Dress With Patterns | How to Combine Clothes

We all have experienced the same thing; we try a clothing piece at a store, we (hopefully) make sure it fits our body type, and we purchase the piece knowing it will look great on us. Next thing it happens, we notice something wrong. We don’t know what it is but we do know we don’t look as we should, still, the answer is right in front of us…. we don’t know how to combine clothes!

All pieces look good by themselves, but arranging them in the right way into an outfit can get quite tricky, especially if the clothing has printed patterns on it. So what do you do? You read this guide in which we will teach you how to properly dress with patterns.

We will cover general rules for printed clothing that works for both men and women. The idea is that you DO NOT spend hours and hours studying fashion theory to look good. These rules are for the most popular patterns seen in clothing (from all eras) so they work most of the time. They are also really simple to learn and will take your fashion sense to the next level.

Since there are dozens of different patterns, we may do a part 2 for this post covering more of these. Stay tuned for that!

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Polka dots – A Vintage Classic

Polka dots apparel has played a huge role in fashion (especially in women’s) over the last decades. It was especially popular during the 1950s and even during its downtime, it remained part of our society.

Contrasting colour

Even for the average person, combining polka dots can be very easy due to the colour contrast it has. Most of the time, polka dots are all of the same colour and printed over a contrasting background, for example, black dots in a white blouse. If you contrast these colours over the rest of the outfit you will be good to go.

Example outfits of this in women would be:

  • Black over white polka dots blouse + Plain black skirt + white heels
  • Sleeveless black top + black over white polka dots skirt (or trousers) + black heels

On the other hand, men usually find polka dots in dress shirts, so a plain contrasting tie looks really good, along with a set of trousers of the colour of the tie.

Remember that you can find polka dots over red, green, yellow, and many other colours, so the key here is to know how to contrast these. In our fashion advice post, we cover some colour theory plus other tips you may find useful.

Polka dots with other colours

Adding an extra colour to the mixture is also welcome and adds a unique twist to your outfit. In this post by tailor brands, you can see amazing 3 colour combinations. Of course, if you want to have a more low-key look, you can add extra colours in the form of varying tonalities of the ones you have (in the example above, you can add various gray tonalities).

On the other hand, even a non-matching colour can work in small quantities. A belt, shoes/heels, or jewelry that stands out to the eye are a nice touch that some people like.

Polka dots with other prints

Adding extra prints to the mix can also become a problem. The last thing you want is to look like a moving child’s playground with all kinds of shapes and forms over you.

One thing that works wonders, especially on women, is to go for inverted colour polka dots, that is, for example, if you have a black over white blouse, go for a white over black skirt (not that the dimensions of the dots themselves can also be contrasted).

Polka dots also work with plaid, floral, or stripes. The key point here is to contrast the pattern sizes; large polka dots look very nice with small stripes or plaid patterns, and vice versa. If you are unsure of mixing patterns, you can start by introducing them in belts, bags, and accessories to see how they look.

Still, you should avoid mixing more than 3 prints (even if they are all polka dots)

Stripes – An all-around print

Stripes are also widely popular and are a preferred choice for casual clothing, however, they are more complicated to pull than polka dots.

Colour in striped outfits

To avoid going around looking like a rainbow, a common colour strip has to be present throughout the outfit. Even if you combine strips in different directions and sizes, or combine them with other prints, having one strip of the same colour all over the outfit will maintain the general balance.

Black or a primary colour stripe is an ideal choice for this, then you can go back to your colour theory to find the best combinations.

Different shades combinations also work if you want to stick to fewer colours.

Stripes in various directions and width

The easiest choice and one that looks great all the time is to keep a uniform width and direction throughout the outfit. This is ideal when you are starting.

If you want to try more complex combinations, you can start by varying the width of the stripes your wear in your upper body, as opposed to your lower body. This, in combination with the one colour strip rule, explained above, while allows you to combine lots of different colours freely.

Alternatively, you can try varying the direction of the stripes. This turns out to be a little more complex as the colour mixture is generally restricted to the same on both parts of the body, otherwise, we create a very complex visual for the brain. Another way to ease this shift is to incorporate the width change along with the direction change, this way the shift in direction is not as drastic/evident to the eye.

Stripes with other prints

Wearing only stripes has some perks to it. For example, in the case of horizontal stripes, it can make you look thinner when the background colour is dark. Still, many people don’t like that monotonous look and they recur to other prints to break that pattern.

