Men who don't work office jobs that require ties tend to only own a few, usually a mixed bag of gifts, high school leftovers, and sporadic impulse buys.
Men who do wear a tie every day tend to get them as gifts from people who don't know what else to give, and thereby acquire a massively oversized collection, only a fraction of which is actually useful.
A few ties that limit your options on the rare occasion when you need a necktie, or a bunch of closet clutter you're never going to use — neither of those sounds ideal.
Whether you're looking to fill out a sparse collection or trim an oversized collection down to the essentials, here are some ties every man should own, regardless of his style or profession.
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Diagonal Stripe Ties
Gentlemen, meet the default.
For reasons both cultural and aesthetic, colored ties with diagonal stripes of another color (or several other colors) have become the generic image of a business-appropriate necktie. You'll see variations on the general theme of “diagonal stripes” more than you will any other necktie look.
That's not an inherently bad thing. It's a broad category. Diagonal striped ties can achieve a lot of different looks based on their colors, the width of the stripes, and whether it's a single, repeating stripe or a more variegated pattern.
- For Strict Business: Get it in a deep, rich hue like burgundy or royal purple, with lighter stripes. Single thin stripes are simplest, but they can be framed by stripes of a third color if everything's in the same general family, or if one of the colors is something neutral like gray.
- For More Relaxed Business: Variegated stripes (where both the colors and the widths go through gradient changes) work well here. Neutral and light colors go well against white shirts, while more saturated colors work against colored shirts.
- For Fun: The brightest, most contrasting stripes should be saved for low-key work environments and social occasions.
Don't worry too much about how many stripes there are or how wide they are unless you're wearing an established, mandated pattern like a regimental or school tie. Vary it up a little so that your ties don't all have the same geometry day in and day out.
Diagonal striped ties are good, safe neckties that work in a lot of different roles, so it's worth owning two or three at minimum. One with a dark background, one with a neutral or light background, and one with some bright contrasting “pop” to it makes a great start to a closet.
Repeating Figure or “Wallpaper” Neckties
A slightly busier look than the diagonal stripe, figure ties are exactly that: ties with a graphic design or “figure” that repeats over and over again against a colored background.
These are sometimes referred to as “wallpaper ties,” particularly when the figure is an ornate, lobed shape with lots of curlicues reminiscent of late 19th and early 20th century wallpapers.
They're a good way to look like a bold dresser without being too gaudy. The lower the color contrast, the more restrained the tie will look. Dark blue on a lighter blue with faint gray highlights looks pretty dressy; light pink on a dark blue background is more fun and casual, and so on.
- For Strict Business: Most of the tie should all come from the same color family, with maybe one small contrasting element (not too bright). An elegant pattern helps, too: those vintage-looking wallpaper patterns come across as dressier than a big polka-dot or floral pattern.
- For More Relaxed Business: Brighter colors and a more distinct pattern are acceptable here. A lot of figure ties fall into this range, including the milder paisley, floral, and abstract “starburst” sorts of figures.
- For Fun: Instead of an abstract figure, an icon or image like an anchor, an airplane, or just about anything else can be repeated. On a small scale in not-too-bright color, these work as business-casual ties, but use caution. Too big and bold and they're just novelty ties — okay for a theme party and not much else.
Own at least one of the dressier figure ties so that you're not wearing diagonal stripe or solid ties to every single business event. Beyond that, a bolder figure never hurts for social events, and if you like a particular sort of pattern (paisley, wallpaper, whatever), go ahead and load up a few more. A man can't go wrong owning at least two or three figure ties.
Solid Color Neckties
Pro Tip: most “solid color” ties aren't. They've got some sort of visible weave, texture, or subtle pattern that breaks up the single color.
That's almost always a good thing, since a full necktie in unbroken, solid color is more of a splash that most men want to make (particularly if it's a bold color). But with just a hint of visible texture to break things up, these are a good way to be crisp, bold, and minimalist without being gaudy.
