by David Isle

Most people think of a navy tie as the most basic and versatile piece of neckwear a man can own. Michael Hill of Drake’s says that 70 percent of the ties his firm produces are navy. But every tragic hero must have a fatal flaw, and the navy tie’s is that it’s not an ideal companion for two other wardrobe staples: the navy suit and the light blue shirt.

It’s fine to wear a navy suit and navy tie with a white shirt, or a blue shirt and navy tie with a grey suit, but put the navy suit, navy tie, and blue shirt together, and you’re veering into Regis territory. The typical American way out of this mess is to wear a dark red tie with the navy suit and blue shirt. This produces a handsome, but very conservative and business-like, look. I prefer the Italian solution, which is to wear a burnt orange or rust tie. The result is softer and less intimidating, especially if the tie has some texture.

Not that the navy suit is the only thing you could wear with such a tie. Most other tie colors either repeat a color often found in the rest of your clothing - like navy or brown - or are too loud to be worn all that often - like bright orange or purple. But rust is distinctive and unobtrusive at the same time. Basically any time you wear a light blue shirt, you can also wear a rust tie. It’s particularly good with brown sport coats, where it’s like a streak of red clay in a muddy riverbank, or with green sport coats, where rust is red enough to be complementary to the green, but not so red as to look like a Christmas costume.  

It’s easy to end up with a bunch of navy and brown ties - partly because they're sold everywhere, so you’re bound to see a few that you like here and there, and then of course it “goes with everything.” But since they’re close substitutes, having 20 of them isn’t much better than having five of them. Yet there are other colors that are interesting while still conservative and subtle. Rust is a good place to start your spin around the rest of the color wheel.