The world of accessories can be daunting - but help is on hand. Gareth Scourfield - fashion expert, stylist, and Style Director of The Jackal - explains all…
Think about your own wardrobe and particularly the shirts you wear. The current trend for softer tailoring and shirts means ties don’t have the same urgency they once did when every man wanted to be Don Draper in Mad Men. However, many work spaces and boardrooms still require the uniformity and authority that the necktie denotes.
Choose a tie that feels relevant to the season and the occasion you’re wearing it for. Darker richer tones in the A/W season - so navy, browns, moss greens, a nice burgundy or claret. Not sure of pattern? Go for a solid woven silk; these generally work with any shirt and jacket combo. Stripes feel quite ‘man at the golf club’ unless styled in a more ‘varsity’ style with chinos, denim shirts and a navy patch pocket blazer.
The common necktie can be the real indicator of who you are. If everything else about your look is conservative, navy suit, white shirt, your tie can show a bit of personality, but - crucially - without going down the novelty "laughing pigs" route.
Cufflinks are a finishing touch to your overall look, and need as much consideration as the shirt you’ve chosen or the cut of the suit that flatters your shape. ‘The devil is in the detail’ may be a cliché, but is never more true than when selecting cufflinks.
If you are investing in them, then make sure your shirt cuff sits just no more than half an inch proud of your jacket, so you get a little flash of them. One thing to consider is never go too bulky with cufflinks, particularly if you're wearing a watch as well (which, if you’re wearing a double cuff shirt, should be a slimmer model that slides neatly under your cuff otherwise you’re in danger of entering into car salesman territory, with a flashy watch/garish cufflinks combo).
Every man should own a pair of sterling silver or gold oval, round or square slim cufflinks. These classic shapes, in a timeless metal, will work for everyday use and on an evening dress shirt. With these styles, look for surface detail engraved into the gold or silver. Look for cross hatching, fine lines, debossing details. These can add a little bit of textural interest, without being too loud.
As for jokey/fun cufflinks? I’m not a fan. You’ll struggle to make this look sharp, stylish and elegant in any situation. Sure, your ‘lucky dice’ or ‘fun football’ cufflinks might trigger a talking point and everyone can laugh out loud with you - but they’ll be more likely to laugh at you.
Tie pins remind me of Saturday shop assistants trying their best salesman patter on you. They look a bit forced - an affectation that goes close to looking too ‘try hard’. Again it goes back to those characters from Mad Men, or Peaky Blinders, that pin sharp tailored look, complete with cufflinks, fob watches, briefcases, and pin collared shirts. For now, with so much relaxed tailoring around, I’d leave the tin pin to your favourite Sunday night costume drama. Although with the cyclical nature of fashion, you may be only a season away from pulling one out again from your accessory drawer…
Pocket squares have survived the demise of the formal suits, thanks to many of the new unstructured jackets still having a breast pocket in which to put them. With this pairing back in tailoring, many of the traditional accessories have taken a hiatus, but the pocket square has replaced the tie as a way of styling up your outfit.
There are numerous ways of creating the perfect pocket square, but many instructions appear more confusing than IKEA flat pack instructions. For softer tailored jackets - which you might team with a chino, for example - I’d recommend a soft silk or linen square and ‘stuff’ into the pocket. For evening jackets and tuxedos the pocket square should always be white and folded, generally cotton or silk.
Whether you stuff or fold, make sure it sits naturally above the pocket, not billowing over the top, and try and smooth out the hidden square fabric within the pocket, so it doesn’t show up a load of bulky scrunched up fabric through the jacket. So it's always worth checking the size of the pocket square.
Bow-ties should definitely be worn for formal evening wear black tie events. Ideally in a silk grosgrain or flat silk. Try and match the bow tie to your jacket lapel fabric.
Velvet bow ties have become more prominent in recent seasons thanks to the influence in menswear from the 1970s. A generously-tied velvet bow tie can look very cool with a wide lapel tuxedo. These can seldom be tied by the wearer though and is probably the only exception to you tying your own.
And the skill of bow-tie-tying? Learn it. It’s a gift. Once conquered it will be as easy as tying your shoelaces and you’ll wonder why you didn’t learn earlier. It’s a pretty cool thing to be able to do anyway. I discovered Daniel Craig can tie his own bow tie without the aide of the mirror - as I once offered to tie it for him. Now that was impressive. Bow-ties for daytime should only be worn if you’re a librarian, geography teacher or Bargain Hunt’s Tim Wonnacott.
With the rise of the hemline on men’s trousers, socks have become a much more visual part of the outfit. Block colours are always good. A flash of tomato red or mustard yellow is a good way to bring a bit of colour to an otherwise sombre outfit, a good way to bring in some seasonal colour. I like a stripe or spot in less bright colours, the graphic patterns give a sense of jauntiness, without being full-on eccentric. But, much like the comedy tie, loud socks can be naff - think cartoon characters, and festive motifs (or rather, don’t).
Accessories can make or break an entire outfit. Shoes tend to be the most offensive and often looked over by many men, but equally you can have an expensive-looking suit, coat or trousers and it's what goes on around these much considered pieces that matters, so the flash of sock, the pop of coloured tie or the reveal of cufflinks that brings your outfit together.
That doesn’t mean it all needs to be matchy-matchy. Play with colour and texture within a limited colour palette, for example. Don’t try and match socks and ties together, or your pockets square with your shirt, but go for a complimentary colour. If your silk tie is a navy white polka dot then go for a plain navy silk pocket square or contrast with a plain pink or yellow silk square. Garish coloured stripe ties and busy paisley pocket squares rarely make a good partnership.
If your trousers need a belt, keep them relatively slim in a soft dark brown or black. Woven coloured belts can look good with denim and chinos. With the demise of ties, neckerchiefs are making more of a comeback – think Cary Grant in To Catch A Thief. They not only look good with an open shirt, but around knitted polo shirts and regular crew neck T-shirts. They add a sense of nonchalance to an otherwise considered smart looking outfit.
Main image credit: Christian Vierig Getty Images