The combination of suit, shirt and tie that a man selects in the morning is certainly not the most important thing about what he wears. That would be the quality and fit of the articles themselves. But picking good combinations remains the thing men find it hardest to master – probably because they have such little experience of aesthetic creativity elsewhere.

1. Pattern
Stick to two patterns across your suit, shirt and tie. A pinstripe suit and a polka-dot tie need a plain shirt as background. A striped shirt needs a plain tie or one with a much bigger, bolder pattern. When two patterns sit next to each other, they should differ in size and preferably style: small stripes, big spots; big check, muted paisley.

Using this rule on scale, or density of pattern can enable you to combine three or even four patterns (with the addition of a pocket handkerchief). But stick with two to start with, even one.

2. Texture
Or even none. Again, perhaps not to start with. But the more you play with patterns, the more you will realise texture is just as important. A tie can be satin, printed, woven or knitted silk – that’s a lot of variation in texture, without even going into other materials. By varying your tie and your suit (worsted, flannel, tweed, linen) you can create a lot of interest and variety.

Try restraining yourself to one pattern, and experimenting with texture elsewhere. Then try with none and see how many combinations you can create.

3.Colour
Here start with the simple, classic combination of navy and grey. It may seem boring but it’s worth starting from the ground up, relearning the things you think you know.

Classic clothes of all sorts are dominated by navy and grey for a reason – they look smart, they look sophisticated and they suit you. Navy suit, grey tie; grey suit, navy tie; you can come up with the pattern and texture variations yourself. Then throw in dark red, dark green and dark purple. Keep it dark, keep it classic, but learn which shades of green bring out the best of grey flannel, and how deep purple has to be to sit well with true navy.

Only then move onto the more countrified colours: burnt orange, browns and bright primaries. They need a lot more support in the rest of the outfit, and sophistication to be used well.

4. Harmony
Harmony means that nothing stands out. This does not mean that the clothes have to be dull. Far from it. It just lowers the level of contrast. You can have a royal blue suit, green patterned tie and orange thing going on with the pocket square, but as long as they are all as wild as each other, harmony is achievable. In the more sober business world, it means not just wearing a bright, ‘fun’ tie. If you want colour and pattern, fine, but let it creep into your suit or pocket square, rather than just your tie.

5. Copy others
I remember Patrick Grant at Norton & Sons used to do this obsessively when he first took over the business. Running a Savile Row tailor for the first time, not sure of your own taste but confronted with that of others every day – it’s no wonder he took notes. Suit, shirt, tie, hankie, socks, shoes, everything. He started classic and then learnt from others. Now he’s in the best dressed lists.

The same applies with your colleagues and others you see walking down the street. Just make sure you note the whole outfit, rather than one thing. I have a beautiful lime-green Hermès tie that I was inspired to buy when I saw a gentleman wearing something similar. But it needs a plain blue shirt, dark suit and a touch of harmonious colour elsewhere to work well.

It is fun, picking out combinations.

(Pictured top: A Norton & Sons ensemble featuring a rather sophisticated run of similar textures, with one pop of silk and pattern.)
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Anonymous

Great tips. The essentials will always find welcome ears, especially when put simply and concisely. Thank you.

Carl Pullein

Hi Simon,

Thank you for an amazingly informative blog. I have already learnt a lot from what you have written here.

I would like to ask a question, and I am sure many of your international readers in warmer climes have a similar question.

I am an ex-pat Brit now living in South Korea. For eight months of the year the weather is pretty similar to that of northern Europe. However, when the summer comes (June to September) so does unbelievably unbearable humidity. Spend anything more than two minutes outside and you are covered in sweat. The temperature usually hovers between 30 and 40 degrees celsius.

It is at this time of year I am at a loss what to wear. Most Korean office workers will wear a simple combination of a short-sleeved, white shirt and black or grey trousers, but to me this has become something of a uniform, and because many of the short-sleeved shirts are of a synthetic fibre I find they are very uncomfortable to wear.

