Friday, April 5, 2013

5 Tips for Painless Pattern-Mixing

I've gotten a few emails lately asking about pattern-mixing--a trend that appears to still be alive and well at the moment--so I thought I'd write a post on some of the things I think about when I style a print-mixed look. It's important to note that these are tips, not rules. The concept of pattern-mixing requires a break from the traditional rules on wearing prints, so don't get too caught up in following a particular set of guidelines.

In each of the outfits above, I've indicated on their photos which of the following tips I considered when putting them together. You can see that not every tip works for every outfit, but picking a couple for each one helps the final product look polished and deliberate.

1. Stay within the same color family. This doesn't necessarily mean the same color, although that can be an easy way to tie things together. You can also use darker tones, jewel tones, neon tones, or pastel tones to create a more cohesive color scheme. In the outfit on the top right, the neon yellow stripes, sea green scarf, and purple coat all share a springy, slightly electric tone that makes them work nicely together.

2. Use colors that are both contrasting and complementary in your look. Your outfit will look less like your eccentic grandma's coordinated loungewear if you pair one print that's lighter in its overall color and one that's darker. This seems like it might be contradictory to Tip #1, but you can easily apply both #1 and #2 in one outfit--see the beachy striped dress outfit above. The reddish-pink cardigan with its smaller navy stripes both contrasts with and complements the white base color in the dress and scarf, while the navy stripes in both the dress and cardigan tie them together.

3. Choose prints with different proportions. Pair a bold or dense print with a more subtle, sparser print to avoid overwhelming the eye. In the black-and-white dress and cardigan look above, the bold, graffiti-esque print on the dress contrasts well with the sparse polka-dot print on the cardigan, and keeping them both in the same color family makes it look like they were meant to be worn together!

4. Mix classic patterns. Sticking with classic patterns like polka dots, stripes, houndstooth, plaid or paisley adds a touch of the traditional to an outfit that otherwise eschews conventional pairings. In all three outfits on the bottom row, I've made use of this tip by pairing stripes with plaid (left and center) and houndstooth with leopard and dots.

5. Leopard print is a neutral. Treat leopard print (and similar classic patterns) as a goes-with-everything neutral. (Caution: pick one leopard-print item per outfit--you can maybe stretch this to two if one is a lighter-colored leopard and one is darker.) In the outfit on the top left, I mixed leopard-print pumps with a floral skirt, thinking of the leopard as similar to a nude shoe (but a little more exciting, obviously). In the photo right below that one, I used a light-colored leopard belt to create a neutral divider between my subtle paisley-print blouse and bolder navy polka-dot skirt.

P.S. Congrats to Julia of Lemon Stripes, the winner of my Cambridge Satchel Giveaway! I can't wait to see you style it.



  1. great tips! you are a print mixing master!
    xo, aiyanajane

  2. Amazing tips, I never really thought about pattern mixing in this way but it makes perfect sense! Your outfits are perfect.


  3. AWESOME. Thanks for this post.
    Mixing patterns is one of my favorite looks, but my god is it hellish on the morning routine! Maybe I'll print this post out and frame it next to my closet. <3


  4. wow, one of my favorite posts from you, I love the layout showing all these beautiful outfits!!… what an inspiration :)


  5. I am a firm believer that leopard is a neutral! Love these looks.

  6. I've always admired your use of color and pattern. You look fabulous! Thanks for the tips Tam :)

  7. I LOVE LOVE LOVE that striped dress! You shared just fantastic tips for mixing patterns, thanks.

    Chelsea & The City

  8. Great tips! I usually have no idea what to do with patterns! I love that striped dress with the red cardigan :)


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