- For Strict Business: You've got two options, really — the nice, rich, refined dark color with a low luster, and the “power tie” of bright, high-gloss red. The former looks better, but the latter will always have its fans who swear by the psychological benefit. Both show up in business settings.
- For More Relaxed Business: Solid pastels, often high-sheen or visibly textured, are a good pair for colored shirts.
- For Fun: Any single, bright color in an unbroken swath is bordering on novelty. Great for showing home team pride at a sporting event. Outside of that, maybe break it up with a little pattern or texture.
These aren't the most versatile ties, so there's no reason to own a whole lot of them. But one or two can come in handy, especially if you pick them out specifically to go with shirts or jackets you already own.
Final note on the subject of solids: think long and hard before wearing a plain black tie unless you're in a band, waiting tables, or marching alongside a coffin. Even the iconic Japanese salarymen are starting to move away from these. It's a stark look that flatters almost no one, particularly when paired with a plain white shirt.
Polka Dot Neckties
Okay, technically polka dots are just a specific type of figure p
attern, but they're so iconic they deserve their own mention. Too much of a good thing looks kitschy, so understand
the basic rules: smaller dots further apart look more formal; bigger dots and less spacing look more casual.
Color choice matters a lot, too. Muted colors and lower contrast help keep polka dots from getting overwhelming. Bright dots need to be small, wide-spaced, and on a dark background if they're going to work in an office setting.
- For Strict Business: Something other than polka dots.
- For More Relaxed Business: A dark or neutral background with dots that reference the shirt color looks fantastic. Contrasting textures or glosses can work well here, too: matte dots against a more reflective background are eye-catching without being overwhelming.
- For Fun: Stay away from sheer novelty prints (big red dots on a white background, etc.) and you can get away with whatever polka dots tickle your fancy.
Go easy on your collection of polka dot ties — you don't want to be the guy that's known for them, even if your workplace is accepting of relaxed patterns. One or two nice, dressed-up polka dot ties is probably all you need, plus a couple for fun if they're really your thing.
In and out of fashion at various points, knit ties come back around so often it's worth having a few on hand.
These are larger, bulkier ties than the more common woven versions. They have a visibly bumpy texture and in some cases visible gaps in the fabric. The thickness makes for a nice, hefty knot — great for bigger guys and broader faces, but tough to pull off if you're on the skinny side.
Wear them when you want a little bit of a vintage feel, or when your outfit needs some texture to break up a flat look.
- For Strict Business: Plain, deep colors like navy blue and burgundy work well. Black knit ties show up in a lot of collections too, but as mentioned earlier, solid black isn't the best look for most guys. Stick to deep hues or neutral colors like gray instead.
- For More Relaxed Business: Multicolor knits like argyle are your dressed-down stars, along with designs in the knit itself (usually just variegated ribbing, since the tie is too narrow for anything more detailed).
- For Fun: Brighter colored versions of the relaxed business knit ties: bold plaids, big knit shapes like snowflakes, etc.
Because the basic, solid-color or lightly patterned knits pair so well with sports jackets, it's worth owning a couple in muted, versatile colors. Try to own at least one or two knit ties. Your wardrobe will thank you.
The Complete Collection
Tastes differ. So do needs. Not everyone's collection is going to look the same. But at bare minimum, every man should ideally own the following:
- 1-2 diagonal stripe ties — basic, versatile, and dependable. The go-to for a conventional business look.
- 1-2 figure pattern ties — a little livelier and more unique than the diagonals, but still good for most business occasions.
- 1 muted, solid-color tie — for the most pared-down, minimalist business looks (good for things like court dates or high-stakes business presentations)
- 3-4 “your pick” ties — polka dots, knits, more figures, novelty ties; whatever floats your boat.
Add it all up and you're still talking single digits. That's probably not enough for a man who works in a necktie every day — he's going to want to have more from each category up above. But it's a nice working collection for guys who may not need a tie every day, but do need to look good when they grab one.
The key will always be to look deliberate, like your tie was hand-selected for the outfit it goes with. The more carefully you choose your ties (preferably with your existing wardrobe in mind), the easier it is to get that sharp-edged, hand-selected look.
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