Bow Ties With Suits (The Definitive Guide)
Suits are a second skin for many men. When you put on a suit, you're making a statement. And when you put on a bow tie with a suit, you're saying something special.
Often, many men ask themselves, "can you wear a bow tie with a suit," and never get an answer that makes them feel comfortable so they never experiment.
Many times, guys are just not familiar with how to style a bow tie and a suit, so they never go into that uncharted territory. If you ever wanted to explore bow tie suit combinations or at least further understand the nuances of styling a bow tie with a suit, then this post is for you.
Here's the definitive guide to wearing bow ties with suits. Enjoy!
First of all, can you wear a bow tie with a suit?
The simple answer is yes, if anything, you could argue that bow ties are MORE versatile than traditional neckties. But like anything else, you should familiarize yourself with the basics so that you look good when you wear a bow tie with a suit.
Before you decide that you want to wear a bow tie with a suit, you need to make sure you follow the basic rules of a wearing a suit in the first place. The most important thing about your suit is the way it fits.
Always mind the rule of fit.
Shoulder Fit: Shoulder fit should be the first thing you look for when picking out a suit.
Sleeve length: Sleeve length should be a 1/4 of an inch above your shirt sleeves.
Jacket Length: Jacket should just cover your butt and you should use the "cupped fingers" method to determine proper jacket length.
For bow tie wearers, also be aware of the "front space" you create.
This "front space" is the amount of empty space left not covered by some garment of clothing.
When you wear a traditional necktie, you cover up more white space than you do with a bow tie. As we'll discuss in the next section, some suits end up covering up more of this white space depending on the suit style (one button, two button, etc).
General rule of thumb: Try to cover up as much white space as feasibly possible. There are a number of ways you can go about doing this, which I go into more detail below.
When it comes to suit construction, jackets can be either full-canvased, half-canvased, or fused. Whether you wear a bow tie with a suit or a necktie, this is important information to understand when going through the buying process.Enter your text here...
A full-canvased jacket consists of a canvas traditionally made out of horse hair or camel hair sewn in between the lining and the exterior cloth (or shell) of the jacket that extends from the torso, through the lapels, all the way through the end of the jacket.
- WIll mold to your body type over time for perfect fit
- Will last longer as the tension within the suit is distributed evenly
- Holds up to dry cleaning better
- Provides for a better shape and gives the suit more depth
- Expensive to make
- Time consuming to manufacture
Half-canvas suits are in between a full-canvased suit and a fused suit. A half-canvased jacket still canvases the most critical parts of the jacket (shoulders, lapels, and chest) but doesn't include the lower half of the jacket, which saves considerable cost and time during the manufacturing process.
- Will last longer than fully fused
- Provides for a better shape and gives the suit depth
- Molds to your body over time
- Not fully canvased
- Can still be expensive
- Some brands may use this label as a marketing tactic and provide a less than quality half-canvased jacket
Fused construction was a method developed by manufacturers to create as many suits as possible, ultimately sacrificing quality for quantity.
Fused suits are built using waterproof glue to hold the suit together and give it shape rather than using a canvas. Brands such as H&M and Zara heavily lean on this method of construction to produce a suit at an extremely low cost. Even well known brands such as Hugo Boss produce fused suits at around $1,000 and lean on their brand name to push suits at higher price points.
- Cheaper alternative for suiting needs
- Can be considered burner suits if you like to switch suits with fashion trends
- Great for beginners learning their taste in style
- Short lifespan (roughly 2-3 years per fused suit with regular wear)
- Suit often looks flat and boxey and lacking the depth that comes with a canvased suit
- Fused suits are often also lacking in fabric texture more often due to the cost cuts at the lower price point
Regardless of canvasing, it's important to understand suit type as well. Depending on your chosen suit type, you will have more or less white space in the front of your outfit when wearing a bow tie. Ideally, the less white space the better, as it frames up the bow tie and minimizes large expanses of bare chest. Below I detail each type and how they work with a bow tie.
Bow Tie With One Button Suit
The one button jacket is a style that was once reserved for only casual events, but it is slowly making it's way into more formal atmospheres. It's definitely the suit choice for shorter men because the long lapel creates a slimming effect and a taller appearance as the eye travels for a longer distance.
- How To Wear: Button single button and pair with a more bold shirt and muted neckwear.
- When To Wear: Traditionally casual, but moving into more formal social settings (Black Tie, etc).