What I am looking for is something that is cool to wear, yet still considered ‘smart’ as well being able to combine a few colours.

Do you have any suggestions?

Roger

If I can be so rude as to pre-empt Simon in answering Carl, I’d say the choices are standard: natural fibres and lighter colours. Linen and cotton are the obvious choices, linen especially, which ‘wicks’ away moisture from the skin.

It seems to me odd that in a heat of 30-40 Celsius anyone would wear dark (let alone black) trousers. If however darker dress trousers are required by a company dress code, then opting for lighter-weight ‘tropical’ wool is the answer. Darker trousers can also be had in linen or a linen/cotton mix.

What say you Simon?

Carl Pullein

Thank you Roger and Simon for the advice. I have invested in a few linen shirts to try out this summer and have found them quite cool. As for trousers I shall pay a visit to my tailor and see if he has the required cloth – it’s a new tailor so I am breaking him in at the moment.

Roger, the black trousers have always surprised me, but perhaps as Simon says most of these guys spend their time indoors where the air conditioning is working over-time.

Once again thank you for the advice.

Richard Ginsburg

Hi Simon,

Great post – learning and reviewing the fundamentals is always enlightening.

Do you have any suggestions for matching trousers and jackets? Blazers and jeans seem to be popular these days for those wishing to look classically elegant but not like they’re going to Sunday night dinner at the lawn bowls club… In my opinion this combination is quite unimaginative and limiting.

In a recent post you lamented the lack of creativity in UK mens’ trouser choice. I’m from Melbourne, Australia and think we have a similar mindset here – nothing but denim, chinos or worsted trousers, and then only as part of a suit.

So what are the rules? Matching colours, textures, fabrics, weights… Even some trouser options for a classic linen or wool navy blazer would be a good starting point.

Any guidance would be appreciated!

Thanks,

Richard

Sir. Kwabena

Dear Sir Crompton,

Thanks for the wonderful tips… I am a student and love to dress well .. But what are ur essential tips to us the upcoming ones.. Since we may not have a large purse yet.

Greetings

Jeff

Dennis

Simon, what is your opinion about wearing more formal wool trousers while dressing more casual on the top half, is it just as bad as using a worsted jacked with casual trousers, or is it doable? Would colour/pattern make a difference here?

I am also interested in options when i comes to more casual wool materials for trousers. Is there any kind of more casual lightweight wool fabric? I have seen a lot of wool voile trousers on the net but I have never had the opportunity to see any in real life, how formal would you consider trousers in this material?, are there both worsted and woolen versions?

I really like wool as a material, but as a student I don’t find my self in situations that require a formal outfit very often.

Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Dennis

Daniel Thomas

Hello Simon,
I have taken a long look at the shirts and ties and a few other items in my wardrobe. There are a number which, whilst being lovely in themselves, I just do not wear. I have held on to them on the basis that I will wear them at some point – just not today. It’s a difficult (and gradual) process taking items along to the Charity shop but I know ultimately a smaller, harder working wardrobe will be more gratifying. Reading and re-reading your blog has inspired me to do this. For which, thanks.

John

Dear Simon,

I’d like to ask you for your help with one conundrum.

I really like a navy tie with white spots (with the size and positioning of spots exactly like this tie from Drake’s: https://www.drakes.com/ties/pindot-and-spot-ties/navy-woven-spot-repp-tie).

The combination of this tie with a striped suit and a plain shirt is great. But what do you think about this spotted tie, a plain colour suit and a striped shirt? I like most the size and spacing of stripes on a poplin shirt very much like you have on this oxford shirt: https://www.permanentstyle.com/2019/02/introducing-striped-ps-oxford-cloth.html (or even thinner and closer). Do you think it is a good match or it is necessary to go for something thicker (at least bengal stripes) with this tie?

Or do you think that dots of this size do not really allow a tie to be a great match with a striped shirt? After trying few combinations I still cannot decide and I’m starting to have my doubts.

Please, what is your opinion?

Thank you very much for your help.

J.