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Watch Style Guide: Matching a Watch to Your Outfit

You go to your wardrobe to pick out just the right pair of shoes for your outfit. Done. Now it's on to the jewellery. If you are a person whose jewellery choices are limited, you may have only one watch to work with. What if it doesn't match your outfit? This very real possibility suggests that having multiple watches might be a good idea. However, there are answers even if you are a single watch kind of person. This article is for people who are not interested in owning half-a-dozen wristwatches. It is for those individuals who prefer just one or, at the most, two. It is possible to choose a single watch to complement most of your outfits. We say this based on the fundamental principle that your style is consistent across all of your outfits.

Your Style Is Your Approach

Your style is your particular approach to clothing. For example, more conservative dressers will choose more conservative clothing for work, leisure, and formal occasions. It is highly unlikely that someone who dresses conservatively for work will throw caution to the wind for a formal event. Even that person's casual clothing will tend to be more conservative.

The key here is determining what type of clothing you wear most often. If you dress in business casual for 8 to 10 hours a day, five days a week, match your watch to business casual. In all likelihood, your choice will work just fine with your leisure and formal outfits as well.


1. Aviator Watch

As the name suggests, aviator watches are designed with special features for pilots. A typical aviator watch is easily identified by its contrasting numbers for easier visibility. Larger cases and crowns are also fairly common. Most aviator watches are chronographs with some dials for calculating things such as time zones, distance, remaining fuel, and so forth. Aviator watches do not have to be constructed with water and impact resistant materials, but they frequently are. Leather, metal, and canvas straps are all acceptable for the aviator.

2. Dive Watch

The dive watch is a particular type of watch intended for divers. It obviously offers very good water resistance. Early dive watches date back to the 1920s when they were first made popular by Rolex. A typical dive watch is a chronograph with a unidirectional bezel for calculating time under the water. It also needs to be visible in total darkness up to 9.8 inches. Dive watches are rust resistant, shock resistant, and feature a solid, strong band usually made of metal or canvas.

3. Dress Watch

Dress watches are considered the most elegant and classy. These are said to date back to late 18th century England when dandies were all the rage. A true dress watch offers a minimalist design featuring a thin case and an elegant but unobtrusive dial. Dress watches are generally no wider than 42 mm with dials featuring either Roman numerals or hash marks. Leather straps are also the norm.


4. Field Watch

The field watch takes its name from military service. History suggests the style dates back to Germany's Wilhelm I. Field watches in the modern era feature cases ranging from 36 to 44 mm, anti-glare crystals, water and shock resistance, and easy-to-read dials. Canvas and metal straps are the norm.

5. Racing Watch

Sometimes referred to as a sport watch these days, a racing watch is known by two key features: a chronograph and tachymeter. Using the two features together makes it a snap to calculate time based on distance. Visually speaking, racing and sport watches are designed to demand attention. They often feature high contrast dials and breathable straps. In some cases, they offer angled cases that make it easier to see the time without moving your hands much.

Determining Your Style

A single style of watch might complement every outfit you wear. If not, you should be able to get away with two watches. We will explain how this works, beginning with determining your typical style of dress. If you are like most people, one of the following four styles represents how you dress most often:

Formal – A person who dresses in the formal style rarely goes out of the house without a suit coat or dress. For men, ties are optional but preferred. People who dress in a more formal style do not tend to invest a lot in tee-shirts and casual tops. 

Business Formal – Business formal attire may or may not include a suit coat. It does include shirts and ties for the men and either dresses/skirts or dress trousers and blouses for the women. Business formal is the type of attire you would expect to see in the boardroom.

Business Casual – Business casual is recognised by dress slacks and button-down shirts. Ties are optional, and slacks can be khaki or dark denim in some cases. Leather shoes are also pretty typical of business casual.

Casual – Casual dress is recognised by its tendency toward jeans, polo and tee-shirts, Hawaiian shirts, shorts, and shoes that include everything from trainers to open toed sandals.

Assume you only want to purchase one watch. Ask yourself how you normally dress. If you are typically a formal dresser, go with a dress watch. It will work fine regardless of what you are wearing on any given day. If you are not comfortable with a dress watch when wearing leisure or activewear, consider a sport or dive watch. As for the rest:

Business Formal – dress, dive, or aviator

Business Casual – any watch type will do

Casual – any watch except dress.

This may not help you much. For example, being able to wear any type of watch with business casual may leave you wondering what to do. We have put together some simple rules to help.


5 Rules for Matching Watches

There are five rules that should help you figure out if you can get away with just one watch. If not, the rules should help you find a second watch for those occasions when you might need one.

  • Favour Formality - It is always best to err on the side of formality. Perhaps you normally dress in business casual but, upon checking your wardrobe, you realise that your clothing is right on the edge of business casual and business formal. Choose a watch more likely to fit with business formal. It is hard to go wrong being too formal. However, being too casual is easy.
  • Match the Strap - As long as you are erring on the side of formality, consider the strap. A dress watch with a thin case and a leather strap may not work if your business casual clothing is closer to casual than business formal. You might be better off with a dive or field watch sporting a canvas or metal band.
  • Look at Complementary Materials - You may have more options because you dress primarily in business formal and business casual clothing. You can refine your choices by paying attention to complementary materials. For example, a preference for leather shoes suggests choosing a watch with a leather strap. If you wear more jewellery than the average person, a watch featuring both a metal case and band will be much more appropriate.
  • Pay Attention to Colour - Take a close look at your wardrobe you are likely to find that you prefer some colours more than others. You can choose a watch based on your colour preferences. If you are more into earth tones, metal watches featuring silvers and golds would work well. If you are into brighter colours, sport and aviator watches tend to be more appropriate.
  • Sometimes the Rules Don't Matter - Rules are made to be broken, right? Right. There are two occasions when you can throw out all of the other rules. The first is when wearing an heirloom timepiece. A watch passed down to you from a loved and respected family member or friend can be worn with any outfit, no questions asked. The other exception is the fashion watch, a category not discussed earlier. Fashion watches are, by design, meant to be fashion statements. They feature odd shapes, unusual dials, etc. because they are designed to make a statement. They do so no matter what else you are wearing. Thus, you can wear a fashion watch with any outfit knowing that your intent is to make a statement. And now you know how to match a watch to your outfit. Perhaps you need only one watch for all of the closing your closet. Maybe you need two. If you need three or more, consider making more room by getting rid of some shoes.