As I see it, the right width of a jacket lapel, the right width of a tie and the right width of a shirt collar are all connected. It’s about proportions, not trends. Men with wider faces or frames are best served by wider widths, while men with narrower faces or frames are better off with the opposite, faring better with skinnier lapels, ties and collars.
The problem with now is that a whole lot of men are caught up in the overplayed skinny trend still celebrated on blogs and in magazines, confusing many men into thinking that “skinny” is the right choice for them. (And don’t get me started on the leggings with pockets, i.e. skinny jeans.) We all don’t have the proportions of the model or celebrity in the pictures. Then there are those who wear a skinny tie and a petite shirt collar with a jacket with not-skinny lapels, or some other mismatched combination.
What is skinny? A lapel, collar or tie between 2 and 2.5 inches is in skinny territory. Wide is around 3.5 inches or – hello 1970s – more. Standing at 5’10″ and carrying 150 pounds with a medium-width face, I keep my lapel/collar/tie widths at 3 inches. Not skinny, not wide.
It is, of course, easier to sift through all of this when shopping in person in a store where we can get an accurate visual gauge or even a real measurement. Most business cards are 3.5 inches wide, and US currency is about 2.6 inches wide, just to give you an idea right from your pocket. It’s trickier to tell online. Most tie sellers will disclose the width of a tie, and some online stores (though certainly not all) that sell suits and jackets will include the lapel width in the list of features for the garment. Unfortunately, most shirt makers do not tell you the width of their collars. My preferred shirt companies – Paul Fredrick and Alara for dress, Charles Tyrwhitt for formal – all make slim fit shirts with semi-spread collars that are in the neighborhood of three inches, which I learned by sheer luck. Suit and shirt makers could be more helpful by readily including that information online.
So, is a guy in a 2.5 inch lapel and a 3 inch tie, or a 3 inch lapel and a 2 inch tie a disaster? Of course not. It’s not that a guy wearing mismatched widths necessarily looks bad. But a guy who observes more balanced proportions definitely looks better.
NOTE: Many knit ties are only available in 2.5 or 2.75 inch widths. This is normal for knit ties. (I go for the 2.75.)