Ask Allie: Tips on Wearing and Buying Prints

I find prints so much more appealing than solids. If a shirt is offered in black, red and floral, I'll inevitably get the floral. But then I find I love individual pieces but have a hard time combining them. So I just do the whole “printed dress and cardigan” or “printed shirt and jeans” thing.

I've been buying more solids to build my basic wardrobe but find too much solid action is just not me! Do you have some advice for print-a-holics like me? How can we get more wardrobe mileage out of prints? What are some good rules of thumb for buying prints?

how to wear mix prints patterns

I know you read my blog regularly, and you know I don’t promote prints because you can’t get as much mileage out of them. They show age faster, they are more memorable, they don’t dress up and down as easily… but they really are a ton of fun. Just mentioning that you mix prints shows that you have a pretty defined personal style, and I think a person who knows herself, her lifestyle, and her personal style can totally rock prints.

Again, let me say I don’t suggest prints if you are starting to build a core wardrobe or trying to simplify your closet and purchase a few quality pieces to span many years. But prints ROCK when you want to show your personality and add interest to a closet of staples. I love me some prints, and if you look in my closet you will find many of them. Here’s some tips for buying prints:

Find a Neutral Print and Make it Your Signature
Yes, prints can be a neutral. Leopard print, stripes, your family tartan, or something subtle like houndstooth or tweed. I personally love leopard print because it mixes both black and brown and is accented so nicely with the bright jewel tones I adore. I wear leopard print so often, it has become a neutral for me – a shoe to wear when nothing else seems quite right, a belt when a solid seems too harsh, a scarf when an ensemble is too severe, a skirt when the sky is blue (seriously, I could own a dozen leopard print skirts and still desire more). I also do this with stripes – I seriously have an entire drawer of striped tops because I find them so versatile and more interesting than a solid tee or tank (and they do look quite spectacular with leopard print!).

Be it Black Watch or polka dots, once you have a certain type of print that is your signature, it becomes easier to mix it with other prints. You become so comfortable in that print you end up wearing it like a neutral, and it comes across as such. Just as one may find unexpectedly beautiful combinations with olive or camel, you will find it easier to mix Breton stripes with cabbage roses than another because you know the print so intimately. Not only that, those around you will know that print is your signature and find it to be a bit of a neutral, and your choices of pairings more interesting and less like dressing in the dark.

Mix Big with Small
Cabbage roses with a tiny dots looks adorakable, cabbage roses with giant polka dots can veer on clown costume territory. I have found much success in mixing a bold and large print with a smaller, more subtle one. I have a pair of skinny jeans with subtle polka dots that I love mixing with printed tops. The jeans are more interesting than a solid and I believe give a better backdrop to a large striped jacket or Ikat-print blouse. A small dot, subtly colored stripes, and watercolor prints are great partners to bolder and bigger patterns.

Have an Underlying Color Theme
I’m not saying you should pair pink gingham with pink paisley and pull it together with a pink polka-dotted scarf. The pairing should be more subtle – a navy paisley dress with a hint of teal cinched with a teal plaid fabric belt. An orange, purple, brown, and olive Ikat print skirt paired with a purple snakeskin blouse. I like to pick the least obvious color in a print and use that to choose accessories or contrast patterns – it makes people analyze the combination more closely and adds depth and thought to an ensemble.

A plaid skirt with a floral blouse can make you look as though you dressed in the dark, but if you pull it together with a smart belt or a fabulous pair of shoes, it makes the combination more purposeful. I have a ton of skinny belts in candy colors just for this reason, and I find adding a third print with my shoes (I own six different pairs of leopard-print shoes for this very reason) makes pattern mixing look more cohesive.

Choose Classics
There are some prints that never go out of vogue. Leopard print, Breton stripes, polka-dots in a classic color combination and size. Mirror prints, Ikats, photo prints and such will come in and out of favor. Extend their life by mixing with classic prints, and veer towards classic prints to have pieces that can be staples for more than a season or two.

Befriend a Tailor
to be a successful print-a-holic, it is imperative to have good fit. Too small or too large is far more obvious when you have a garment screaming for attention. A well-fitting garment is also a sign of purposeful styling, which makes prints more stylish and understood.

Along these lines, have silhouettes that are as signature as your prints. When you show up one day in skinny jeans and a tailored blazer, the next day in a circle skirt and twinset, and the day after in distressed boyfriend jeans and a stretched out band tee shirt the prints may not make as much sense. Own your prints, and choose them in silhouettes that flatter them and you. Always buy for the full package – the fit, the cut, the relevance to your personal style as well as the awesome pattern.

Go Big or Go Home
If you’re going to be known for your prints, do them well. No shrinking violets, have your closet full of bold patterns that demand attention. A bright blue print will make more of a purposeful statement than one in a pale cornflower hue, black and white dots make more of an impression than those same circles on a tan ground. When you look at fashion icons who rock patterns on a regular basis, they are wearing jewel tones, strong patterns, and bold contrasts. Own your personal style and wear it with confidence!

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