- Good With A Bow Tie?: No. In my opinion, there is too much white space making your chest stand out, which shifts the focus off the bow tie. Should be reserved for a necktie-centric outfit. Although, layered with a vest could cancel out some of the empty space if you want to go for it.
Bow Tie With Two Button Suit
The two button jacket is a going to be the workhorse suit type for most men and one that you'll find most men wearing around the workplace. Given the amount of white space created with the elongated "V", wearing a bow tie with this suit type isn't optimal.
- How To Wear: Button top button only.
- When To Wear: All occasions.
- Good With A Bow Tie?: Maybe. In my opinion, there isn't as much white space as a one button suit, which is good, but the two button suit isn't as optimal as a three piece suit or a double breasted suit. If you want to wear a two button suit with a bow tie, my recommendation is to cancel out the extra white space with a sweater or a vest.
If you’re on the shorter side, this might be the suit style for you when wearing a bow tie as the slimming and heightening effect of the cut creates a balanced proportion although you will sacrifice the slightly better framing with the three button and the double breast suit styles as we’ll mention below.
Bow Tie With Three Button Suit
Three button suits styles lack the elongating effect the other one and two button counterparts have, but the shorter the “V” removes some of the white space and frames up the bow tie better.
How To Wear: Button the top and middle buttons or just the middle one. You should never button the bottom button.
- When To Wear: All occasions.
- Good With A Bow Tie?: Maybe. Although the “V” is even smaller than the two-button, this type has fallen out of style and doesn’t work well for shorter gentleman. Although Joseph Gordon Levit makes it look awesome with an extremely tailored fit, it’s something I’d only recommend for taller men.
I will say that the three button style could work for a taller (6’4″+) bow tie guy as the lack of slimming effect would produce a more proportioned look.
Bow Tie With Double Breasted Suit
Double breasted suits consist of a second decorative column of buttons (sometimes two buttons per column, but can go up to as many as four per column). The addition of buttons coupled with the wide peaked lapels reduce the amount of white space surrounding the bow tie.
How To Wear: Regardless of the amount of buttons, always leave the bottom button undone (see picture).
- When To Wear: Usually reserved for more formal occasions, but can be worn anywhere and everywhere.
- Good With A Bow Tie?: Yes. This is our recommendation, as double
breasted suits remove the excess white space created around the bow tie providing a frame and focal point for your bow tie. The wide peak lapels also project power by widening your chest while you're wearing your bow tie.
A bow tie with a double breasted suit is a great look, but don’t go overboard with too many loud patterns on the suit itself or the bow tie. Both pieces are already bold and should be balanced with lesser bold patterns and colors.
Bow Tie With Three Piece Suit
The three piece suits introduce a waist coat (vest) to the mix providing a layered outfit style. Even though your vest may be covered by a jacket, be sure to tailor it appropriately so that it contours to your body.
How To Wear: Button all but the last button of waistcoat. Follow the above rules regarding the amount of buttons on the suit jacket.
- When To Wear: Anywhere and everywhere, but usually reserved for more formal events.
- Good With A Bow Tie?: Yes. Wearing a three piece suit with a bow tie would be my second recommendation when comes to wearing bow ties with suits. Similar to the double breasted suit with bow tie style, the use of a waist coat minimizes the white space created by wearing a bow tie rather than a neck tie. On top of that, they look damn good.
A three piece suit with a bow tie could come off to be very formal, thus I would recommend contrasting patterns and varying the color between the waistcoat and the jacket.
Single breasted suits are your traditional suit types, which are perfectly fine for bow ties, but as you can see in the picture below, a double breasted suit could provide an option to reduce some of that empty space.
If you want to get a little more nuanced with suit buttons, I'd recommend this article. It breaks down suit buttons in a little more detail.
When it comes to suit pants, styles have shifted and changed quite a bit over the last ten years. From pleats to flat front, to high rise, and low rise, pants are half the suit, so I figured I'd go into a little detail for this guide.
Pleated vs. Flat-front
In general, these look unflattering on most men. Pleated pants do offer slightly more waist room, which is their only redeeming quality in most cases.
Flat fronts offer a more appealing aesthetic and are a more flattering cut then their pleated counterparts.
The break in your pants comes when the natural line breaks (usually at your ankle). I personally prefer a no break look with a tapered leg, where others prefer a full break look and no taper.
The various types of break are:
- Full Break: The most conservative style usually found on older gentleman.
- Half Break: Conservative style that can be worn by most men.
- Quarter Break: A style that isn't too fashion forward and isn't too trendy. Looks good on most men.
- No Break: More European fashion forward style, usually paired with a tapered lower leg to show a little sock.
