Is The Tie The Only Accessory To Formalise Your Attire?

Need to impress an important client? Put on a tie… Need to give a presentation to the board of directors? Put on a tie… Attending a job interview? Put on a tie… It seems as though everybody’s come to a social acceptance about wearing ties. If you need to “dress up” for any reason, just put on a tie. And that the tie has become the ubiquitous accessory that separates the formal from the casual… Except, is it really?… Did you know that even within a wardrobe full of ties, there’s a varying degree of formality to take note of? Well, there is, and we’ll go through what makes one tie more formal than another.

A loosely tied knot on an open collar pale blue shirt.
Is the difference between being dressed up and being casual just a matter of whether you’re wearing a tie? Or is it a little more complicated than that?
Image by Hans Braxmeier of Pixabay

Different Levels Of Formality In Menswear

We’ve shared that suits or jackets, dress shoes, shirts, and even pocket squares come in various formality levels. And yes, there’s also a difference in formality levels for ties too. But before we proceed, let’s revisit the different formality levels once again.

Formality LevelTypes Of Base Attire
#1Business Formal (Conservative Dark Suit)
#2Business Semi-Formal (More “Lively” Suit)
#3Business Informal (Blazer Combo)
#4Business Casual (Sport Jacket Combo)
#5Casual (Casual Jacket Combo)
The formality levels and their corresponding types of base attire. Once you have determined the base attire, you can then start to build the rest of the outfits from the base up.

As with the other garments, the “rules” are pretty much similar. Darker shades are more formal than lighter shades. Neutral tones are more formal than “louder” tones. Solid colours are more formal than textures or patterns. Within patterns, small geometric or repeating patterns are more formal than bold patterns. And stripes are more formal than checks or plaids, which in turn are more formal than non-repeating patterns. Also, finer patterns are generally more formal than bolder patterns.

Different Ties For Different Formality Levels

You’ll more or less be able to gauge the general formality based on these “rules” alone. So how do we apply these “rules” to the ties? Let’s take a look at some visual examples :-

(1) Solid Coloured Tie

Unless you’re attending a funeral, or you work in a funeral parlour, refrain from wearing black suits and black ties. That aside, the general consensus is that the darker the shade, the more formal they are. Even a hint of colour makes the difference. The darker the shade, the more formal it is. On the opposite end, the brighter the colour or the lower the contrast, the more casual it is. Here are some examples of various types of ties on a solid charcoal grey suit jacket and solid white shirt.

Close-up of the chest, showing a solid burgundy tie on a charcoal suit jacket and solid white shirt.
A solid burgundy tie brings a hint of colour to an otherwise monotone greyscale outfit. This outfit is suitable for formality level #1.
Image by Author
Close-up of the chest, showing a solid medium blue tie on a charcoal suit jacket and solid white shirt.
A solid medium blue tie brings more vibrance to an otherwise solemn ensemble. This ensemble is barely acceptable for formality level #1. So best to reserve it for formality level #2 or #3.
Image by Author
Close-up of the chest, showing a solid light green tie on a charcoal suit jacket and solid white shirt.
A lighter shade of green tones down the shirt-tie contrast, solidifying its position in formality level #2 or #3. Whilst you can wear it for formality level #1, but you’re beginning to stretch it just a little too much.
Image by Author
Close-up of the chest, showing a solid red tie on a charcoal suit jacket and solid white shirt.
If you want to make a grand entrance, then bright red is for you. Wearing a bold solid red tie is essentially making a statement without actually saying anything. You’re the boss, the top dog, the alpha male. Definitely not suitable for formality level #1. Best to leave it for formality levels #2 or #3.
Image by Author

(2) Small Geometric Or Repeating Pattern Tie

Solid colours are boring, especially when you want to express a little more fun. When you have a slight bounce to your gait, or a twinkle in your eye, you’ll want something less mundane. But you also don’t want to go overboard either. This is where small geometric or repeating patterns come into play.

