Pattern Matching
January 2, 2007 12:36 PM   Subscribe

FashionFilter: How do I match patterns? I can work with color pretty well but patterns are a mystery to me.

One of my resolutions for this New Year is to start dating again. Another resolution is to get back into the job market. In both cases, appearances matter. So I’d like to upgrade my look a little and learn how to dress. One of the things I’d like to learn a little more about is pattern matching. I have a decent eye for color so I usually manage to avoid embarrassing myself in that department. But matching patterns is a total mystery to me. Stripes, plaids . . . I have no clue what looks good with what.

(One example of what I’m talking about would be matching the pattern of a shirt to the pattern of a tie. That’s the first one that comes to mind.)

So does anyone out there have any advice on how to match patterns? Or can you recommend any good sources for advice on how to match patterns? It could be a book. It could be a website. A TV show (on DVD). An online forum. I’m not picky. As long as the source knows what he or she is talking about, I’ll listen.

Many thanks in advance.
posted by jason's_planet to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You can wear ties/shirts/whatever containing whatever colors are present in the jacket or the jacket lining. Only one item can have a pinstripe or a check; all others must be solid.
posted by orthogonality at 12:49 PM on January 2, 2007


Patterns are dangerous, but if you pull them off right, you can really stand out. My usual approach is to try to limit it to one pattern if possible, two at most (considering the 3 elements of suit, shirt, and tie). If I'm not wearing a tie I usually try to stick to one pattern/one solid (ie. patterned suit, solid shirt, or vice versa). I have a rocking pinstripe navy suit that I wear a white/blue plaid pattern shirt with sometimes, though, and on more than one occasion I've been complimented with looking rather British (which is about the pinnacle of men's tailored clothing compliments).

Stripes (pin) are always good in suits, and usually nice on shirts as well. Other subtle patterns in suits can be pulled off but you're safest with solid suits and pinstripes. Ties - I also try to stay subtle here. You can't go wrong with a solid or not-too-flashy slanted stripe, but you get into polka dots and other patterns and next thing you know you look like a clown. Proceed with caution. Shirts are generally a bit harder to go wrong with.

I've never found a great repository on the web, but if you subscribe to GQ for a while or at least check out their blog / forums from time to time, it will help.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:50 PM on January 2, 2007

It may be a bit of a cop-out but it's no self-plug, male or female, I would suggest making an hour free on Friday to watch TLC's What Not To Wear - one of my favorite shows easily accessible to most folks with basic cable. Stacey and Clinton are excellent clothing mavens who go over basic clothing rules for most everyone weekly including color, cut and how to match patterns - advice that carries over for most people. They do both men and women and stick to classic looks that won't soon go out the way of the 5 minute fad.

Usually you'll want to keep your mixing patterns very subdued, a subtle pant pinstripe in a neutral with a subtle shirt pattern.
posted by eatdonuts at 1:11 PM on January 2, 2007

Best answer: Are you a hipster/nerdy/edgy chic kind of guy? If so, the mixing of your more extreme patterns may well be a thing you want to explore. If not, I vote against it. If you don't quite pull it off, it'll just look kind of... odd.

Having said that, here are my two cents:

The easiest way to work with a patterned shirt is a solid tie in a tonal, but not too-matchy color: you don't want the tie to fade into the shirt.

Also, step back and squint. Many small patterns will read solid from a distance, so if you're determined to mix patterns, stand halfway across the room and figure out what the piece of clothing reads as, colorwise, and then mix and match as though it actually were that color.

With bigger patterns, you could try to pick a single color from the pattern and match it to a smaller pattern that reads as solid, in the same color or color family.

Matching two big patterns seems sort of perilous. Unless you're going for a kind of devil-may-care madras-and-hawaiian-shirt combo. :)

I really like this fashion blog. The Sartorialist is exceedingly elegant, but also positive (as opposed to a lot of fashion blogs, which strike me as mostly being thrilled by their own meanness) and he talks about men about as much as he talks about women. He has a wonderful eye for individual style, too.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 1:30 PM on January 2, 2007

Best answer: Just don't try. Most people can't do it, it's not just you. My advice is: wear your patterns with solids. (Patterned tie with solid shirt, or vice versa.)
posted by Kololo at 1:55 PM on January 2, 2007

Best answer: Have a good browse around English Cut. There is some excellent advice on offer there, but be a little careful - the styles and 'rules' promoted therein are very conservative and may not suit either you, your preferences or your context.

