ORGANIC + GEOMETRIC
Any rigid pattern that follows a grid is geometric, such as plaid, houndstooth, stripes, and polka dots. Prints that swirl or meander, such as most florals, tie dye, toile, or even galaxy print are organic. Still not sure? If you spilled tea on the print, would it be immediately obvious? If yes, it's geometric; if no, it's organic.
|Clemence Poesy wearing geometric stripes with a meandering organic patterned skirt. This is also a good example of pairing two prints with white backgrounds. Photographed and styled by Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele for InStyle Magazine. Image is cropped from original. Photo via.|
LARGE + LARGE
Two large-scale prints can often work together, creating a dramatic and cohesive effect.
|Large stripes with oversized houndstooth in an outfit designed by Mondo Guerra for Project Runway. Photo via.|
LARGE + SMALL
The easiest pairing of large and small scale prints are stripes on stripes, and large and small versions of the same print.
|Shay, blogger at A Thick Girl's Closet, wearing a large scale print on top and a much smaller one on bottom. Photo via.|
Look for the dominant hue in the print. Opposites on the color wheel are blue & orange, yellow & purple, and red & green. When paired together, both hues appear more vibrant. A blue & orange pairing could be navy & peach, aqua & tangerine, or inky cobalt & coral. Red & green are discussed further below.
|Blue & orange. Osman, London Fashion Week, Fall 2014. Photo via.|
Colors adjacent to each other on the color wheel are red & purple, purple & blue, blue & green, green & yellow, yellow & orange, and orange & red. When paired, they appear richer and more complex, like a brocade. So pink & plum, saffron yellow & rust orange, or navy & mint would each pair very well.
|Caroline Issa during Paris Fashion Week 2014, pairing a powder-blue patterned top with both of blue's neighbors, green and purple. Photographed by Diego Zuko.|
They don't even have to be on black backgrounds; navy or eggplant will suffice. All-dark prints share the same advantages of dressing in all black: it's easy but it still looks sophisticated, rich and moody.
|Stephanie Walsh, featured in Marie Claire street style Charleston, SC. Photographed by Mark Lim. Photo via.|
Unlike the atmospheric richness of pairing two dark prints, pairing two prints on white backgrounds radiates a breezy purity, like a sketchbook or table set for a formal brunch.
|Patron saint of mixed prints Solange Knowles is wearing two traditional African wax-resist prints, or prints inspired by the traditional cloth. They pair easily because of the white background; they're also a good example of pairing two large-scale prints. Photo via.|
PASTEL + PASTEL
These prairie home companions create a shabby-chic, bohemian effect, often used for children's clothing and home decor. Prints that would be stuffy on their own can be taken down a notch, while otherwise modest prints become a little more interesting.
|Kiera Knightly in Atonement, wearing a pale moss-green and dusty lavender geometric print against a lavender floral top. Photo via.|
CONTAIN A COMMON COLOR
Prints that contain at least one color in common can often work together.
|Will Smith's shorts pick up the black, white and purple from his shirt and white from his hat. Fresh. Observe the couch as a cautionary tale against mixing brown patterns. Photo via.|
|Julia, blogger for Sincerely Jules, wearing a floral blazer over stripes. Photo via.|
STRIPES + STRIPES
So long as the scale is different.
|Wendy Nguyen, blogger for Wendy's Lookbook, in stripes on stripes. Photo via.|
PRINTS THAT PLAY WELL WITH OTHERS
Stripes, animal print (snakeskin, leopard), dots, and textural patterns like solid color lace or jacquard are easiest to work with, acting almost like neutrals in the world of mixing prints.
|Showcasing the versatility of dot-patterned texture and leopard print during Paris Fashion Week. Photo by Kuba Dabrowski, via.|
FLORAL + FLORAL
Florals tend to look gorgeous with other florals, and the effect is incredibly lush and romantic.
|Gloria Vanderbilt wearing floral on floral. Photo via.|
MELLOW + BOLD GEOMETRIC
A geometric print may seem bold, until you pair it with something even more in-your-face. Rather than become overwhelming however, the pairing adds nuance to both prints.
|Solange Knowles wearing what would ordinarily be a bold print on her skirt, but it's paired with the higher-contrast pattern of her sweater. Also a good example of dots pairing well with other patterns. Photographed by Elle Muliarchyk for Rica Magazine, styled by Jenke-Ahmed Tailly, hair and makeup by Nikki Helms and Munemi Imai. Photo via.|
WARM MOD + COOL FRESH
-Earthy, acidy or psychadelic patterns of the 60's & 70's are very tough to pair with cool-toned, loose, fresh 80's & 90s patterns, such as 90's tribal, sparkling minimalist designs, neon-driven hipster motifs, watercolor florals, or graffiti-inspired prints.
BRIGHT RED + BRIGHT GREEN
It will never not look like Christmas. But burgundy & mint, pink & jade, or cherry & turquoise are good to wear any time. The presence of a third color (besides white) can also avert holiday associations.
SMALL + SMALL
Two small, timid patterns together can look drab and awkward. If you stumble upon an especially unfortunate size and density they shimmer like heat waves.
BROWN + BROWN
It occasionally works-- two mod prints in shades of rust, for example-- but usually brown prints either make each other look more drab, or end up looking theatrically weather-worn, like some costume from the SyFy Channel.
For some reason, it does not play well with others.
RULE #1 IF IT DOESN'T ACTUALLY LOOK WRONG TO YOU, IT'S WORKING!
It's not very helpful to grit your teeth and worry, "is it working??" because there's hardly ever one crystalline moment where the heavens shine down upon a successful pairing of prints. But there is always a decisive moment when you look at a bad pairing and think, "oh God, no!" So, look instead for this moment. And never fear: when your print mix sucks, you'll know.
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