In part 1 of this article I discussed some of the more common types of patterns found in menswear. The purpose of this was not to provide you with an exhaustive list of every type of pattern in existence, but rather to acquaint you with some of the more broad categories of patterns so that you will be better prepared for part 2 of this article, which will address how to effectively mix and match them.
To make things both easy and logical, I have organized this article from the simplest level of pattern mixing to the most difficult. My advice to men just getting started with pattern mixing is to stick with fewer patterns at first (perhaps just two). This will make things a lot easier for you. As you develop your skill and comfort level with patterns, you can then begin to up your sartorial game by including more combinations of them in your outfits.
Before we begin, I should mention that the following advice in this article is neither revolutionary nor unique. The guidelines below are basic tenets on pattern mixing that have been around for a long time. It certainly isn’t the be-all and end-all of how to effectively mix different patterns, but it is an excellent place to start. For a more detailed examination of these guidelines, I highly recommend you grab a copy of Alan Flusser’s Dressing the Man. It is considered an indispensable treatise on classic men’s style.
When Mixing Two Patterns
Combining two patterns is the simplest and most elementary level of pattern mixing. For men who may be intimidated by patterned garments, this is the place to start. Not only are the guidelines for mixing two patterns the easiest to remember, but they also serve as a foundation for the more advanced levels of pattern mixing that you will encounter later.
Mixing Two Patterns – Same Design
When mixing two patterns of the same design, the rule of the thumb to remember is to ensure that the size of each pattern is as different from one another as possible. For example, when pairing a check shirt with a check suit, make sure that the checks are not of the same size otherwise the similarity will make it difficult to distinguish between the two pieces.
Mixing Two Patterns – Different Design
When mixing two patterns of a different design, the opposite rule applies. You will want to ensure that the size of each pattern is as similar to each other as possible. For example, when pairing a check shirt with a pin dot tie, make sure that the checks and dots are of relatively the same size and dimension. The purpose behind this rule is to ensure an overall balance between the two pieces. If you are wearing a particularly dominant patterned dress shirt, you will want to make sure to choose a tie with a design that is at least equal in scale; otherwise the strength of the shirt’s design will overpower the tie.
When Mixing Three Patterns
Combing three patterns is the next logical step in the hierarchy of pattern mixing. While being slightly more complex than mixing two patterns, you will no doubt recognize that some of the same rules apply to mixing three patterns as to when you are mixing two.
When mixing three different patterns together the general rule of thumb is to maintain a consistent amount of contrast and scale between the various patterns – in other words, it is similar to when you are mixing two patterns of a different design. So for example, if you are attempting to mix a check blazer with a striped dress shirt and pin dot tie, ensure that the scale of each pattern is as similar as possible to maintain balance.
When mixing three patterns of the same design, use the same rule as when you are mixing two patterns of the same design – ensure that the patterns all differ in scale.
Things get a little more difficult when you attempt to mix three patterns where two of them are of the same design. Once again, the same rule applies when mixing two patterns of the same design – ensure that the scale of the two patterns is as different as possible. The additional hurdle in this equation is the third pattern. You will want to choose something that is different but balances well with the other two patterns. How do you know if a particular pattern balances well? Well, the idea is to choose a third pattern that is roughly equal in scale with the larger of the two similar patterns. So for example, if you are wearing a pinstriped dress shirt with a chalk striped suit, you would want to choose a tie that has a different pattern in which the scale mimics the dimension of the chalk stripe pattern (in this case a paisley tie).
When Mixing Four Patterns
Combining four patterns is the next level on the pattern mixing hierarchy and it is the most difficult. At this point the rulebook gets thrown out the window and all bets are off. You will have to rely on your personal judgement and taste to help guide you from here. Personally, I’ve never ventured into this territory before and I don’t think most men need to either. I’ll leave it up to the true dandies out there to show us how it’s done!
The ability to effectively mix patterns is a crucial skill that can help set you apart from other well dressed men. The fact is that most men are utterly confused on how to effectively mix and match patterns, so it is my hope that this 2 part article has given you at least a general framework from which to operate from. Personally, I feel that you won’t ever need to venture far beyond mixing 2 or 3 patterns. Remember that style doesn’t need to be overly affected or complicated. At the end of the day I recognize as men we shouldn’t have to fuss that much over how we look, so you shouldn’t have to feel any additional anxiety about wearing patterns. Let these guidelines be like a mental shortcut on how to look sharp without over thinking things.
As always gentlemen,
Stay fit and look sharp!