Pattern Mixing: a Guide

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pattern mixing fashion

Mixing of unexpected patterns has become a popular fashion trend, and one I embrace fully. It’s a great way to show your personality, and give a new life to some pieces collecting dust in your wardrobe. But how does one create a great mix of prints without looking as though she dressed in the dark?

Mix Big with Small
Pair a cabbage rose print with a small gingham, tiny polka-dots with a zebra print, leopard print with bold stripes. When you balance a big print with a smaller one, they don’t compete for the limelight and end up defining one another’s patterns. While I have seen two little prints and two big prints pair beautifully with one another, mixing small with large is a good first step into pattern mixing.

Add a Contrast Solid Color
Sometimes the one thing missing in a mixed-pattern ensemble is a grounding solid. A wide obi-inspired belt in red, a white blazer, a simple black pencil skirt. If you’re wearing a paisley skirt and Dalmatian-print heels, try a solid blouse; if you’re wearing a leopard-print blouse and dotted skirt consider a wide belt in a solid color or a colored shoe instead of nude. This addition will make the pattern mixing more purposeful and give the eye a break.

Go for Contrast
A red toile pattern on a white ground paired with a white and red paisley may be charming for a Shabby Chic-inspired bedroom, but on a person it ends up looking muddy. Embrace pattern mixing by going for more of contrast – a red floral with a brown leopard, blue Pucci-inspired print with black and white zebra, red and white stripes with a navy paisley. Having two strong different prints will make the mixing look purposeful.

Now, this doesn’t mean wear a leopard-print cardigan with a striped tee and a floral skirt with your bubble necklace, an arm party and a headscarf. While that could possibly look amazing, it could also make you look crazy. However the right accessory can ground a busy ensemble. I find a heavy brushed gold pendant necklace will tone down a busy blouse, a solid color statement necklace will balance out a printed dress and shoes, a wide belt will give space between two different prints. When you’re wearing a mix of prints, it’s better to go bold with your accessories – a wide bangle, a large belt, a single-metal statement necklace, a large pendant on a thick chain. Small necklaces and bracelets can get lost and add to the busyness of the ensemble.

If in Doubt, Use Leopard
Leopard print (and cheetah print) has become a fashion neutral. I love leopard-print shoes because they can pair with most any print and look purposeful, quirky, and stylish. A leopard-print blouse is a great wardrobe addition because it can be worn with a solid bottom or also be paired with popular prints like floral, dots, and houndstooth. Leopard is a great gateway into pattern-mixing, consider adding a pair of leopard pumps to your wardrobe and trying them with printed dresses and skirts already in your collection.

Go With Your Gut
If you put two patterns on together and you think it looks silly, don’t wear it. Trust your gut – what looks silly to you may also look silly to others, and even if it actually is a great combination, you will feel silly and that lack of confidence will show. However, if you pair your chevron blouse with a dotted skirt and think it looks spectacular, wear it and wear it with pride. One of the most important parts of pattern mixing is confidence – this is a trend that is fun, bold, and daring. Hold your head up high, walk with a confident stride, and you may inspire others to also take the pattern-mixing leap!

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  1. I do this A LOT with D, my 2.5 year old, not so much with myself. The toddler can get away with it so much more! 

  2. Allie,

    I’m not quite sure what you mean by the following:

    “A red toile pattern on a white ground paired with a white and red
    paisley may be charming for a Shabby Chic-inspired bedroom, but on a
    person it ends up looking muddy.”

    Can you possibly provide a link that has an example?

    Thank you,


  3. I have a paisley collared blouse (cream background, turquoise and brown paisley) that I pair with a blue, grey, and white argyle sweater. The first time I tried it, I couldn’t believe it actually worked! I’d love to experiment with  more pattern mixing but I mostly own solids.

  4. lol – the outfit that you describe under accessorizing sounds craziballs and, yet, I would love to see someone actually wear it. Not me, obviously, but someone. 

    And, I still giggle every time I hear the phrase “arm party” – I have actually been known to wear an arm party, which is nowhere near as fun as it sounds. 

  5. I am not convinced by pattern mixing, seems a bit too much. I like simple things with a bit of pattern on its own

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