the basics, then you can start experimenting.

With socks, the next step is socks that are a slightly lighter shade than the pants. This will cause the eye to pause at the socks, drawing attention to the intersection of pants, socks, and shoes. It is subtle yet ever-so-slightly showy.

For the sartorially-advanced, all kinds of possibilities present themselves with colored and patterned socks. However, this is the easiest way to make mistakes, and if poorly executed, makes the wearer look clownish instead of elegant.

For now, I’d suggest getting very comfortable with the rules and always looking good through following them. Then, later, you can break any sartorial rule you want to–as long as you know what the rule is, and can articulate what it is you hope to accomplish by breaking it. If you can do that, you stand a good chance of pulling it off. If you can’t, you risk looking like a buffoon.

Just my 2¢ worth.

Horatio

You’re welcome, Simon.

By the way, I thought of another silly thing to match your socks to: the feather in your hat! It only occurred to me because I actually wear a dress fedora every day.

Oskar

Today I matched my socks to the blue hands of my white faced watch, probably only me and the people who really examine my watch who notice it, but it feels good 🙂