You’ve managed to pick out a winning, crisp button-up shirt. Your suit jacket is well-structured, freshly dry cleaned, and sleek. The tie in your hand contrasts your outfit in a subtle yet well thought-out manner. You’re 90% ready to get on with your day. But something is missing. If you haven’t guessed what it is by now, note your empty breast pocket, and keep up.

Pocket squares, though purely aesthetic with no functional purpose whatsoever, are a great and easy way to round off your ensemble. With outfits requiring a tie, pocket squares are a great way to add more color and movement. With outfits sans tie, pocket squares offer an easy way to add a touch of flair while still keeping things simple. These square pieces of fabric are versatile and virtually effortless, and can be worn dressed up or dressed down. Scrunch one up (nicely) in your pocket or take the time to learn a special fold, and instantly spruce up any outfit you set foot in. However, as easy as it may sound, there is but one thing you should consider before you don a pocket square: how to pair it with a tie. Read on for rules, tips, and suggestions for perfect tie and square pairings, every time.

The rule of thumb to always abide by when it comes to ties and squares is this: your pocket square should never match your tie (or bow tie, or skinny tie, etc.) exactly. The two can complement, contrast, or subtly match certain elements, but never, ever match with the same color or pattern. That’s rookie’s play, and you’re no rookie. Here are some easy ways to pair your tie and square without committing a faux pas:

 

Contrasting Color:

blue tie and beige pocket square

  1. Complementary Color Pairing  You know that color wheel you had to study in school? This follows the same principle. Colors on the opposite sides of this wheel will look striking paired together. Think of you blues and your oranges, your yellows and purples, and so on and so forth. These will create the strongest contrast.
  2. Triadic Color Pairing Think of that color wheel again. Pairs made from forming a triangle within the wheel (so, variations from blue, red, and yellow; purple, green, and orange, etc.) Color pairings along these lines will complement each other nicely.
  3. Differing Neutrals Neutral pairings look reserved and sharp. Try a black tie and a white pocket square, or a rust brown square with a navy bow tie.
  4. Differing Shades Different shades of the same color can look refined and cohesive. Just make sure that the difference in color is significant enough so as not to be mistaken for the same thing.
  5. White and Whatever When all else fails, know that white pocket squares will pair nicely with any color (except white). White pocket squares should be your failsafe, and also your go-to when attending more formal affairs.

 

Contrasting Pattern:

contrast pattern of tie and pocket square

  1. Solid Tie + Patterned Square  In this instance, it works best if one of the secondary colors in the pocket square is the primary or sole color in the tie.
  2. Patterned Tie + Solid Square Just like the first rule, you’ll be able to achieve this look if one of the secondary colors in your tie is the color (or a variation thereof) of your pocket square.
  3. Patterned Tie + Patterned Square If you want to rock a combo in which both accessories are patterned, it is important that the patterns are significantly different in spacing and proportion (i.e., they can be the same actual pattern, so long as it’s obvious they aren’t meant to match). For instance, you can wear a polka dot tie and a dotted pocket square, so long as one has bigger, more close together dots and the other has smaller, more spaced out dots. You want to make sure there is enough contrast and visual difference that your average viewer will be able to tell that your accessories were not born from the same piece of fabric.

There you have it! Keep these tips in mind, and you’ll be a tie and pocket square pairing pro in no time.