There are certain combinations that always work if you’re not sure about how to use colour in your dressing.
Remember the colour wheels you used to create in second-grade art class — the circle where green would neighbour blue and yellow, opposite red flanked by orange and purple?
Who knew that humble painting would be teaching you sartorial lessons decades later — because the colour wheel holds the key to which suit, shirt, and tie colours clash, and which are complementary.
You’re looking for colours that square off across the colour wheel — blue across from yellow and orange, red staring at green and blue, yellow against blue and purple — because they complement each other. Blue and green? They’re neighbours, and that’s a contrast no-no.
So channel your inner seven-year-old as we step through five complementary suit, shirt and tie combinations that work every time.
Red, white, and blue
No, not a celebration of your American patriotism — rather the matching of a contemporary blue suit with a versatile white shirt and a red tie (think Donald Trump, only better tailored). Hot red and cool blue are the most trusty complementary colours on the wheel, especially when the shirt is a lot gentler than the tie — a powder blue shirt with a deep burgundy tie, for example, or a soft pink shirt with a solid navy tie.
Blue gingham shirt, red tie
A variation of the red, white and blue that adds some detail with the fine check on the shirt — but it’s just one of loads of patterned shirts that pair beautifully with a professional charcoal or slightly more laid-back navy suit. Broader checks, stripes, even paisley if you’re feeling a little like Cam from Modern Family all require a block-colour tie in a complementary colour — think a checked red shirt with a navy tie, or a red striped shirt against a rich green tie.
Tan suit plus blue
Your warm, summery tan suit squares off with cooler hues of blue on the other side of the colour wheel — so tones of blue are a winner here. A soft blue shirt with a navy tie, or even a white shirt with a lighter blue tie, are both reliable partners for this breezy choice of suit colour. Patterns or textures on the tie — a knitted blue silk, for instance, or polka dots — are encouraged.
Fifty shades of blue
While contrasting colours complement each other, so do contrasting shades of the same colour — think about how a dark blue tie makes a light blue shirt pop because of the tonal contrast. And that’s why the navy suit with a powder blue shirt and darker tie — or, for that matter, a grey suit with a blue shirt-and-tie combo — is a winner every time, especially when patterns — like a windowpane suit, a striped shirt, or a patterned tie — add some extra detail to the ensemble.
Black and white
Attentive students will recall that black and white doesn’t feature on the colour wheel — meaning the simple white shirt teams up with virtually every tie ever produced — but a black suit and tie creates the maximum contrast, and produces a timeless, refined look. You need a flawless suit, though, otherwise you’ll look more Uncle Jim at Aunt Mavis’ funeral than a dapper Reservoir Dogs-style operator.