Pant rise relates the distance between the crotch and the waistband of the pants. In general, suits are made with a mid or high rise cuts in mind, which ends up closer to your natural waist. Low rise pants sit closer to your hips and are usually found in jeans styles.
A good rule of thumb when it comes to choosing the right rise for your body type is that high rise shortens your torso where low rise pants lengthens your torso.
- Thus, is you have a long torso consider high rise pants to give the appearance that you have longer legs and a more proportioned body
- If you have longer legs, consider low rise pants to give the appearance of a longer torso.
Suit Colors and Bow Ties
Now that we've covered the various suit combinations, let's quickly go over the basics when it comes to bow ties and suit color combinations. There are endless colors of suits, but for the purpose of this guide, I'll be focusing on black, charcoal, navy, and gray, which covers the majority of suits worn by men today.
Bow Tie With Black Suit
The most formal color in fashion is black, thus, black suits and tuxedos are paired with black bow ties for formal events. However, you don't always have to wear a black bow tie with a black suit.
In fact, black is an extremely versatile color, where you could pair pretty much any color bow tie with a black suit; however, I would avoid bright, jarring colors and patterns when pairing with black. Instead, opt for shades of colors.
Below are some bow tie color ideas to wear with a black suit:
- Cardinal Red Bow Tie
- Burnt Orange Bow Tie
- Hunter Green Bow Tie
- Midnight Blue Bow Tie
- Burgundy Bow Tie
Aside from different color bow ties, you can also experiment with different colored pattered shirts when wearing a bow tie with a black suit. Since the suit is so conservative, you can add a bold shirt such as a gingham or a polka dot style to liven up an otherwise conservative outfit.
Bow Tie With Charcoal Suit
Personally, I love burgundy as a color and I think paired with charcoal makes for a great looking combination.
Second to black is charcoal as far as conservative suits are concerned.
Charcoal is just as, if not more, versatile than black because you can wear it to any occasion (funeral, work, casually, etc), whereas black is mostly reserved for formal affairs. When it comes to bow ties, charcoal is again a neutral color, which will match with just about any other color. Similar to black, I would lean on shades of colors when matching a bow tie with a charcoal suit and avoid bright hues.
Below are some color ideas when wearing a bow tie with a charcoal suit:
- Burgundy Bow Tie
- Navy Bow Tie
- Walnut Bow Tie
- Eggplant Bow Tie
- Midnight Green Bow Tie
Bow Tie With Navy Suit
Right behind black and charcoal is navy as a staple in any man's wardrobe.
Navy, like charcoal, is very versatile and can be worn to any occasion, but wearing navy is also beneficial in that you can start adding in pink and even bolder colors, depending on the occasion you're dressing for.
If you're going to a more formal affair, pair a navy suit with darker bow tie. If you're going to an informal party, pair your navy with a lighter color, like baby blue. Navy is a great color, which allows for many options. Just remember brighter colors and bigger patterns are less formal than darker colors and smaller patterns.
Below are some additional color ideas when wearing a bow tie with a navy suit:
- Burgundy Bow Tie
- Crimson Red Bow Tie
- Black Bow Tie
- Pink Bow Tie
- Mint Green Bow Tie
In the images above, you can see a more informal takes on a navy suit with a bow tie as they’re paired with lighter colors and bolder patterned shirts.
Bow Tie With Gray Suit
A gray suit like its brethren, charcoal, navy, and black, is also considered a neutral color.
Gray being neutral, can pair well with most other colors (except gray). Too much gray in one outfit can lead to a dull, lifeless outfit.
I would also recommend experimenting with different suit jacket patterns. Given that a gray suit is so neutral, you have some room to play with a window pane pattern or something a little bolder than a traditional solid.
Below are some color ideas when wearing a bow tie with a gray suit:
- Flamingo Bow Tie
- Lavender Bow Tie
- Baby Blue Bow Tie
- Burgundy Bow Tie
- Brown Bow Tie
The image above illustrates how you can pair two conservative colors (black and gray) and create something with a little more life by adding in a lavender shirt and a gray windowpane suit jacket.
The final topic area I want to cover is the types of suit fabrics that exist and how to integrate bow ties into your outfits.
There are numerous types fabrics that exist for both suits and neckwear. For the purposes of this guide, I am going to focus on the most popular suit fabrics: wool, cotton, and linen.
