How to perfectly match a jacket with a shirt and pocket square, and to complement the colours of all elements of your outfit is a question that we see a lot at Rampley & Co, but this ought not be a sartorial Rubik’s cube. The mornings are too short to stand at the dressing mirror baffled by a complexity of tonal colours and herringbone patterns.
In this post we will cover the key rules when matching colours and patterns including:
- The Dos and Don'ts of colour matching
- The best combinations for navy and light grey jackets
- How to wear a monochrome look
- Blue, white and pink shirts
- How to match your patterns
We can, when using the paired language of the colour wheel, complement and contrast clothes to radiate a clear, simple and stylish message. If we want to emit a playful sense of daring and danger we choose red. If the occasion calls for regality we call upon purple, or as spring approaches we reach for light yellows and blues.
There are several things to consider when matching patterns and colours, but we highlight the most important issues below.
The Dos and Don'ts of Colour Matching
Let us first alight at these general yet crucial pointers you can easily refer to, even as you scramble hastily for a perfectly harmonious suit combination.
Do not panic. The meeting may be approaching. The first date may be calling. The job interview date may be advancing. Simply avert your eyes below, find your favoured suit tone and begin to breathe calmly again.
General rules for navy - Do: orange, red, yellow, light blue, lilac, white, cream.
When matching navy, avoid black and dark shades of purple. If you chose to wear black dress trousers with a navy jacket, you risk looking like you have committed the cardinal sin of mismatching your suit, while deep purple tones open up a sartorial Pandora's Box of colour matching quibbles.
Similarly, the old adage that blue and green aren't fit to be seen is certainly applicable when it comes to choosing colours to match a royal blue suit. Although navy is an extremely versatile colour that allows you to be creative with your colour matching choices, the aforementioned shades are better relegated to the back of the wardrobe when deciding which hues best compliment a navy jacket.
General rules for light grey - Do: black, navy, white, maroon, green, lighter pinks, teal, yellow.
When matching light grey, avoid brighter colours. It is a similarly versatile colour to navy, so has many options to pair with. Other than overtly bright colours, most shades will work seamlessly when paired with a lighter grey dress jacket and trousers.
Start with the Shirt
When planning an outfit, Yves Saint Laurent always started from what he considered to be the cornerstone of any gentleman's outfit: the shirt. Beginning the process of matching suit colours with the shirt is helpful, particularly in the warmer months, when the most popular shirt colours are white, pale blue, light pink.
With these three colours it is almost impossible to not successfully find combinations suitable for the day’s purpose. And, happily, each of us very likely to already own shirts that come in at least one, if not all three of these staple colours.
White Shirt and Black Suit Combinations
Let’s begin our guide simply, breezing through the elegant and timeless black suit and white shirt pairing. Here we’ll see just how easily a blueprint can be followed with a look we can all understand and appreciate.
A slim black suit and white shirt has inarguable gravitas and has absolute versatility of occasion. It’s a look that has been in men's collections for at least ten seasons and will likely see ten seasons hence. Tom Ford. Karl Lagerfeld. Burberry. White shirt, beautifully fitting black jacket, perfectly cut black trousers. Pick a season, and you'll find this classic look.
We would, however, advise that the black suit is towards the more formal end of the spectrum, so wear it as your statement suit, rather than your every day office attire.
A slight word of warning though. This look works better for those with darker hair and/or darker skin tones should you wish to contrast bright ties and pocket squares. Instead, if you’re of a fairer complexion, think of greys and blacks for ties. The clean, crisp accent of a white pocket square has traditionally been a favourite among the most dapper men at red carpet events, and for good reason.
Image Source: GQ.com
If your complexion is darker, then proceed to select your ties as requirements dictate, but be sure there is an echo of dialogue between tie and pocket square that employs the darker end of the colour spectrum. Do note that bright colours will require a fine and experienced hand and are better avoided if you are unsure. We recommend that directly matching the colour and patterns between tie and pocket square be avoided at all costs.
Lastly, black shoes, polished and pristine, will ensure the coherence of the timeless white shirt and black suit combination at any event. Any deviation from this tried and tested formula should be avoided.
White Shirt and Navy Suit Combinations
While the navy suit has traditionally been the conventional and conservative suit of the boardroom, by pairing a white shirt with this stalwart of men's fashion, the connotations of corporate stiffness are removed, especially when worn without a tie. It goes without saying that your shirt should be crisp and clean.
Classic Navy Suit Looks
A classic look for navy suits is to opt for a deep blue tie and to give your outfit a focal point, add a pocket square with muted colours. Other more conservative looks involve burgundy ties rather and light patterns. For the extra touch of class go for the double breasted suit.
Another simple option to go for if you enjoy wearing bold ties is to wear a muted pocket square, allowing you to be bolder and rid the navy suit of its tepid reputation. With a white pocket square, you can utilise aqua blues, lilacs and yellow shades in your tie selection with shoes in burgundy and brown.
For something a little more daring, go for a pop of colour with the pocket square that complements a colour in the tie.
Blue Shirt and Grey Suit Combinations
The most reliable suit colour for the warmer spring and summer months is the light grey suit, with a powder blue shirt. The blue shirt reflects the cloudless summer skies, while the light-hearted spirit of the season is mirrored by the lighter grey shades of the suit, certainly a more suitable fit for long days in the sun.
Neither too formal not too relaxed, a light grey suit paired with a pale blue shirt is a combination best offset with red, blue and purple ties, particularly in softer pastel shades.
