Wearing patterns and prints is a great way to add variety and a little spice into your wardrobe. But do you have questions about how to fit them in with your existing clothes and how to make them look awesome ? In this post, I’m showing you how to look great wearing patterns and prints, including how to mix and match prints in a single outfit.
The basics of prints
Print motifs — A print is anything in your closet that isn’t a solid color. The types and motifs for prints are endless. Some are common such as polka dots, stripes and florals. Others come in many variants; for example, we wear animal prints from tigers, zebras, leopards and snakes. And, geometric, textured and abract prints offer even more pattern options for our clothing.
Scale of prints – All prints have a scale, which means the size of the design that the print is made of. While any print can be classified as a large scale, medium scale or small scale, thee is no specific definition of the measurements for a scale.
I think of a large-scale print as a pattern that is quite big and oversized. It might be an oversized floral or a bold, wide strip. A small scale print has elements that are around a half inch in size or smaller. Many polka dot patterns are done in a small scale. Finally, a medium-scale print falls, not surprisingly, in the middle of large and small scale prints.
Tip: When you are pairing prints together, use prints with varying scales for more appealing matches.
How to look great wearing patterns and prints
While there is no right or wrong way to style prints and patterns, here are three ways to create outfits that will help you look great wearing patterns and prints.
- Pair prints with complementary colors
- Pair prints with a contrasting color
- Take print matching to the next level
Pair prints with complementary colors
Pairing prints with complementary colors is an easy way to get started with prints. Here are my favorite two ways to choose a complementary color to wear with a print.
- Pair with the background color in the print – Find the main background color in the print that you are wearing and pair it with a solid color item in the background color. If the background color in the print is a bright cobalt blue, for example, then wear that print with another item in a solid cobalt blue.
- Pair with a complementary neutral – Take any print and pair with with a complementary neutral item for another way to look great wearing prints and patterns. When you’ve chosen your print, match it up with one of your favorite neutrals, such as black, white, gray, tan or dark brown for a classic look.
Pair prints with a contrasting color
Pairing prints with contrasting colors is another way to look great with patterns and prints. Finding just the right contrast color is important and I have three approaches that will help you.
- Another color in the print (not background color) – Most prints have more than one color, and these colors are already perfectly paired to complement each other. So pick a color in the print (but not the background color) and you’ve found a contrasting color that complements the background color. Use that color as a solid color to wear with the print for a pulled-together look.
- Background color and a second color in the print – For a complete outfit using a print as the basis, pair the pattern with a solid item in the background color and another solid item in a contrasting color found in the print. An example might be if you have a red, gray and black plaid print shirt, you can wear it with black jeans and a grey scarf as a casual outfit.
- Two prints in same color – Matching prints can be tricky but if you start with two prints in the same color, it’s a breeze. This picture shows a woman wearing a snakeskin printed legging in a sage green color and she’s wearing a similar colored t-shirt in a heathered print. The color pulls the outfit together, with no concern that the prints won’t go. Plus, you have the small-scale print in the t-shirt with the medium-scale print in the leggings; using varying scales is also a good way to pattern match.
Take print matching to the next level
If you create an outfit with more than one print or pattern, you’ve definitely taking print and pattern matching to the next level. With these tips in mind, you can wear two or even three prints easily.
- Similar print in different colors – Make a really great whimsical outfit by taking the same print, such as a polka dot, and wearing three different pieces of that print in three different color combos. The trick here is to tell a color story with the colors you choose. The colors in the three prints need to match. Using prints of varying scales helps ensure that the prints will work well together also.
- 3 prints in same colors with different motifs — Another way to think about prints is to take three prints that are in the same color family, but in different print motifs. For example, you can pair a black and white floral top, a black and white plaid pant and a black and white polka dot scarf. Because they are all in the same colors, they will work together in an outfit. Add a statement accessory (maybe a red shoe with the example black and white outfit) to take this outfit even to another level.
- 3 motifs in complementary colors – Choose a print motif such as florals or plaids, along with a complementary color palette that you love. Then pair prints using that motif and color palette for a brilliantly print matched outfit. You might choose floral prints and a color palette of green, blue and purple tones. With this as a your guide, you could choose a large-scale floral print in deeper tones, paired with a medium-scale blue and white floral and a small-scale green background floral with white and purple flowers paired with a solid-colored belt. The look works because there is commonality in the print motif and in the palette.
Look great wearing patterns and prints within your comfort level
Your personality and style will dictate how much pattern and print you want to bring into your wardrobe. You can think about it as a range of options, from a minimal amount of prints to a head-to toe look.
- If you want to dip your toe in with not a lot of commitment, it’s easy to still make prints and patterns have impact in your wardrobe by selecting accessories with prints. Examples might be a large-scale pattern bag, a fun animal-print shoe or a variety of scarves in colors and patterns you love.
- It’s common to get a top in a print and this look is so easy to style and wear. You can take it even further with a printed jacket or layer, such as a plaid jacket or a floral sweater.
- Some women are perplexed about what to wear with the printed leggings that are everywhere, but the styling suggestions in this blog post provide what you need to pair printed bottoms for a fabulous outfit. Pull colors from the background color in the leggings or from the colors in the pattern, or pair them with a neutral. Don’t limit printed bottoms to just leggings. You will find great pants, skirts and shorts to use to build outfits that show off your style.
- When you’re ready, find some “head-to-toe” print items too, such as a maxi dress or a jumpsuit. It’s also very on-trend right now to wear a two-piece outfit in the same print, such as a pair of joggers and top in the same pattern.
Want to learn even more about style and making your wardrobe work for you? Check out my “Formula for Dressing Effortlessly” ebook, where I help you change the way you look at your closet. It helps you define a purpose for every piece in your closet and ensures that each clothing item can be worn with many others items easily and well, effortlessly.
Video showing how to look great wearing patterns and prints
Prefer to watch a video? Here’s a related YouTube video about using prints and patterns to create stylish and personalized outfits.