How to Match Clothes – A Guide to Mastering Clothing Coordination

Colors, patterns and shades, it can all be so confusing. Make this the one guide that you go to for all your questions. I’ll show you how to match clothes like a pro!

How to Mix and Match Clothes – The Definitive Primer For Men

Your personal image is important. Your clothes and the way you carry yourself determine whether people take you seriously, recognize your authority, and do what you want.

That’s as important during a job interview as it is trying to get an upgrade to first class or just trying to talk a clerk into taking back an item without a receipt.

One would hope that your abilities and experience would convey their image on their own. Sadly, that’s often not the case.

The way you look and your body language may override your true capabilities. First impressions may be unfair, but people base their opinion of you on how you look, as we discovered in the article First Impressionism.

In addition to living in a visual society, we live in a negative one. People will remember the worst thing about you.

Fashion, as we know, has a limited life span. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t choose cool, coordinated looks that make you stand out in the best way possible.

You can do it!

How to Match Clothes & Always Look Your Best

There are just 4 easy steps that you need to do to dress your best.

  1. Determine which body type is yours.
  2. Analyze what colors go best with your hair, eye, and complexion. Men are lucky that most of us look great in traditional business colors.
  3. Consider the science of color coordination.
  4. Know the basics, such as which patterns make you look tall and skinny. Learn how to stand, walk and position your feet and hands correctly too.

Now you’re ready to put it all together.

What is coordination? 

The word “coordination” developed from the Latin “co” + “ordin”, “order”, meaning, “to arrange in order”.

Dressing well is about mastering composition, not unlike painting a picture or taking a photo.

You can use each piece of your attire to create a portrait that can project an image ranging from dull to understated to inspired to over-the-top.

So how do we put together all the diverse components of attire — a suit, shirt, tie, pocket square, belt, shoes, socks and vest? What about the pants, shirt, sweater, etc in casual clothes?

You’ll be happy to know that there are some “rules” you can follow to make coordinating shirts, ties, and suits simple. These methods work equally well in pairing khakis with a polo shirt!

The Elements Of Clothing Coordination

We’re going to focus on a four-part clothes coordination formula comprised of:

  • Pattern
  • Color
  • Fabric Weight
  • Fabric Texture

These four elements can make a big difference in your image.

#1 Pattern

A pattern can be a cause for comedy or give you an interesting look. Color can make your complexion look great, or washed out, and send messages like “I’m trustworthy” or scream gaudy. Fabric texture and weight can be crucial as to the appropriateness of your attire for the time of day, or time of year.

Observe people at a mall, your office, or an airport. Pick out those who seem unsightly; something doesn’t quite seem right with their attire. Chances are one or more of these four elements will be out of balance or “unattractive.”

For example, some men try to jazz up the traditional formalwear ensemble, which they think is boring. This, is usually a mistake, resulting in a loud, busy, or other discord in classic attire.

Plus, there can be too much matching. His and her identical Hawaiian shirts come to mind.

How to Wear Patterns

Too many patterns and you’ll resemble a clown.

The strongest authoritative professional clothing is no pattern – a solid color.

People always remember solids the longest. That’s why guys look so elegant and handsome in patternless, high contrast, and formalwear that only has two colors.

One of the “rules” for coordination of a suit, tie, and dress shirt is “Two Plains and One Fancy” meaning that of the three items—shirt, tie and suit—two of them should always be plain (solid) and the third should be fancy (patterned).

For example, if you wear a solid suit and a solid shirt, you should not wear a solid tie. Select a tie with a pattern. But, if you wear a striped shirt, you should wear a solid tie with it, and a solid suit. And, if you wear a Glenn plaid suit, you should wear a solid shirt and a solid tie.

This is good advice when you are first building a wardrobe, but as you get adventurous you will successfully mix patterns. A pinstripe suit with a striped shirt and a small patterned tie can look wonderful!

How to Mix Patterns

The fundamentals of mixing patterns as you learn how to match clothes require analyzing each pattern for:

  1. Size (scale)
  2. Type or design (whether it’s stripe, polka dots, geometrics, etc.)
  3. Color
  4. Intensity (bold or subtle)

You can mix two or more patterns just make certain that some of the colors in each match and the patterns are not the same size or type. For example with a check shirt – try a tie with small patterns, and bright strong patterns should be paired with subtle ones. Note that suit patterns, such as a pinstripe or a subtle plaid, work almost like a solid since you have to be close to see the pattern.

Patterned Clothing Closeup: Close up of a men's outfit that mixes and matches prints, colors, and fabrics for a bold look.

