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The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Tie and Wearing It

Updated on September 26, 2019
joespivey profile image

I've got dozens of ties in my collection, so quite a lot of my time has been spent choosing a tie.

"Jeeves, that's no way to store a tie. Roll it up properly!"
"Jeeves, that's no way to store a tie. Roll it up properly!" | Source

Choosing the right tie to wear is something that is approached by people in different ways. Some people just pick the cheapest tie they can find, others buy the most expensive tie in their favourite shop, yet others buy ties in every colour they think they'll need.

This guide will help you choose a tie that is appropriate for any common situation, and will also give you some general tips that will stop sneering sartorial experts from criticising your clothing.

Bow tie or not bow tie?

Have you ever contemplated wearing a bow tie, but felt unsure?

Generally, the best advice is this: If it is a black tie or white tie event, it has to be a bow tie. In every other situation, wear whichever you want.

I've heard stories of people being berated for wearing a bow tie to a funeral. A plain black bow tie is just as acceptable at a funeral as a plain black tie. If anyone at the funeral makes a comment, they obviously spent too little time mourning and too much time looking at everyone's attire.

Colour and pattern

Colour is a very important factor in what tie to wear and which ties to buy. Colours and patterns are what make ties exciting.

Below are some basic rules to follow:

  • Don't wear striped ties, unless it is regimental, or it is an Old Boys'/School tie. Thinner stripes, or stripes constructed from a pattern are fine, and a single colour tie with multi-coloured stripes can be a nice variation on a theme. Horizontal stripes that are large enough to look like squares or rectangles are an interesting variation on a theme.
  • Wear red or blue ties for work - don't choose something with a massive pattern, do choose a distinctive tie, do choose a tie that is a variation of red or black. This doesn't apply to political parties - wear your party's colours where possible.
  • Wear any colour tie if your workplace is more relaxed. A nice pattern will get you a long way - and above the person who wears novelty ties 24/7. The more daring a person you are will dictate what sort of tie you can wear if your workplace is less stringent.
  • When wearing, make sure the pattern doesn't clash with the shirt pattern - a stripy tie and a stripy shirt is a no-no.
  • A patterned tie will handle the wear and tear of daily life better, so in the unfortunate event of a spillage, the effects won't be so obvious.


If you're picking which material you want for your tie, then avoid polyester and nylon at all costs. Whilst these materials are fine for lots of other clothing, ties made from man-made materials usually have staid patterns, colours, and prints, and will look poor in comparison to a silk tie.

A silk tie looks and feels nicer, and allows for different material patterns to be constructed to make the tie pop out more, and look more expensive. A silk tie isn't much more expensive than a polyester or nylon one, and will look so much nicer. If you are the sort of person who only has a few ties, invest in silk.

Alternative materials include viscose (a good imitator of silk, but is not particularly popular in tie-making), which is used more in lining suit jackets as material patterns are not required, and wool, which is a nice alternative material that has a distinctive look.

However, in most situations, stick to silk.

That knot is huge! It's going to kill us!
That knot is huge! It's going to kill us! | Source

Get knotted

There are many different ways you can tie your tie - the Windsor knot (often erroneously termed the Double Windsor), the half-Windsor, the four-in-hand knot (colloquially the schoolboy knot), the Chinese knot (or small knot), and many more.

Essentially, it is your choice - however, the four-in-hand knot is not only the easiest to tie, but is also the best for any situation.

Some people complain that this knot isn't symmetrical, and looks slapdash. However, the Duke of Windsor - the person the knot was named after - made his famously wide knots by using bigger ties. Windsor knots are not as flexible, and will always produce a larger knot than a four-in-hand. Symmetrical knots aren't something to worry about in any case - it doesn't look slapdash, it merely looks natural.

Windsor knots have a propensity for producing a look like that sported by sports pundits and football players alike - stupidly wide knots tend to look stupid, and can be avoided with a well tied four-in-hand knot.

If you are unable to let go of using Windsor knots, at least try to tie them tightly.

Sizing up

A standard 57" tie should be sufficient for the modern man - someone of a taller stature may require more length; a person of a shorter stature may require less length.

Try to avoid the Donald Trump look, where the tie is worn as long as physically possible. It doesn't look right - and there's a reason why it's parodied.

You may have trouble, however, finding a modern tie that fits properly if you are a person who wears high-waisted trousers. Vintage ties (from the '50s and earlier) from eBay or charity shops should be sufficient for the job, unless you are clamouring for a modern tie and are not put off by having to change the length of a tie (either by being a skilled sewer or hacking off part of the tail end of the tie).

In terms of wearing the tie, make sure the end of the tie is either an inch above your belt or an inch below, or anything in between - after all, you can't tie your tie the same every time, can you?

In terms of width, you can choose whatever you like. Currently, narrower ties are in fashion, and if you are a fan of vintage, narrower ties are readily available. Narrow ties work well with thin people, and won't make you any less appropriately dressed.

3 inches is considered the "standard width" - although 2 and a half inches is closer to normal these days. Anything above 3 and a half inches is sportsperson territory again, unless you want the "bold look" from the '50s.

Quite hard to prevent - but there is no need to prevent it!
Quite hard to prevent - but there is no need to prevent it! | Source

How's it hanging?

The tail end of the tie - the bit hanging down behind the front - has been hidden in a few different ways - by tucking it through the loop or the label on the reverse side of the front, or by tucking it inside the wearer's shirt, or by tying the tie so long it doesn't hang down.

Whilst nobody is going to cast you to damnation for putting the tail end of your tie through the loop sewn on specifically for the purpose, traditionally one would leave it hanging, ready to be exposed when a sudden gust of wind appears. If the main end of your tie is slapping one side of your face, why can't the smaller end slap the other?

Don't feel like you have to make an effort the small end of your tie, especially if you end up having to lengthen or shorten your tie to do so.

And finally...

You're having a meal; you're wearing your tie. You don't want to spill the bœuf bourguignon down your tie.

Don't, whatever you do, fling your tie over your shoulder. You'll look like an idiot who can't eat without splattering their clothing, or one of those people who can't help dipping their tie in stain-causing liquids. It looks undignified, too. If you are so worried about it, wear a bow tie, resign yourself to the fact you can't eat cleanly and wear a bib, or eat slower and more carefully for the occasion. Nobody should turn up to such occasions ravenously hungry.

Should you spill anything, a patterned tie should mask it a bit. Clean it up, and don't mention it. If you spill something on someone else, that's a different matter. I can't help you there.

I hope this advice has been useful to you - undoubtedly, there will be some disagreements. This guide should at least put you well ahead of that person who can't dress themselves to save their lives

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