Having said that, there are some good guidelines worth bearing in mind:
  • Colour - using a simple web colour scheme generator, you can pick a starting colour - say the main colour in a tie or shirt, and find complementary or contrasting colours from there. I would advise your suit be a business-like navy or charcoal grey. These colour will do everything from a job interview to a wedding to a funeral to a day at the races.
  • Interest - generally, a man in a suit should have no more than seven items of interest on his person, for example - suit pattern/colour, tie pattern/colour, shirt pattern/colour, shoes, belt, watch, cufflinks. Therefore, you do not want anything else detracting from these seven - if you wore all of the list above, you should (in theory) not wear a handjerchief in the suit breast pocket, for example.
  • Patterns - following on from the previous two points, we're all about balance here - no very dominant patterns or colours. Pin or chalk stripes can match with other pin or chalk stripes (even pin-chalk and chalk-pin) so long as you vary slightly the weight and spacing of the stripe. A subtle checked shirt with a diagonally-striped 'club' tie and a chalk-striped suit is a classic look.
  • Also - solicit opinions from people you think are well-dressed. If you can, take them shopping with you. And generally, when it comes to men's suits, you usually get what you pay for. Best of luck on the job and dating fronts!

posted by mooders at 1:58 PM on January 2, 2007

Yeah, you can't mix patterns.

Well, not reiably.

Second, though the advice that if one pattern is *really* tight, you can treat it as a solid, sometimes, and get a pseudo-edgy look. :-)
posted by baylink at 2:20 PM on January 2, 2007

Best answer: Almost any patterns that share the same color palette will match, so long as there are large swaths of uninterrupted color to tie things together. These swaths of color can be in the form of solids or embedded in the pattern design (large or spaced-out pattern). Patterns can also match well if they have some fundmental element in common-- shapes, materials, artistic styles. Think of a quilt.

I'm not sure why people are so scared of patterns-- surely you have successfully mixed them somewhere in your home.
posted by zennie at 3:10 PM on January 2, 2007

Best answer: You might want to look to quilting. While not always very hip or fashionable, quilters do have a good eye for pattern pairing.

Big geometric patterns pair nicely with small less symmetrical/more romantic patterns. Vertically striped button down shirt with small paisley/flower tie. Think in scale and busyness. Oh! and maybe look at some fabric colorways, because artists who design fabric groups make certain to make large scale and small scale patterns that pair well. An example at Amy Butler of breaking up all those big romantic florals with less jarring symmetrical dots and stripes.

On preview - zennie pretty much already said it.
posted by birdie birdington at 4:54 PM on January 2, 2007

I can't find the photo from the fall fashion show I stole this from (I could have sworn it was YSL, with a small floral pattern), but try using the same pattern in opposite colorways. For example, I have a white dress with black polka dots that I wear over a collared long sleeve black shirt with white polka dots. Obviously you are a dude so replace "dress" with "tie" and you're on. posts photos from all the halfway majoy runway shows. Poke around until you find menswear designers you like, and check out the photos. My style budget is strictly kid's-clearance-rack-at-Target-and-thrift-stores level and I still get inspiration from designers.
posted by Juliet Banana at 5:51 PM on January 2, 2007

Best answer: Another thing to think about is directionality in the pattern. There are fewer things more nauseating than a combination of patterns that make your eyes do the splits. If you choose patterns with strong directionality, say long stripes or rays, be aware that the orientation of the patterns can make a big difference in whether they clash or complement. As a rule, I prefer setting directional patterns at obtuse angles.
posted by zennie at 8:27 PM on January 2, 2007

Response by poster:
OK. There's a lot for me to work with here.

Thanks, everyone!
posted by jason's_planet at 7:55 PM on January 3, 2007

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