Stripes on stripes? The slanting stripes of a repp or regimental tie help to visually reduce weight in a man’s face by drawing the eye downward. You can wear a striped tie and a striped shirt if the scales are different. A fine-striped shirt goes perfectly well with a thick, repp or Regimental striped tie.

#2 Working With Color

In the article on Color Coordination we’ve learned these guiding principles to working with colors:

Complementary Colors

Are those directly opposite one other in the color spectrum or wheel. That’s why hunter green pants look great with a burgundy sweater. Blue is the opposite of orange so gold, rust, and brown are complementary shades of blue.

Analogous Colors

Colors, which are next to each other on the color wheel, go well together, such as blue pants, a blue-green shirt, and a forest green jacket.

Warm and Cool

Select two warm colors with one cool or two cool with one warm to create dynamic harmony.

Examples: Navy suit, light blue shirt, and red tie, or a yellow shirt, rust jacket, and blue jeans.

Monochromatic 

Can be all one color, or different shades, tones or tints of one color.

Neutral

Dress in shades of white, black, gray or beige. Khaki pants, white shirt, and a gray sweater are all neutrals. It may not be a dynamic look, but it is sophisticated.

Seasonal Colors

Some colors are more appropriate at certain times of year than others. Like the pastels of yellow, are usually associated with summer, while autumn colors are rust, brown, green, and burgundy. Wearing rust in the summer, or light yellow in the fall looks out of place.

The Color Spectrum or Wheel:

Color Wheel: Shade, tone, tint, hue

A Visual Presentation of Some Color Terms:

HUE The pure color (for example RED)
TONEHue + small amount of gray or opposite color (will or tone down the color)
TINTHue + White (will lighten the color)
COMPLEMENT TINTTint + small amount of gray or opposite color(will mute or tone down the color)
SHADEHue + Black (will darken the color)

Sir Isaac Newton developed the first circular diagram of colors in 1666

Color Value: (also called Saturation, Intensity, and Chroma) 

Value is the degree of lightness or darkness in a color. It’s the quality by which a pale or light color is distinguished from a deep or dark one. Values can be expressed by shades, tints, and tones.

Dark and dull colors recede thus making you look thinner and smaller. Light and bright colors project, which tends to bulk you up and make you look larger.

ANDY’S ADVICE: If you’re trying to look slim while learning how to match clothes, save the bright colors for accents. With a gray or navy suit a red or yellow tie will draw favorable attention to your face.

Dark colors are more formal than light. Bright colors in large amounts become tiresome to the eye.

Want to emphasize your shoulders and de-emphasize your hips? Wear a lighter colored sports jacket with dark trousers. (You can also apply this principle to a polo shirt and trousers).

Men with muted or softer coloring look better in “dusty or hazy” colors that have a touch of gray or are faded. For example, light hair and skin would pair well with powder blue.

Men with darker complexions and hair look better in bright, crisp, clear, rich colors that pop out. Navy blue would be an example.

Color Contrast

Another “rule” says one of the three elements should be light, the other two dark.

Try one light element with two dark, or one dark with two lights. For example, a charcoal suit (dark), white shirt (light) and red tie (dark), or tan suit (light) with yellow shirt (light) and green tie (dark). Or Khaki pants and a dark blue shirt. 

Even on Regis the tie and shirt look best when they contrast. And unless you’re a cast member of the Sopranos, the tie should be darker than the shirt!

The traditional strong contrast of a navy suit and white shirt works well with every skin and eye color. Just like the great look of classic black and white in formalwear.

If you are tall you may (as we discussed in the body styles) want to contrast the top and bottom of your attire (dark sports jacket and light-colored trousers) to give a break to the eye thus making a horizontal line that makes you look shorter.

If you are short, do the opposite and try to more closely match the color and intensity of the top and bottom of your ensemble. Short or heavy gentlemen look great in suits since the matching top and bottom produce a “taller, thinner” image.

Two principles guide the choice of colors: matching and contrasting

A dark blue tie with a pale blue shirt and a blue or gray suit is an example of color harmony as you learn how to match clothes.

Substitute a red or maroon tie in this getup, and you have color contrast.

There is much to learn in color coordination. Too close a color harmony results in a monochrome effect and can be boring. And too much contrast can be harsh.

Andy’s Tip: The buttons of sports jackets are usually contrasting with a range of colors. Choose your trousers from one of those colors.

#3 Fabric Weight

Traditionally heavier weight fabrics (such as 11 to 16-ounce wool suit fabrics, corduroy, suede, and leather) are worn in the fall and winter while lighter-weight fabrics (seersucker, and linen) are more common in the spring and summer.

