I once found myself at Macy’s checking out alternative bow tie options for my then upcoming nuptials, when I stumbled upon this display rack of bow tie + pocket square combinations from Tommy Hilfiger.

I was pleasantly surprised at most of the pairings that were put together.


This display is a perfect example of how to complement color and pattern instead of matching exactly.

(Pardon the blurry photo; the sales associates were starting to give me the stink eye.)

Contrast this with most tie pocket square combinations you see, where the tie material exactly matches the pocket square material.

Stay away from those.

You don’t have to buy these sets from Mr. Hilfiger to achieve the same effect. Simply keep this principle in mind.

Quick note: If you’re still unsure about how to tie a bow tie, this is a great video from my friend Raphael of Gentleman’s Gazette: How To Tie A Bow Tie The Easy Way

The Fool-Proof Method for “matching”

First off, remove this idea of matching from your head. You don’t want to exactly match anything, ever. Instead, what you want to do is complement.

Complement: a thing that completes or brings to perfection

Start with one item, say the square, and make note of the most minor color. Maybe it’s the color of the skinniest stripe, or the dot color in a dot pattern square.

When choosing the other item (e.g. tie, bow tie, ascot, etc.), make sure that minor color is the most prominent one visible.

So if the minor color of your square is orange, make sure your bow tie has an orange base, or has mostly orange in the design.

No one color is most prominent? Just choose one, and make that color the most prominent one in your other accessory.

Regarding pattern, take note of the pattern from the square. Is it loud and bold, or more subtle and subdued?

For your tie or bow tie, do the opposite. Loud and bold square? Choose subtle and subdued neckwear.

Subtle and subdued neckwear? Choose a loud and bold square.

That contrast, paired with the correct choice in color, will make for a perfect pairing in your accessories.

What if I have three accessories?

If you were trying to work in a colorful grosgrain belt or something similar, a good rule of thumb is to keep it subtle, the closer in distance it is to everything else.

For example, choose another minor color from your pocket square or tie (let’s say green), and make sure the main color of your grosgrain belt is green.

A safe option would be to inject a darker color (navy, burgundy, forest green), because it still gives you that pop of color, but the darker hue will be more subtle.

An even safer option would be to just stick with a leather belt.

Whatever you decide, subtlety is always key.

An alternative to the above

Another option is to bust out that color wheel. We’ve discussed this before. Learn which colors are exact opposites of each other, which ones form a triad color scheme, which ones are split complementaries of each other, etc.

It might take a while to get used to, but practice enough, and you’ll just recognize naturally which colors look best together, and which don’t belong together.

A few more color-related articles on EG:

Is this helpful?

I get so many emails and questions about matching, how to do it, how does one know if these two colors or patterns match, does this go with that… and so hopefully this little tip will help you.

Any specific questions? Let’s hear em below.

Learn a few shortcuts to dressing well

Enter your first name and email, and I'll send you a free eGuide with quick and easy tips you can use today.

17 Responses

  1. Simon on

    Other posts like this out there of course, but you concepts in a clear and easy to remember way. I’ll definitely share this if ever asks about matching.

    • Barron on

      Thanks Simon. And yep, definitely not the first person to put this idea out there, but hopefully it’s simplicity will keep it actionable and memorable.

  2. Mike Ambassador Bruny on

    Thanks for sharing the picture. I’m used to seeing the tie and pocket square “match,” when being sold <–boo. Thanks for this article I look forward to sharing it with some of my peeps. In the words of Pam Slim, "it doesn't have to be matchy-matchy, it just has to go."

    • Barron on

      Isn’t that the worst? The matchy pocket square / bow tie combo? This is the first time I’ve seen it done “right”, meaning not matching at all, but complementing instead.

      Share away my friend πŸ™‚

  3. Brian on

    Ok, very basic question – how would this rule work when choosing a shirt, tie, pocket square combo? I assume that the shirt can’t be too loud if we’re using at work.

    • Abdul on

      I like to think of my shirt as a canvas for the tie/pocket square. So I usually stick with a simple colour or a simple pattern.
      My strategy is for the shirt to complement the major colour of my tie while the pocket square is the minor colour of my tie

    • Barron on

      Second what Abdul said. To keep it simple just stick with a white or light-colored shirt. Easy. You don’t want to color-coordinate the crap out of everything because then it will look too contrived.

  4. Brandon on

    Saw that same display of the Hilfiger bow tie/square sets at the local Marshall’s last night. At $13 a pair it was almost to good to pass up…if not for the squares alone. I’ve been contemplating going back and picking up a few sets.

  5. mike w on

    Excellent article! Im writing something very similar, sooooo i hope you dont mind very much if i “borrow” one or two of the points you made here πŸ™‚

  6. Andre on

    This is fantastic advice on such a fundamental aspect of dressing well. Always been a fan of Tommy Hilfiger

  7. Domenic on

    This article was very helpful! You used the word “compliment”. I have navy suit, white dress shirt, and green apple tie with navy polkadots. I chose a lavender pocket square because it goes great with the apple green colour and navy colour. Is that what you mean by “compliment”?

  8. Mark on

    These short, concise and informative articles are just fantastic! I just started on the perfect wardrobe article and then just started clicking through the links. Learned more in 1 hour than the last 10 years πŸ™‚