Close-up of the chest, showing a tie with small repeating pin dots on a charcoal suit jacket and solid white shirt.
A charcoal tie with small, pin pricks of pinks and purples. This gives it just a hint of “fun” to an otherwise serious looking ensemble. Not as solemn as a solid coloured tie, the small dots don’t detract much formality. Suitable for formality levels #1 through #3.
Image by Author
Close-up of the chest, showing a purple tie with small repeating geometric patterns on a charcoal suit jacket and solid white shirt.
A violet/blue tie is pretty neutral on its own. Introduce some small repeating geometric patterns, and you add more dimensions to the otherwise “flat” tie. Suitable for formality level #1 in a pinch. Best to keep this to formality levels #2 and #3 instead.
Image by Author
Close-up of the chest, showing a blue tie with yellow polka dots on a charcoal suit jacket and solid white shirt.
Navy is a neutral and serious colour. But add in bright yellow polka dots, and you sprinkle a little more fun to it. As long as you keep the polka dots small, it’s suitable for formality levels #2 and #3.
Image by Author
Close-up of the chest, showing a red tie with small repeating patterns on a charcoal suit jacket and solid white shirt.
The red base colour screams “Look At Me”, though the deeper red muffles it down a little. And the small repeating patterns further tones it down even more. Suitable for formality level #1 in a pinch. Best to keep this to formality levels #2 and #3.
Image by Author

(3) Regimental Stripe Tie

Enough with the subtle patterns. You’re bold, and you want to express it. And small repeating patterns isn’t making a roar loud enough to be heard. It’s time to bring in the regimental stripes.

Close-up of the chest, showing a navy tie with white-red-white regimental stripes on a charcoal suit jacket and solid white shirt.
Navy base with white-red-white regimental stripes gives a not-so-subtle salute to the Union Jack. Made famous by the Kingsman movie franchise. Unless you’re wearing it as part of a uniform, refrain from formality level #1. Otherwise, it’s good for formality levels #2 through #4.
Image by Author
Close-up of the chest, showing a navy tie with yellow regimental stripes on a charcoal suit jacket and solid white shirt.
Similar to the example above, this navy base with a densely packed yellow regimental stripes exudes a uniform look. And again, unless you’re wearing it as part of a uniform, refrain from formality level #1. Otherwise, it’s suitable for formality levels #2 through #4.
Image by Author
Close-up of the chest, showing a green tie with black regimental stripe on a charcoal suit jacket and solid white shirt.
Light green base brings down the tie-shirt contrast quite a bit, hence the reduced formality. And the thick black stripe followed by multiple thin stripes add some visual details to an otherwise bland look. Suitable for formality level #2 in a pinch, but otherwise, keep it to between formality levels #3 and #4.
Image by Author

(4) Not-So-Traditional Tie Patterns

The not-so-traditional patterns aren’t exactly uncommon. In fact, some may argue that the not-so-traditional patterns sell better than the traditional ones. I suppose the fact that these patterns break away from the mundane uniform look actually encourages sale. Convention dictates that you have to wear a tie. But it doesn’t dictate that you have to stick to boring old solids or traditional patterns. There are too many different types of patterns to fully classify, so here’s a couple of common examples :-

Close-up of the chest, showing a silver neckwear with navy and grey plaid on a charcoal suit jacket and solid white shirt.
Plaids are inherently less formal than regimental stripes. As usual, the bolder the pattern, the less formal it is. This example is best used for formality levels between #3 and #4. In a pinch, you could use it for formality level #2, but refrain if possible.
Image by Author
Close-up of the chest, showing a peach neckwear with repeating geometric patterns on a charcoal suit jacket and solid white shirt.
Also a repeating pattern, though not in the same league as the small repeating patterns above. The peach base colour creates a low tie-shirt contrast. And the repeating patterns tones down the formality even more. Suitable for formality level #2 in a pinch. Best to stay between formality levels #3 and #4.
Image by Author

Then there are also the bold paisley patterns, batik prints, and even novelty prints. Except for novelty ties, you can safely wear the others on formality levels #3 and #4. Just make sure to keep your Santa Claus printed tie to your Christmas parties only.

And That’s Not Even All The Ties That Exist

The variety of examples above may look intimidating, but we’ve only touched on the “regular” ties. These generally use woven fabric, and folded into its characteristic shapes. You may have heard descriptions like “three-fold ties” or “seven-fold ties”. For the next episode, we’ll take a look at the not-so-common knit ties. In the meantime, do participate in the poll below. And feel free to drop a comment below the poll too. But if you’d rather just pull the trigger and seek personal branding consultancy, look up Solarex Imaging.

Do you have ties in your wardrobe? If so, how many?
7 votes

About CHOW Wei Ming

Brand consultant, photographer, creative director, storyteller, and a true believer of the power of visual communications. Outwardly expresses a friendly disposition, but hides a perfectionist nature deep inside him.

One Reply to “Is The Tie The Only Accessory To Formalise Your Attire?”

  1. Pingback: What's A Knit Tie, And Is There Such A Thing As A Casual Tie? - Espoletta

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