Print Mixing: A Tutorial

Out and about in Glasgow last week, I was in a shiny, brand-new shop (which was great, by the way), when I came upon this mannequin. I had to stop and consider it for a while. Here, have a look. 

If you're reading this blog at all, you will know that I am a huge fan of print mixing. But this display bothered me, and not just because of the shoes, which I wanted to restyle on the spot.  No, I like this display in theory, but in reality, it fell short of the mark for me. I like to think it's because I went to art school for a wee while back in Seattle and therefore I'm pretty sure I know everything about the known universe.  And as much as I hate rules when talking about fashion, there are a few...let's call them helpful guidelines, that when it comes to print-mixing, are key to taking something mismatched and making it look intentional. Consider exhibit A above:

1. Scale
This is all about balance. I actually think that they are getting it right in this case. The thicker stripe balances-out the larger, more widely-spaced floral pattern well. Grade: B+

2. Pattern
Sure, the guidelines are looser here. You can do stripes with stripes, florals with stripes, with polkadots, know... whatever. But refer to aforementioned section 1: scale, in doing so. And although here the scale is fine, the pattern of that makes me lose the will to live just a wee bit. It's a bit Gran's plastic-covered couch with a dash of Miss Havisham, is it not? I'm sure the colour has something to do with that (more on that in a minute), but as a pattern, it lacks the stand-alone strength to hold up (or down in this case) its end of the bargain. Grade: D

3. Colour
Aaah. Here's the thing. If you are going to do print-mixing with colour, you have to decide what your colour story is at the onset. So if say, you are dressing around that black and white striped top (which is the stronger piece, to be sure), you must choose colours that have the fortitude to hold up to a graphic black and white. Do not be fooled into thinking that you can choose anything simply because black and white is neutral. Black and white has an inherent strength and you must balance it, or risk being eaten. Referring back to these rather sad pants, the muted, taupe and dusty rose (remember dusty rose from the 80's? here it is) tones, in addition to being insanely depressing, are no match for that top. Here, I think you want to go for a strong primary colour-based print, or perhaps even find something with a little black in it to anchor the look.  Grade: D-

Using the same striped top as an anchor piece, here it is, re-styled for better balance.

All examples from Forever21, who did not pay me to write this post. Your comments, as always, are encouraged. 


  1. I absolutely agree!
    Personally I am not a fan of the pattern mix trend at all but recently this lovely dress which combined striped and floral prints caught my attention because it is a subtle mix.

    Lady of Style

  2. Totally agree on the sad looking pants, the options you chose are much better!

  3. Thank you for this wonderful, informative post! You make it easy to understand. I'm learning........

  4. The first thing I thought when I saw that picture is "the pants need to be bolder/higher contrast." I'm still a pattern mixing neophyte, but am glad for the validation that my eye is developing. :-)

  5. I agree about the first outfit. I am a huge wimp when it comes to print mixing, but I like the monochrome combination you suggest.

  6. Another fellow artist! We do know everything about the known universe; pfff!
    I think you hit it on the head when you focused on a color story. Your picks are much better suited. The original pant print looks a lot like a sofa set I bought from a thrift store in the '90's. I ultimately set it on fire (not in the house). It looked better after that.
    Forever21 is frowned upon by many of our peers but I have found great age appropriate pieces both on their website and in their stores.

    Spashionista (Alicia)

  7. Yup, I agree. The colours jumped out at me as having nothing at all to do with each other. I suspect they're copying that American high end chain store who seem to completely and utterly clash items in their styling (can't remember their name, but they've got a female ceo or designer who wears odd outfits). I think Michelle Obama wears their clothes (but in a much more tasteful fashion).

    Anyway, I'm not going to be wearing large prints on trousers no-how for no-one! I haven't even sprung to small prints on trousers (the closest I've got is black brocade). I adopt fashions if I like them.

  8. I love this tutorial! print mixing is so much fun :)


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