Stripes, being a very simple print, combine very well with basically every print out there, but especially with the ones featured here, just make sure to get the colours right.

If you prefer it, you can wear different fabrics to break the monotonous look.

Plaid – Complexity with potential

Things start to get a little more complex when we consider plaid prints. This is because it’s a pattern where various lines of different widths and colours (usually 2 or 3) crisscross each other.

Plaid is one of those patterns that, although visually attractive by itself, it needs to be combined to avoid a boring look. Stripes and other plaids, along with not-so-popular prints as herringbone, are a great match for plaids, and in case you need something quick, a plain colour complement does the job too.

Colours in plaids

When mixing plaids with other prints, and especially when mixing, it is important to choose a base colour, that is, a colour that stands out and combines with the rest of them, this is to avoid oversaturating your outfit with colours.

Another solution to this would be to match plaids that have common or matching colours. Same-size and direction work, but make sure they can be distinguished clearly.

A final suggestion would be to mix plaids with opposing colours, that is, two plaids with the same contrasting colours but arranged in an opposing way. This looks amazing!

Matching sizes and directions

On the other hand, mixing plaids with different sizing is a much easier way to contrast plaids. Try going for at least one big/dominant pattern and different smaller ones with contrasting colours to complement it.

On top of this, you can choose to mix the orientation of the plaids. This adds a more pleasant look.

Two patterns do the work, but 3 and maybe even 4 also look good. It all depends on your taste, and remember that with plaids you get a huge colour and pattern mixture, so if you get the contrast right, whether it’s in colour, size, and/or direction, you are good to go!

Don’t forget that including plain apparel as a wildcard can save you!

Checks – Simple and versatile

Checks are also widely popular both in women’s and men’s apparel. It is basically the striped pattern but with an additional line crossing orthogonally to the original one, thus creating a squared look. Checks generally involve 2 contrasting colours.

If you master plaids you will notice that checks follow a lot of their rules yet they are much simpler, as you don’t have to worry about varying widths and multiple crossings. As with plaids, contrast is key, but generally, you will be restricted to two colours and size contrasts which makes it easier to pull off.

A simple way to start with checks is to center your outfit around the 2 colours and spread them all over your outfit maintaining the contrast between these.

Checks with checks also work, but if you are hesitant to look like a chessboard, mix big checks with really small ones. The latter ones almost look like an entirely different print. If you wish you can add other colours on top of it.

In general, prints with really small patterns (called micro prints) flow nicely with big checks. Stripes can also be combined with checks; a combination that never misses is big stripes with micro checks, both of the same colours.

Keep in mind that checks encompass a HUGE variety of patterns (windowpane and gingham to name a few). Covering some of these in detail is something that we will do on a separate post in the future.

Floral prints – Ideal for all ladies

As the name states, floral prints are all of those prints that have flowers. These usually vary in shape, form, and colour, so it is important to stick to the general attributes to come up with rules that work on all of them.

Despite all the floral designs having different colours, most of them tend to have a base colour. Matching this particular colour with the rest of the outfit will be a good start to your combination.

Also, try going for smaller patterns when combining with other prints (including floral themselves) this allows for more versatility, as big flowers draw a lot of attention, and combining them is much harder.

Another important thing to consider is that smaller prints are ideal for tighter/shorter outfits, and the opposite is also true.

Unlike strips or plaids, sticking to only floral is encouraged as it is seen as consistent and elegant, however, mixing is not forbidden and can work too. The key point when mixing floral is balance; pay attention to the sizes of the flowers and the other prints you are mixing, as large variations in size appeal more to the eye.

Jeans are a wildcard

Great news! If you are unsure or are feeling a little lazy, know that denim generally complements these prints very well, both in men and women. Use jeans, denim mini skirts, shorts, and denim jackets and you won’t miss the mark!

Yes fashion is complex… but we got you covered!

Covering the complexity of clothing prints is an arduous task that definitely requires going much more in-depth, still, we hope that this guide gave you a general idea of how to combine the most popular prints.

Keep in mind that other factors such as clothing materials, fabrics, tonalities, fits, shapes, and cuts, as well as your body type and skin colour will all affect the end result. Over time we will provide you with guides on these topics, so stay tuned for that.

In the meantime, you can check the rest of our content here at Vintage Shape. We promise you won’t be disappointed!

Until next time, and don’t forget to comment down below!

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