This week we extoll the visual virtue of print and pattern. Vintage and modern fabrics are all wearable examples of graphic art. Such sweet eye candy can be fun and interesting to mix together for a surprisingly flattering and impactful outfit.
For this Style Fetish photo essay we have styled a few men’s and women’s pairings showing examples of print and pattern mixing from subtle to bold. Pieces from different seasons were mixed as well; I think I was subconsciously influenced by our fickle hot-and-cold Colorado spring weather as well as these exuberant prints and patterns.
Very generally speaking, “prints” are printed onto the fabric after it is produced (florals, some stripes, abstract prints, etc., commonly printed on cotton, rayon or polyester) and “patterns” are controlled by the loom and woven into the fabric as its being made (plaids, houndstooth, herringbone, tweed, etc., commonly woven from wool or cotton.)
Prints and patterns are more flattering than you may realize. Some can seem a bit much when seen at arms length on a hanger, but the print will make sense when seen in context on the body, and the flattering powers print can hold over solid colors becomes apparent.
Prints break up the body’s outline- the silhouettes of your least-favorite bumps and bulges will blend into the background.
Thin stripes elongate the body when placed vertically and are not unflattering when placed on the horizontal, but avoid wide stripes placed horizontally (unless you’d like to add some visual volume to slim hips and a flat booty). Careful on the bottom with vertical stripes, too. If the garment too tight your thighs will look like a topographical map. Try a wide-band stripe skirt with a tiny “ditsy” print top in the same colors.
A print or pattern in a scale that matches your physical scale will look best. Tiny petites should avoid large prints and those with stature can pull off a larger print or pattern.
Light prints will accentuate and dark patterns will make recede the areas they cover (this applies to solid colors, too).
In mixing print and pattern, there are a few considerations to keep you looking stylish, not clownish.
Keep the print size scales either the same OR completely opposite (i.e. medium with medium or tiny with large). Limit one large or extra large scale print to the outfit. Two large scales together can get Clown, quick.
Keep the colors and tones of both patterns the same or very similar to each other.
Subtle pinstripes are widely considered a solid, so most any pinstriped garments can be mixed with a print or pattern (except another pinstripe! No pinstriped shirt with pinstriped pants or suit!)
Same-with-same print or pattern can start you down the road to Clown Town. I recommend avoiding mixing pinstripes, plaids, or other patterns together unless they are very different scales (see houndstooth photo). Easiest to mix print with a pattern like a floral with stripe, a polka-dot with a plaid, etc. But, hey, style is supposed to be fun and artistic. Use your instinct and wear what pleases you.
Balance and “ground” it all with solid colors. Keep the multiple patterns to two to three per outfit depending on the scale of the prints and where they appear. The solid color will anchor the eye and tame the patterns.
Mix prints in your accessories, too- scarves, socks or tights, neckties and vests can purvey mixed prints and patterns to your outfit in a smaller, more subtle way than a whole garment.
Use these same ideas for embroidered, surface-embellished or otherwise specially-textured items.
Heather Narwid owns Sideshow, a vintage and modern clothing store for men and women. Sideshow is located in Durango at 208 County Road 250 (at 32nd Street). Sideshow is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. till 6 p.m.