Express Yourself: Choose with Care your Shirts and Ties


If the truth be told, any article of clothing you wear is afforded some opportunity for self-expression. Even your undergarments – from traditional boxers shorts to the more ”evolved” Tommy John. Had to throw that in there because I knew where some of your minds immediately went too. Tom ain’t no fool!

But, to focus on those items that are most visible and tend to attract the most attention by those who only see you with your pants on: shirts, ties, and other accessories provide the most leverage for self-expression, the element of your personality that is fundamental to the positive persuasion of others and to getting what you want out of life.

On a recent Southwest Airlines flight one of the flight attendants kept referring to the onboard restroom as the “lav.” It didn’t throw me, but I wondered if everybody on board immediately knew what he meant. Maybe someone thought that he had a thing for a lighter shade of purple. In similar fashion, my favorite shirt fabric pattern – gingham- is one that was originally favored by the “mods” (or modernists) of the 1960’s London jazz culture, as opposed to the “trads.” It may be that my personal love affair with gingham was inspired by my pre-adolescent infatuation with Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island, but that is just a theory.

I would argue that gingham is eternally modern and while pin, banker’s or bengal stripes are forever traditional. That being said, just as with tailored clothing, how a garment is cut and styled, regardless of the fabric, is fundamental to whether it is modern or traditional. Did I just contradict myself? Kind of, but not really. Of particular note, modern clothing and shirts today remain decidedly trim in appearance. As with all patterns, the smaller or tighter the pattern, the dressier it is. So a mini-gingham check is dressier than a table cloth gingham, though neither pattern is particularly dressy.

A solid white shirt is the dressiest, followed by a very light solid blue. Lighter shades of any color are dressier than darker shades. To some it up, finer and lighter is dressier than bolder, larger and darker.

What’s your favorite shirt fabric pattern? Do you know what it expresses about you?

Ties follow a similar progression.

Arguably the most formal tie is solid black and the most versatile version of a solid black tie is a woven grenadine. The literary Bond favored a black knit tie, while the film version Bond has often worn woven grenadine ties, especially in dark navy.

This may come as a surprise to some who are reading this, but men still wear ties. Perhaps nothing is a more a personal choice or a more significant badge of association, stature or significance than a man’s choice of neck wear. Numerous clubs, whether formally or unspoken but well understood, have their own signature neck wear, be it a certain brand or style, or a very particular pattern and combination of colors.

A complete neckwear wardrobe should include at least some choices from the four basic classifications:

  • Woven
  • Dot
  • Striped
  • Repeat

In order for formality….most formal to least…here is an example selection that could form the base of a modern neckwear wardrobe:

Whether your personal expression of the day is intended to be more serious, social, or studious… as the old saying goes, “we come become more like the people who we associate with.” And our choices of shirts and neckwear are meaningful ways that we signal those associations.

Carefully expressed,


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