For whatever reason the phrase “pattern mixing” still prompts me (E.) to break into a little bit of a nervous sweat. I think that somewhere along the way I built up pattern mixing into this highly calculated and unattainable level of style to which I, as a humble machine washable peon, did not have access to. Catalogue images from Anthropologie were overwhelming rather than inspiring and even with Stacy and Clinton’s “What Not to Wear” rules of remaining within a color family or doing bold+subtle patterns, I just…balked.
I think pattern mixing is, finally, one of those things that I’ve grown into as I’ve become more confident in my own style and sense of self. Even though playing with pattern is not my initial style impulse, I’ve increasingly found pattern to be a good way of kicking me out of a wardrobe rut or injecting my somewhat staid daily outfits with a little bit more fun.
All four of us chics have mixed patterns in our daily outfits, but what I found interesting as I looked through our archive of “Mixing Patterns” is that we each have our own preferred approach to doing so. Each approach has a different end effect, but perhaps you’ll find inspiration for whatever degree of pattern craziness you prefer.
A.: THE SUBTLE MIX
When A. mixes patterns (and she really does so quite a bit), she tends to play with classic prints in a subtle color palette. Argyle and a tiny floral in neutral tones. Pinstripes and florals that both share a black background.
On the other hand, A. has also done some monochromatic color mixing in punchier colors, too!
L.: THE PATTERNED ACCESSORY
Much of L.’s pattern mixing comes from using a bolder patterned accessory in addition to a more subtly patterned garment. The result is a lovely initial “ooh” when you see her bold pattern, followed by an extended “ahhh” when you realize that there are other visually interesting elements at play as well. She paired pinstriped trousers with a patterned flat, for example, or a patterned sweater with a multicolor scarf, or graphic black and white dress with a patchwork bag.
S.: THE ALL OUT
I think that A., L., and I are all somewhat still in awe of how S. embraces a range of bold patterns and then mixes them with other prints! While she frequently and effortlessly mixes more subtle stripes and polkadots with an array of other prints, she has also mixed stripes with stripes, florals with stripes, landscape prints with stripes, florals with abstractions, and geometric upon geometric.
(S.’s teaching moment on pattern mixing with a cardigan is definitely worth a read if you’d like to see various iterations of a pattern mixed outfit.)
E.: THE DABBLER
I don’t think that I have a definitive style of pattern mixing per se, but I have noticed that my general approach is to imagine that the patterned pieces are solid colors. I create color pairings first, before thinking too hard about pattern. This helps me get over my initial uneasiness and has frequently paid off. Using this mentality, I’ve turned classic pairings like navy and red or black, white, and red into geometric on geometric or stripes and lace pattern mixes. Or, of course a white tank top would go with a mustard, brown, and white patterned skirt…even if said white tank top also has navy stripes.
This has also been the means of adding interest to otherwise monochrome black and white outfits. Stripes and tweed have a graphic punch together, while stripes and tone-on-tone damask is more subtle.
We’re not the craziest pattern mixers out there, but we have each found ways to use pattern play in ways that simultaneously suits and pushes our individual tastes. While rules about how to mix patterns can be useful, I’ve found it even more helpful to think broadly about what drives my personal style and then work patterns of various stripes (and florals and graphics) into that. Now, pattern mixing need not be an daunting style goal that I strive for just for the sake of achieving. Instead, I’m understanding it as a tool that I can use to add another level of interest to my own existing style.