How to: 8 simple rules for mixing patterns

I realize it might be really easy for me to walk into my closet and walk out wearing floral patterns head-to-toe and looks fine, but it’s often harder for other people. I use these eight simples rules when mixing patterns and with a little practice and confidence, anyone can rock the look. (I’ve included real-life examples at the end!)

1. Mix patterns from the same color family.
Using hues from one main color when mixing patterns can create a very subtle look, while still showing your daring side. It’s still visually stimulating for the eye, but in a refined way.
Diane von FurstenbergAnna Sui 3
Diane von Furstenburg, Anna Sui

2. Think of some patterns/textures as solids
If you have a houndstooth skirt, think of that as a solid. Same can go for small polka dots, thin stripes or checks. They’re small enough and understated that the eye can view them as a solid, even though they’re really not.
Jonathan Saundersmarc jacobs
Jonathan Saunders, Marc Jacobs

3. Look for patterns that complement each other
The last thing you want to do is look like you got dressed in the dark. One way to make sure that doesn’t happen is to choose patterns that complement each other. Stripes and floral always mesh well, as do leopard and stripes or polka dots.
Alexander Wang2dkny pattern
Alexander Wang, DKNY

4. Don’t go too matchy-matchy
Mixing patterns is supposed to be fun. Although it can look cool, don’t go out head-to-toe in one pattern. That’s too matchy-matchy and can make you look more like Peg Bundy than you want. Although, if you want to push the envelope, switch up the colors of the matching patterns like Rihanna did. It’s a new twist on pattern mixing that keeps the overly matchy-matchy concept fresh.
Anna Sui2rihanna-435
Anna Sui, Rihanna

5. Space the patterns out
There is no need to wear a patterned skirt with a patterned jacket, or top. Sometimes mixing a top or skirt with patterned shoes can give your outfit the right amount of “wow” you’re looking for. Or try a patterned scarf with a solid top and patterned bottoms.
alexander wangZac Posen 3
Alexander Wang, Zac Posen

6. Include neutrals in your outfit
When you add a solid with two or more patterns, you allow the visual space of the outfit to be broken up. You do this with stockings, shoes, accessories or another article of clothing. Whatever you chose to add, it’ll help your outfit look even better.
dries van notenzac posen 2
Dries van Noten, Zac Posen

7. Combine patterns of different densities/sizes
Rather than mix dense prints with dense prints, which can cause a big mess, try mixing a dense print with a sparse print. The same goes for larger prints and smaller prints. Usually if you mix different densities and sizes, the prints balance each other out, because one becomes the focal point and the other becomes the sidekick.
marc jacobs2Zac Posen
Marc Jacobs, Zac Posen

8. Use accessories wisely
As discussed in #5, sometimes spacing out patterns can help breakup the visual space. Accessories are your friend and your foe when mixing patterns. They can overwhelm or balance an outfit. Using a colored belt to break up two different patterned pieces can work really well, as can colored shoes or a neutral purse. Just be careful not to overdo it, because the focus of the outfit is the pattern, not the accessories.
proenza schouler2anna sui
Proenza Schouler, Anna Sui

Here are some great examples from other bloggers who’ve taken that bold step into the world of pattern mixing:

Vanessa of Snappy and Savvy mixes different sizes, densities and stays within the same color family for a fun, graphic look. Plus, her accessories add a pop of color.
snappy and savvy print mix

Jenni of Pixie in Pumps mixes complementary patterns in the same color family, of different sizes and makes sure to work with her accessories.
Pixie in pumps mixing patterns

Nicole of Employed Panache mixes her polka dots and florals with ease! (See what I said about polka dots and florals?! Amazing!). She also keeps her accessories minimal and understated.
employed panache Mixing patterns

Collette of Statements in Fashion mixes stripes and dots in similar colors for a strong, graphic look. She even varies widths of stripes and size and density of polka dots.
statements in fashion Mixing patterns

Erin of Work With What You’ve Got shows how easy it is to mix stripes and floral, while adding a pop of color with her tights.
5237902951_209e336680_b

Tiffany from A Reason to be Fabulous is a girl after my own heart with stripes, florals and bright colors! (Not to mention the twin-like hair!)

Heather of Embracing your inner cupcake mixes stripes and florals, showing how navy can be a neutral and a focal point!