Take the tie, for example, silk is correct all year round, but in winter you can add a wool tie to the ensemble. Now you have introduced a heavier fabric element that must be careful to balance.

Heavier fabrics give the impression of a heavier body. This includes tweed, flannel, and bulky sweaters.

Light to medium weight fabrics visually removes pounds. Light/medium fabrics include cotton, twill, and linen.

#4 Fabric Texture

You can use the quality of roughness or smoothness in fabrics to help coordinate your attire and present the appropriate image.

Texture makes a statement.

Smooth parallels dark as being dressier, giving authority and power, but you can be too smooth or slick projecting a cold, elusive, distrustful appearance.

Rough textures parallel lighter colors, projecting an accessible and friendlier image. Silk ties are dressier than wool, smooth suit fabrics are dressier than tweed.

You can contrast (smooth with rough) or match (smooth with smooth, rough with rough) textures. The balance between textures also should be considered.

Oxford cloth shirts are the most textured dress shirt and call for a smooth tie and suit for the most dressy business situations, but an oxford shirt and a wool tie with corduroy pants are a great casual winter look. A wool cable knit sweater can add a component of texture to your attire.

Fabric sheen, shiny vs. dull, is also significant. Shiny is more appropriate for evening social functions and can look “cheap”.

Both Fabric Weight and Texture come in to play with seasonal clothing. Be careful to wear items that are appropriate to the season. A heavy ski sweater doesn’t work with linen trousers!

How to Match Clothes: More Things To Remember

Think about the situation you’ll be in, and the image you wish to convey when you choose your clothes. You don’t always want to project a power authority image. Sometimes you want to appear as a friendly, “let’s work together” person.

How to match clothes at store: Men's department at a store, filled with dozens of dress shirts and tie options to mix and match outfits.

Playing with Matches (and Mixes)

The word match comes from an Old English word “gemaecca” which was shortened to “macche” meaning mate or companion!

Mixing & Matching With Different Fabrics

Use this table to see how to match or contrast your clothes with the 4 areas we discussed earlier.

MatchContrast (Mix)
ColorBlack shirt, Black pantsNavy suit, White shirt, Burgundy tie
PatternPin Stripe suit, Striped tie, Striped shirtPlaid shorts, Stripe shirt
TextureGabardine pants, Silk shirtCotton shirt, Corduroy pants
WeightFlannel shirt, Wool tie, Tweed pantsBroadcloth shirt, Silk tie, Camel hair sports jacket

Sock Colors 

Match or can be slightly darker than trousers. Solid is more dressy than patterns.

Shoes & Belts 

Match each other in color, and texture. With Navy, or gray suits and trousers, black or cordovan shoes work best, but a dark brown shoe can add a sophisticated look. 

Tan, brown, olive and other earth tone suits and trousers look best with brown or cordovan shoes. Some circles think that brown shoes are not dressy enough for wearing in the evening.

Jewelry

With Jewelry, belt buckles, etc., silver is considered dressier and works best with navy, blue, black or gray, while gold matches brown, olive, and other earth colors.

Traditionally gold was appropriate for day, and silver for evening, but with the advent of a more casual approach, both are interchangeable.

You may want to coordinate the metal color with your watch and ring, so that everything, for example, is gold, but that’s not really necessary. Many watches contain both silver and gold and color mixing is not scorned.

Don’t worry about matching color of jewelry; just make sure it matches what you’re wearing in level of elegance. (no sports watches with suits.)

Remember the Rule of Seven

There is a “Rule of Seven” practiced in women’s fashion that applies to men as well. The “rule” states that there should be no more than seven points of interest on your body at any one time!

The theory is that too much visual stimulation detracts from the total look.

Points of interest could be a watch, pocket square, bright tie, blazer buttons, braces, cuff links, fashion glasses, facial hair, vest, anything that could draw attention to that item.

Some caveats for traditional business wear: Class rings are best left in your jewelry box after you enter the business world. Ornate belt buckles (like your 1985 Rodeo Champ) should not be worn with a suit.

Experiment With Your Fashion

Be constantly on the watch for coordination ideas as you learn how to match clothes. Observe the attire on TV (newscasters are more conservative, while sportscasters are avant guarde).

Read men’s fashion magazines, watch movies, see what your boss wears to work, and walk through department stores, to analyze what goes well together.

But just because a store or magazine is featuring yellow plaid short sleeve shirts with lime green striped ties doesn’t make it right.

And don’t listen to the typecasting that guys don’t like to shop. It may be a myth that women perpetuate. Men are the original primeval hunters.

Shopping is second nature to us gentlemen!! So get out there and learn how to match clothes with confidence!