Bow Ties With Wool Suits
The number on the inside of wool suits "the super number" refers to the number of times that the worsted wool has been twisted as it was being made. Generally, the higher the number, the finer and lighter the material will be. Although higher numbers are lighter and better for the summer months, they are more delicate and wrinkle easily. For most men, keeping it between super 100 and super 120 should suffice. Your wallet will thank you.
I'll also add that this number has almost nothing to do with the quality of the suit (e.g., a higher number does not equal a higher quality suit).
This is the most common type of suit fabric due to its durability, breathability in hot or cold temperatures, and it's inherent resistance to wrinkles. Wool suits will likely be your workhorse suit fabric as their versatility makes them the best bang for your buck.
Wool can be woven in a number of ways, producing flannel, tweed, cashmere, or simply blended with other fabrics such as polyester depending on the manufacturer.
- When To Wear: All seasonal fabric and appropriate for formal and casual occasions.
- Which bow ties with wool suits: Any bow tie fabric will match well with a wool suit. Be mindful of the occasion however. Anything other than a silk bow tie would be considered an informal fabric. Think cotton, denim, wool bow ties are all informal variations.
Honestly, I'm not an expert in suit fabrics, but If you want to learn a little bit more about each variation of wool suit weaves in more detail, check out these articles:
Bow Ties With Cotton Suits
Second to wool, cotton is another popular suit type due to its lower cost and breathability during the hot summer months.
Unlike wool, cotton tends to crease easily. I would recommend looking for a wool/cotton blend to get the best of both worlds for the spring/summer season.
- When to wear: Usually reserved for more casual events in the summer months. Think seersucker suits.
- Which bow ties with cott
on suits: Any bow tie fabric except cotton pairs well with a cotton suit. I'd avoid cotton as to provide a fabric contrast in your suit. Why wear a cotton suit only to also wear a cotton bow tie as well? Can you say one dimensional?
Seersucker suits are made entirely out of cotton. Take care not to also wear a seersucker bow tie with a seersucker suit!
Bow Ties With Linen Suits
Similar to cotton, linen also creases rather easily and is traditionally utilized as a summer suit due to it's light weight and breathability.
Warning, if you are in the market for a linen suit, be sure to lean more to a heavier weight to ensure it does not lose its shape over time. Given the lightness of the construction of most linen suits, they tend to breakdown quickly.
- When To Wear: Summer months and/or tropical temperates. Casual environments.
- Which bow ties with linen suits: Any bow tie fabric will match well with a linen suit, given it's "casualness" as a suit. We recommend going with a pastel color palette to align with summer feel of the fabric.
Bow Ties With Other Suits
Aside from wool, cotton, and linen, there are a few other suits that you may comes across in the wild. For example, you may see a more luxurious silk suit, or a cheaply made polyester suit. Both are rare sightings, but they do exist. Moreover, you might find a blend of the above fabrics (polyester and wool for example). The thing about polyester as it tends to have a sheen to it, which screams low quality.
As far as bow tie, if you do opt for a silk or polyester suit, then all bow tie fabrics should be a decent pairing for each.
There you have it, the definititive guide for wearing a bow tie with a suit.
We've been on quite a journey. To recap, we discussed the differences in white space between wearing a necktie and a bow tie, then we reviewed button arrangements, colors and suit fabrics.
Hopefully, we've put the "can you wear a bow tie with a suit" question to sleep and you've gotten a foundational understanding for how to properly match a bow tie with any suit. Of course, every section above can be expanded in more detail, but the information I did provide should be more than enough to keep you looking great in a bow tie.
For your convenience, see the cliff notes section below for a quick summary of this article. Also be sure to checkout some of our other guides like this one on how to wear suspenders and bow ties.
- Wearing bow ties creates more open space in your chest region than wearing neckties.
- Understanding suit fit is the most important aspect of buying a suit.
- Full-canvas is the best suit construction, but half canvas is an acceptable compromise. Try to avoid fused suit constructions if your budget allows.
- Three button suit, double breasted suit, and three piece suit, all provide a means to reduce the amount of white space created by wearing a bow tie.
- Shorter men should avoid the three button arangement and opt for the two button style with a waist coat if the occasion permits.
- Pleated pants are mostly out of style and aren't cut that well for most men. Stick to flat front pants and you'll be golden.
- Pair darker shaded colors with black and charcoal (e.g., midnight green, burgundy, eggplant).
- Navy and gray suits can be paired with most colors, light or dark.
- Most popular suit fabric options include wool, cotton, and linen.
- Wool is an all-season fabric, whereas cotton and linen are reserved for hotter climates due to their lightweight profile.