Boldly dress as no man has done before

Your shirt and tie will marry nicely, as long as the size of designs differ

February 08, 2004|By Kevin M. Williams | Kevin M. Williams,Chicago Tribune

Boldly striped shirts for men are hot, and you have one. But why, whenever you wear the thing with a tie, do people stare at your chest as if they're looking for the magic drawing that is sure to reveal itself if they stare long enough?

Because you, sir, have committed a pattern-matching faux pas.

"When you get similar patterns of the same scale, it can create an image of optical movement," says Tom Jackson, general manager at Paul Stuart in Chicago. "With a very small print, you would not want to put a small pattern with that."

So you have this shirt; maybe it was a gift. First, if someone gave you a striped shirt, our condolences, as they took it upon themselves to advance your fashion quotient in a way that should be attempted only by you. This is one of the times where you can honestly say, upon receipt of such a gift, "You shouldn't have."

But they did, and you need help swimming the seas of rampaging Anglophilia. You could choose not to wear it at all -- until someone points out to you, "Hey, you never wear that snappy shirt that I gave you." (If someone ever refers to your clothing as "snappy," take it off and burn it immediately. Male attire is elegant and handsome, but never snappy.)

Some men resolve the pattern-matching dilemma by not wearing a tie. Just button that top button, and off we go.

"The younger guys are definitely into the bolder stripes," says Evelyn Pula, a sales associate at the New York store of Charles Tyrwhitt. "Most of them wear them without ties."

Cheaters.

So, to the necktie closet.

Sure, you can be a wuss and choose a solid tie that complements a color of the shirt. You don't see the Brit blokes doing that, do you? There's a reason. And it isn't color-blindness, but a simple realization:

There are no rules for the well-dressed man.

"Most English people do a lot of pattern on pattern," Pula says. "But a lot of American guys are kind of skeptical about it."

For good reason: If you mess up, you look like a fool. But a corollary to the no-rules rule is that the well-dressed man must know what in the hell he's doing.

When in doubt, keep this in mind: big / small, small / big. That is, if the shirt has a large pattern, go for a small-patterned tie, and vice versa. The tie should echo the least dominant color in a multicolored shirt. Keep that in mind, and it's hard to go wrong.

"If you are going to mate two similar patterns, you just want to make sure that scales of the two are as dissimilar as possible," Jackson says. "Same thing for checks or plaids. With a large pattern on the shirt, choose a smaller pattern for the tie, for example. Make sure that one obviously overwhelms the other."

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