Rebuilding Your Wardrobe: How To Select Your Shirt and Tie

There’s nothing like a crisp shirt”…a statement that I have adopted ever since having a long conversation with my mom about her upbringing. Besides the in-depth discussions about the neighbourhood in which she grew up in after my grandparents relocated from Qhimirha in the Eastern Cape to Katlehong, in the East Rand of Johannesburg; my mom never failed to mention how I followed in my maternal grandfather’s stylistic footsteps. She made specific reference to how my grandad was always impeccably dressed, even well into his retirement. To be more specific, I’m told that my grandmother would always have a clean shirt ready for him to wear, starched collar and all.  While he was retired, his daily routine involved grooming himself every morning, wearing that crisp shirt that my grandmother had prepared and then complimenting it with a tie as he made his way to the front porch to read the daily newspaper. A man that truly aged in style, my grandfather was a man about town.

Based on conversations with some of my clients in consultations for wardrobe makeovers, I picked up that people genuinely desire dressing well, but some are limited; either by a lack of fashion sense or budgetary constraints. That said, the knowledge of how to select items that go with what’s already in one’s wardrobe can really come in handy and save one a pretty penny. Apart from the basic rules concerning suit selection, there are rules concerning shirt options to complete those outfits. Having addressed how to select suits in previous issues (see Rebuilding your wardrobe: Three formal jackets every man should own); in this instalment we follow-up with brief tips on choosing shirts.

A rule of thumb concerning your shirt selection; try to veer towards dress shirts because one tends to take their jacket off in the office or any place with a warmer setting. It then goes without saying that one should ensure that the selected tie complements the shirt rather than the jacket for that very reason. When in doubt concerning your choice of dress shirt,  stick to pale colours such as white and powder blue as these are versatile, and can be easily paired with almost any suit and tie (except the white tie, burn if you find it in your wardrobe…it has no relevance with any outfit unless you’re a jazz crooner).

After one has mastered the more neutral pairing options provided by your white and other pale colours, the next step would be to venture towards more striking colours offered by pastel dress shirts. Not as versatile as pale offerings, but definitely add a unique variety to your wardrobe when paired with a relevant tie and suit. From the corporate leanings of the pale shirt options, pastel shirts worn well can add an air of sophistication to one’s look. Even without the tie and jacket, they can also create a more interesting casual look when combined with chinos in the right hue of course. Whether you choose to be more conservative in those chinos by wearing them with brogues or you go for a preppy look by wearing them with tennis shoes, is completely up to you and the occasion you’re preparing for.

Now to get to the more difficult part. Not all dress shirts are limited to solid colours, some can include patterns such as stripes and polka dots which could either have contrasting colours or blend with the shirt’s core colour. The thing to remember here is to try to keep to the theme of the occasion. The fundamental question to ask is; where am I going? This makes it easier to narrow down your options.

Concerning striped shirts, forget the idea of getting a striped tie to match…it does not work. At the very least, wear a solid or a contrasting patterned tie. Easy options to get this right include wearing either a polka dot or a paisley tie with the striped shirt…if indeed a solid tie is not available.  The whole point of this is to avoid the glaring eyesore that makes one look like they’re a graduate going for their first job interview.

Paisley shirts are by far one of the most unique types of shirts available. While originating in Persia; post the importation to the Western regions by the East India company during the 17th century, we pick up that this pattern eventually became a popular fashion component included in shirt patterns. With the advent of Italian trends influencing South African fashion culture and depending on where you grew up, these shirts were later commonly referred to as “uMtariyana” as the name paid homage to a style composed of a multivariate of colours in the shirt patterns. Back in the early ’90s, this shirt was often paired with Brentwood trousers and formal shoes and those gold-framed sunglasses made famous by the likes of local music duo, MarcAlex. Nowadays, one can wear the shirt semi-formally with a suit, however, wearing them open-neck is definitely the better option on this occasion. With the tie being one of the most glaring items in your entire ensemble, why would you want it to compete for attention with your shirt? Personally, I’ve veered away from this more formal approach and adapted the look to include slim-fitting jeans or slacks with casual shoes such as Belgian loafers as they have enough going on to warrant respect.

Writer: Ndzutha Mngqibisa (founder & creative director of NDZU Tailored)