Should Napkins Match The Tablecloth?

Although people do not seem to use table linens as often as they used to, they can be an easy way to bring charm or elegance to a dinner party or family holiday gathering. However, when it comes time to set the table, you may be wondering if the napkins should match the tablecloth. For your convenience, we've brought you the answer. 

When it comes to the proper etiquette for matching napkins and tablecloths, there aren't any strict rules but more so guidelines to be followed depending on the occasion. If you are hosting a more formal affair, it is suggested that the napkins should match the tablecloth or at least be a complementary color. With informal events, you do not have to perfectly match napkins to the tablecloth.

Continue reading to learn when to use a tablecloth, some tips to help coordinate your napkins with your tablecloth, and if it is acceptable to use placemats with a tablecloth. By the end of this article, you will have the information to design a table setting that is sure to impress.

tables assembled with sophisticated dishes, cutlery, glasses and flowers, Should Napkins Match The Tablecloth?

When should you use a tablecloth?

There is not a right or wrong time to use a tablecloth, but you may want to consider a couple of factors before pulling that linen out of the cupboard. Daily use of a tablecloth can have some considerable downsides, most notably the extra maintenance needed to keep it clean. Unless you want to be laundering your table linens regularly, it might be wise to only use a tablecloth for special occasions.

Events that definitely require a tablecloth would be those that call for a bit more ceremony. A romantic dinner date, Thanksgiving feasts with extended family, weddings, baby showers, birthday parties, and graduations would all fall in this category.

Traditions of a festive luxury feast.

What to consider when selecting table linens

Table linens include tablecloths, napkins, table runners, and placemats. When it comes time to purchase these items there are a few things you want to take into consideration before buying.

Size & Shape

Do you have a small or large table? Is the table round, oval, square, or rectangle? It is important to purchase the right size as well as the right shape tablecloth for your table. Be sure you have the right size tablecloth for your table by following this guide: How Big Should A Tablecloth Be?


What type of event are you hosting? What is the mood you want to set? Are you hosting a playful birthday brunch for your gal pals? Or perhaps you are hosting a festive Christmas dinner with all the family. Table linens have the ability to change the atmosphere no matter what type of event you are putting on.


What color is the space you will be using these table linens in? If you have a colorfully painted dining room, you may want to choose table linens that will complement that room design. However, if you're working with a blank slate, bold colors can create dramatic backdrops when coordinated with other tabletop elements.

This example shows how matching the tablecloth and napkins to the green glasses creates an elegant but fun tablescape. The floral patterned table runners in neutral colors create visual appeal without being overwhelming.


Certain types of cloth table linens help create upscale settings, such as polyester, silk, or some types of linen. Cotton tablecloths are better for daily use rather than special events. Vinyl tablecloths are best for outdoor use since they're so resistant to weather. Disposable covers are better for casual events and single-use only.

We have found the most common material used for napkins is linen. This type of fabric has more of a crisp feel and appearance than its counterparts. Linen is also absorbent, which makes them both practical and beautiful.

The material used in placemats or table runners is completely up to personal choice. The variety available on the market is limitless. Just remember what type of event and mood you are trying to convey when deciding what material would work best for these linens.


How much care and attention are you willing to give your table linens? How often will you be using them and do you want to put that much effort in every time you use them? Some table linens can be laundered easily in your washing machine. Others, like antique lace, should only be washed by hand and hung to air dry. 

How to coordinate napkins with your tablecloth

We wanted to give you a comprehensive guide to assist you in the task of matching the right napkins with the right tablecloth. Follow these tips and tricks to create wonderfully paired table settings for your next event.

Pick one pattern

Too many patterns can cause visual imbalance. For example, it would not make sense to pair a striped napkin with a floral print tablecloth. If you're aiming for formality, stick to no patterns or subtle patterns that don't detract from the abundance of dinnerware. If you want a fun atmosphere big patterns can be used to create a playful theme.

A line of cute square tables with patterned blue and white tablecloths and flowers on them

Here is a good example of a patterned tablecloth paired well with solid colored napkins. You could also switch and have a solid tablecloth with patterned napkins. The use of varying shades of blue also helps create visual unity.

Choose complementary colors

To coordinate napkins with your tablecloth it is important to have a basic understanding of color theory. Essentially, you want to know what colors look best together. You can find harmony through a variety of color schemes.

Complementary colors are opposites on the color wheel. So if you have an emerald green tablecloth, pair it with red napkins to create a contrast perfect for a classic Christmas table. An analogous color scheme includes neighboring colors on the wheel, like purple, blue, and green. A monochromatic color scheme is one color with various shades and tints.

Festive table decor. In pastel pink colors with golden cutlery. Different natural colors roses, peonies, anthurium. Luxury wedding, party, birthday. View from above. Fruit and snack on white plates.

This pretty party set-up demonstrates how to create a monochromatic color scheme with a solid petal pink tablecloth and darker pink napkins. Even if the hue of your napkins isn't an exact match to your tablecloth it can still coordinate as long as you keep them in the same color family.

What color should tablecloths be

Once again, the color your tablecloth should be depends heavily on the type of event and mood you are trying to convey. Use neutral tones, pastel, or white tablecloths for a formal dinner setting. Don’t go for bright, bold colors.

Many fancy restaurants use solid white tablecloths because it gives a clean look that doesn't clash with the rest of the room's decor. The addition of a colorful napkin to a white tablecloth can make a statement without being too overpowering.

Elegant table for dinning at sunset

If you desire to have a relaxed ambiance, then the tablecloth can be any color so long as it complements the room decor and dinnerware. Informal gatherings allow you the freedom to be creative with the color of your tablecloth.

Are tablecloths tacky?

The use of tablecloths in our day-to-day life has definitely seen a major decline in recent years. But does that mean that tablecloths are tacky? If you are using a vinyl or plastic tablecloth indoors for any occasion outside of a child's birthday party then the answer is yes.

That being said, adding a fabric tablecloth to your table for a special occasion has many benefits. Tablecloths help reduce noise when glasses or silverware are placed down. They protect your table from scratches and spills. If you are using an unsightly folding table then a tablecloth is a great way to hide it. Tablecloths can be the opposite of tacky and upgrade your space in a big way.

Is it okay to use placemats with a tablecloth?

While placemats are excellent substitutes for tablecloths in everyday use, sometimes you may want to use placemats on top of a tablecloth. If you're wondering if this is acceptable, the answer is yes! Layering materials such as placemats or table runners on top of your tablecloth is an easy method to add visual interest.

Table arranged for Christmas lunch

This elegant Christmas tablescape is a prime example of how to use placemats with a tablecloth. Notice that the navy blue placemats draw color from some of the dinnerware, while also breaking up the uniformity of white napkins on a white table cloth.

If you love the look of placemats but have a round table check out this post that answers the question: What Are The Best Placemats For A Round Table?

Final Thoughts

tables assembled with sophisticated dishes, cutlery, glasses and flowers, Should Napkins Match The Tablecloth?

Important points to remember are what colors work well together, pick only one pattern to keep the table setting visually appealing, and keep in mind the type of event or mood you are trying to create. With this knowledge, you should have the confidence to arrange a beautiful tablescape with napkins that match your tablecloth.

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