How to Choose the Right Watch for Your Outfit

Posted by Glenn Carter on

man in suit who matched his watch to his outfit

It feels as though more and more people prefer to keep the time on their phone over a watch, but the watch still remains to be the everlasting symbol of distinction, stoic grace, and personal thought.

Conversely, since people would rather shuffle around their pockets to tell time, a fine watch stands out even further showing an added effort for that gentlemanly appeal.

Every man and woman can benefit from classic wrist apparel, but men are likely to be more inept on wearing the right watch…sorry dudes. It’s just that the watch is a subtle detail to an outfit that creates an aura.  It demands immediate attention. However, the wrong watch also sticks out the same way a clip-on tie does.

It is a culture of apparel with its unofficial laws and taboos that isn’t exclusive to the hoity toity corporate business world. There is a watch for every occasion from the most formal of galas to the dirtiest of outdoor adventures.

It is not a complex culture to learn, but definitely not one to be ignored. With a few key points the right guidelines to keep in mind, you can rock the look of distinction even when you are at your bummiest.

The 6 Types of Watches

I don’t have to tell you that watches come in all shapes and sizes…even though I just did, but from a fashion outfitting standpoint, the internet seems to come to the conclusion of six styles of watches.

Understanding these styles is essential to the golden rule of thumb for matching watches to outfits.

Dress watch

Example of a dress watch - How to Choose the Right Watch for Your Outfit

I would classify the dress watch as the classic watch, for its simple straightforward design. With a solid leather band and basic of Arabic or Roman numerals (or sometimes no numerals at all), the jewel of this watch is its subtlety; not calling too much attention to itself while completing the outfit.

This type of watch also encompasses the high-end "skeleton watch" types.  You may have seen them referred to as "see through" since you can see the inner workings of the watch.  These watches somehow exude quiet elegance while showing the chaotic movement of weights, gears and flyers inside the wrist watch.

If you are new to watches, the dress watch is a good starting point. It is also the watch to wear for formal events like weddings, interviews, or being knighted by the queen.

Be wary when wearing the dress watch however. They aren’t made to be extremely durable.  You are getting quality materials and fine craftsmanship at the expense of durability.  If you’re looking for the time in the great outdoors, there are other appropriate watches to consider.

Dive watch

example of a dive watch - How to Choose the Right Watch for Your Outfit

As its name suggests, the dive watch was made with water resistance in mind. Most of them can withstand depths of 100 meters in case you want to show off your class to the fishes. The face also has a rotating bezel for divers and snorkelers to quickly time how long they are submerged.

The band is usually made out of metal giving it the appearance of higher distinction. That is why the dive watch works for most occasions including formal events.

One thing to keep in mind when buying a dive watch is the wrist band.  Some models switched to polymer or silicone bands.  In turn, this limits what types of outfits the watch can be paired with.  If you become the proud owner of a dive watch with a polymer band, limit it to casual and sports wear.

Pilot watch

example of a dive watch - How to Choose the Right Watch for Your Outfit

By now you should get the sense that nobody is trying to trick you with styles of watches. The pilot watch doesn’t have a distinctive style other than its complications, the most important complication being a chronograph.

This is because practicality is theme behind these watches.

Watches were an integral part of navigating the skies before the advent of GPS.  Pilots would time their journeys and by tracking how fast they were going and knowing their direction with a compass, they could determine where they were respective to the ground.

Since accuracy is the priority above all else with this watch, style is usually an afterthought. Pilot watches are fine for any casual outing…or if you’re flying something, but I would leave it at home if you’re wearing a suit and tie.

Chrono watch

example of a chrono watch - How to Choose the Right Watch for Your Outfit

This watch also includes many complications like a tachymeter. By cross referencing with a chronograph, a tachymeter can tell you how fast you covered your distance and even how much fuel you burned if you are in a vehicle (math calculations not included).

Aside from complications, a chrono watch is much sleeker than a pilot watch. For some inexplicable reason, cars are just sexier than planes, and so are their watches. Their bands can be either leather or metal, but the face usually has bold Arabic numerals making it a watch with a furious statement.

You can definitely get away with wearing a chrono watch for an interview or even uppity business negotiations, but I’d stay away from it considering black tie events.

Field watch

example of a field watch - How to Choose the Right Watch for Your Outfit

this is the most casual of the watches. Originally crafted during the World War I era, it was designed for durability in the worst of places.

The face is usually made with stainless steel to withstand abuse, and sometimes it even glows in the dark. If you’re not a “suite and tie” sort of person, the field watch is perfect for everyday wear.

Bamboo and wooden watches

example of a bamboo watch - How to Choose the Right Watch for Your Outfit

An interesting new trend, the wooden watch offers a new level of craftsmanship. It’s an assertion that mother nature and civilization can co-exist without looking like a smelly hippy. 

Bamboo and wooden watches work best with brown suit jackets and fit any business casual occasion. Plus, they are a great conversation starter.  Of course, they go well with almost any casual wear granted the color scheme of your outfit doesn’t clash with the color of the wood of your watch.

It’s important to be weary when buying wooden watches. Always ensure your watch is made from solid wood, can adjust to fit your wrist, and have a clear, concise design.

Rules of thumb

The golden rule for wearing the right watch is to match the formality of the occasion. Some watches consider style as the priority while others focus on function.  

I can’t think of anything more frustrating than spending my hard-earned money on something only for it to fall apart on me within the week. I also don’t want to spend money on a watch that I won’t be able to wear in my most common social settings.

Conversely, wearing a practical watch for a fancier occasion will probably get snickers from that green-eyed girl across the room. So let me be clear, and I can’t type this loud enough: IN NO WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM IS A DIGITAL WATCH A FORMAL WATCH.

Even if you got that brand new smart watch, you’re only sporting a gimmick compared to that classic tick-tocking of an analogue. There’s nothing wrong with digital or smart watches, but they are better off as street wear.

There are often multiple styles of watches for the same occasion.  You can refer to this easy chart to match your watch for your outfit: 

how to match your watch to your outfit - easy chart to understand


Matching your watch to your outfit's color

Aside from the occasion, it also helps to be weary of how the watch matches your outfit. A suit is a good starting point because suits have the simplest color schemes.

For me a helpful guideline is to have the band’s material fit the color scheme of the suit jacket, belt and pants while the face of the watch matches the color scheme of your under-shirt.

If you’re wearing a black or grey suit, then a black leather band is your best bet. If you’re wearing a brown suit, then a leather band is the way you want to go.

Metal bands have the advantage of matching almost any suit, although be careful with grey suits.  Not all tones of grey match metal bands.  Also consider that some tones of grey clash with the finish of a metal.  Avoid any brushed metal textures with grey suits.

A watch for everybody

When people think watch, they think thousands of dollars which is valid. Some watches can be that expensive, but watches are not a distinction about money. It’s statement of style and attitude.

A thousand dollar watch can still clash with your outfit just as much as a hundred dollar watch. The end goal is to complete your outfit, and wearing the proper watch to your outfit and your day is how to seal the deal.

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