Me! Rockin’ out floral and polka dots from the 30 for 30 challenge.
Miss vinyl ahoy mixing patterns

Do you mix prints? Why or why not?

(runway images from style.com)

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71 thoughts on “How to: 8 simple rules for mixing patterns

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention How to: 8 simple rules for mixing patterns | Miss Vinyl Ahoy -- Topsy.com

  2. I’m with erindyan. I didn’t know it had to be so quickly. I just did a post on pattern mixing last week as part of my Every Man, Woman, and Child feature. I actually wanted to use one of your pictures, but I never got around to emailing you with the busy holiday weeks.
    No Guilt Fashion

  3. This was super helpful! I’m trying to step out of my zone and wear prints period, though I admire how people can pull off mixing prints together. I vow to stop being a fashion scaredy-cat and be adventurous! :)

    • Honestly, just start small. Cher (my sister) isn’t a pattern fan AT ALL, but she’ll buy something so fricken busy every once-in-a-while and it’s awesome.

  4. I TOTALLY love mixing prints…..You are never limited in your clothing choices….and its sooo much fun!!
    This post will definitely have people looking at the closets in a whole new way:)

    Thanks so much Suze for featuring me doll:)

  5. love this! i definitely could use the tips -I’m so bad with print mixing- I get scared and don’t really take risks- same with color… i own an insanely high percentage of black and grey…. You (and the other bloggers mentioned here) are so inspiring! I’ll dafinitely refer back to this post.

  6. Suze! Love this rundown of mixing patterns. Your parallel between runway and bloggers is genius AND inspiring.

    Also – thanks for introducing me to Linley from Dwelling & Telling. We were definitely on some kind of the same wave-length with the red pant outfit.
    Happy New Year!
    Katie

    • I’m so glad you like her! I was shocked when I saw those outfits- I thought you guys had planned it! It’s way cooler to know it was a complete accident!

  7. great post! i love all the photos of real bloggers. one day during the 30 for 30 i mixed different sizes/colors of stripes. turned out pretty cute!

  8. Very well said! I love mixing patterns. I feel like that belt is my go to accessory for mixing patterns! Thanks for including me in this. =) It was a nice surprise.

    • I figured you wouldn’t mind :) I took the photo months ago when I was originally planning to post this, then got sidetracked!!

      • you’re always welcome to borrow my pictures. If you ever need them bigger or so you can resize or anything let me know. I know mine are pretty specifically sized.

  9. Such a GREAT post and fantastic real life and runway examples! That Zac Posen look on #7 is gorgeous, just gorgeous! I’m realizing how much more I am loving to mix prints – this just gives me further inspiration!

  10. Wow! This is very helpful for me since I have no idea on how to mix patterns… I usually just avoid them to be safe. T.T

  11. Love this guide! I’m just starting to mix patterns (obstacle being that I don’t have many patterns in my closet to begin with), and this is sooo handy.

  12. Love this post! I’m starting to get more into pattern mixing and I must say I always receive a ton of compliments when I do. Is it too late for me to submit a photo? I would love to be included all you fabulous ladies. :)

  13. Pingback: How I mixed patterns | Miss Vinyl Ahoy

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  19. My sister and I were just looking at pics of Olivia Palermo and were in awe of how well she mixes patterns. Thanks so much for the tips! Following your blog now :)

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  26. Very smart and easy guide.
    I have tried the pattern mixing but I am not so sure it worked.
    However I loved your pattern mixing, I thought it was simply brilliant.
    Oh those shoes !

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  29. Hm, I’m wandering now if I should be bold and wear my chevron striped sweater over my dress that has three large color blocks. I’ve been wanting to for ages and I think you just gave me the courage! I must go check the colors!

    Actually I think I’ll get off my bum and go play with my closet right now!

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  33. Great post to refer to, for those of us who shy away from anything but colour-blocking! I love well-mixed patterns, and you’ve sourced some excellent examples from the runways. Love how you’ve given a shout-out to your some of your fellow bloggers, too – nice touch!

    From a fellow redhead… :)

  34. I’m always so worried about mixing patterns and clashing, that I just don’t wear patterns (though I have this check print/houndstooth scarf that I’ll wear anywhere so maybe I’m just a goof!). I actually think I avoid buying patterns (that aren’t stripes) just because I have a hard time wearing them. I wish someone would write a guide to buying better patterns that you can mix and match!

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