The choice of tie - and indeed pocket square - may be better delayed until your choice of shoe colour is decided upon. Black, brown and burgundy leather shoes all pair beautifully with lighter greys. A chance then to push footwear a little towards the bolder end of your taste, since matching grey suits allows a leeway here. Do take advantage!
Blue Shirt and Tan Suit Combinations
Sartorially speaking, both light grey and tan suits are unsurpassable in radiating a certain degree of summertime elegance. Whilst adhering to a powder blue shirt is smart move in both senses of the word, we’ve lately seen this look matched with blue striped Oxford shirts and navy blue ties. It provides a contemporary sharpness and, when worn with dark sunglasses, conveys a touch of high fashion.
It must be stated that tie choices should be limited to darker blues. If you insist on deviation here, do note that you find yourself on choppy and uncharted waters.
A little fun with footwear is permitted here too. It’s not often that white shoes fall pleasingly into the background but matched with a tan suit they miraculously will. Light browns offer more a conventional alternative, while suede blue loafers would make a significant sartorial statement. But if you're looking to dress up this classic summer style, look no further than a pair of brown/tan and white spectator shoes.
Pink Shirt and Navy Suit Combinations
We wrote earlier of how, for some, the navy suit has seemingly acquired unshakeable undertones of conservatism and safety. Now, take a look at pairing a pink shirt with a navy suit, a classic and dapper choice for any man. A pink and a navy combination offers the most subtle, clean and crisp contrasts possible. They combine exceedingly well.
The bolder among you may enjoy experimenting with yellow ties and pocket squares, footwear without socks, blues and reds in the most extreme shades and burgundy shoes without laces. Be playful.
Pink Shirt and Grey Suit Combinations
Always popular for weddings, a grey suit and pink shirt is a reliable option that will ensure that you are almost as well dressed as the groom. A navy or burgundy tie, and black shoes will stand you in good stead, and for the final flair, a trusty white pocket square. You may also consider a pocket square to complement your tie by selecting one colour from your tie to mirror.
Three is the Magic Number
Matching three patterns requires skill, knowledge and experience. We suggest three as the absolute limit, including accessories. It's much safer and rewarding to stick with two patterns only. And although two is most certainly safer, there is still plenty of room to express your sartorial flair.
I write this with the assumption that we do not include solid colours as patterns. We can, if we include a solid white shirt for example, bring together two other patterns fairly simply. Assuming that we do not include solid colours in our pattern matching - and we don’t - three patterns will, therefore, confuse your neatly put together look. However, If you must introduce a third pattern, there is an elegant and very simple way of doing so with a tie.
We would suggest a plain shirt when combining multiple patterns, such as on a suit, tie and/or a pocket square. But, as a way of introducing a third pattern, the tie is your sympathetic, undemanding friend. And if the aim is to be bold, the tie is your conduit.
When attempting the dubious task of tastefully matching patterns, one must not only consider the obvious factors - that is, the colour and exact style of pattern - but also the less obvious factor: the size of the pattern.
By contrasting the size of your patterns, by mixing big with small, small with medium, and medium with small and large and everything in between, you unlock the secret to pattern matching with panache.
Contrasting the sizes of your patterns, can reap the ultimate sartorial rewards. Deftly matching a medium sized glen checked jacket, with the larger patterns of a mosaic printed tie, and finished off with the bold and unique lines created by a folded silk pocket square, is a skill to be admired.
Indeed, in the case of matching patterns, practice really does make perfect. Stand in front of the mirror and experiment with your patterns - the more contrast in size and style, the better!
And please, never match more that two types of check. Two requires a little skill and an eye for modern trends and styles. Three requires a lot of paracetamol and a lie down.
You’ll be very familiar with both the chalk stripe and the pin stripe suit. Chalks are wider, pins are thinner. Its a very traditional look affixed to very traditional colours - Navy, Black and Grey.
When pattern matching a pinstripe suit, we recommend complementing the stripes with a diagonal stripe in the tie to contrast the vertical stripes of the jacket and trousers. Thin pin stripes pair incredibly well with larger stripes, such as a sports tie, or our Shantung Collection.
The reason Herringbone works so well in the colder months is because it’s often found on thicker fabrics, like tweed. It also radiates a feel that is inherently British and scholarly, autumnal even.
This pattern, therefore, is rarely at the forefront of fashion trends. Herringbone, however, is one of the few patterns that immediately give a sense of maturity and seriousness - which, of course, our schedules and appointments sometimes require. Herringbone is versatile, so if your target is to update a literary, refined look, begin with herringbone. It’ll mix with all the patterns listed here, providing your colour matching is sound and there is at least one block colour within your outfit.
This wintry cousin of the Herringbone, also found mostly on thicker fabrics, gives the wearer with a sharper look that’s more often aligned with contemporary fashion.
Houndstooth is never far from some revival or another, and very seldom does a autumn/winter catwalk not deliver at least a handful of houndstooth. This is likely because houndstooth has accumulated a degree of cultural 'coolness', accrued from decades of decisive pop culture references.
A houndstooth suit jacket will go beautifully with a striped shirt and block colour tie. If you hand a stylist a houndstooth jacket, the very next thing they will reach for is a striped shirt. And so should you, too.
When it comes to Paisley, we advise to keep to accessories only which can pick up colours in a shirt or jacket beautifully. And whilst a paisley shirt can be matched perfectly acceptably with a suit, even adding contemporary feel if done with a wise and careful eye, we must tread here with the highest caution.
And there we have it, our guide to colour and pattern matching. Hopefully you now feel able to match the colours and patterns that you have in your wardrobe with confidence. No longer will you be perplexed at what colours to wear with a navy jacket, now you can add an extra sartorial flair of pattern into the mix to stand out from the crowd.