Wearing a tie can be stressful. There’s a lot to think about: Is it the right occasion for a tie? What color and pattern and material should the tie be? Which tie knots are appropriate for your suit type, tie type, and circumstance? But before you think about any of that, there are two key fundamentals you need to nail down every time:
The length of your tie and the width of your tie. Here’s what you need to know so you’re never caught off guard with a tie that looks wonky with your outfit.
What’s the Right Length for a Tie?
Depending on where you shop, you’ll find tie lengths ranging from a modest 48 inches long (“boy tie”) to 65 inches long (“extra long tie”), with most ties resting somewhere around 58 inches long (“standard tie”). But it isn’t as simple as choosing whichever corresponds with your physical height.
When a tie is worn “properly,” the front blade should rest in such a way that the tip sits between the top and bottom of your belt (or waistband) when standing straight up. If the tip hangs too low, it will look sloppy. If it doesn’t reach down far enough, you’ll look like a child.
You’ll also want to keep in mind the balance between the front blade and the back blade. Ideally, the back blade should be slightly shorter than the front blade so that it’s concealed from sight but remains long enough to be tucked into the keeper.
In order to get that balance just right, you’ll have to think about which type of knot you’re wearing. A full Windsor knot involves a lot of wrapping around, and that eats up more of your tie length than, say, the simpler four-in-hand knot. And then there are crazy knots like the Balthus knot and the Eldredge knot that eat up even more material.
Generally speaking, the more complex the knot, the longer your tie length will need to be in order to rest properly at your waistband. However, a shorter tie can suffice if you’re willing to compromise on balance between the front and back blades.
What’s the Right Width for a Tie?
As important as tie length is, tie width is even more important.
When shopping for a tie, you’ll find options ranging from 1 inch wide (“skinny tie”) all the way up to 4 inches wide (“broad tie”). Choosing the right tie width comes down to two factors: your physical build and the social circumstance in which you’ll be wearing the tie.
Physical build: The skinnier you are, the skinnier the tie. The broader you are, the broader the tie. That’s the safest rule of thumb you can follow. If you want to get a little more into it, try to match the width of your tie to the width of your suit lapel. (You are wearing a suit with your tie, aren’t you?) But how skinny or how wide should you go? That depends on the other two factors below.
Social circumstance: The skinnier the tie, the more trendy you’ll appear. The broader the tie, the more traditional. On either extreme—1-inch wide ties and 4-inch wide ties—you’ll stick out like a sore thumb, catch glances in public, and exude hipster energy. If you want to look like you know what you’re doing, stick to the safer range of 2-inch to 3-inch wide ties.
So, in practice:
A skinny guy like myself might wear a 1-inch tie to a trendy event, a 2-inch tie to the office, and a 2.5-inch tie to a funeral or wedding. On the other hand, a largely-built athlete might wear a 2.5-inch tie when being trendy, a 3-inch tie to a workplace atmosphere, and a 3.5-inch tie to formal, conservative events.
This is why stylish men tend to have big tie collections. Don’t feel like collecting so many ties? That’s fine. Stick to middle-of-the-road tie widths (2 inches for skinny builds, 3 inches for broad builds) and wear them in all occasions. You probably won’t stand out, but you won’t stick out either.