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Pattern pointers: Learn how to mix and match with ease

Kristyn Schiavone
Tribune Content Agency

When fashion designers first started mixing patterns, they were met with a bit of skepticism from average women.

“This is all fun and games on a runway,” we said, “but I can’t really show up to work like this, and also I don’t just have a pair of floral pants lying around.”

That was part of the problem with pattern-mixing initially: It was scary. And, more importantly, people didn’t really own a lot of patterns. You typically just stuck with your solid-colored pieces that all “went together.”

Then, about two or three years ago, J.Crew started mixing patterns. J.Crew has proven an extremely reliable source for this sort of thing: The brand supports fashion for everyday women in regular offices, and it usually doesn’t pick up a trend until it seems like something that is actually going to happen in real life.

It was then and there that I adopted the J.Crew method of pattern-mixing, which is not a formal procedure by any means. I learned it by observing their catalogs and the pieces they paired together. It involves purchasing patterned things that you will actually wear and not being too ambitious when pairing them together.

Purchasing patterns

If you actually do have a pair of floral pants lying around, you are ahead of this game. The rest of us have been living in our solid colors and need to actually purchase patterns before we can mix them. Here are the tips:

Stick to neutral colors. The louder the pattern, the less likely you are to wear it, and “loudness” goes hand in hand with color. Gray, black, white and navy are all great options. If you find those boring, do not jump directly to bright orange. Factor in some metallic, such as gold, or a “new neutral,” like Pantone’s color of the year, Rose Quartz.

When in doubt, buy stripes and polka dots. These two patterns are so easy to pair together, and you can even wear two types of stripes or two types of polka dots. The same cannot be said for a more complex pattern like ikat.

Make sure everything fits. You’ve obviously heard that horizontal stripes make you appear wider, but I’ve seen plenty of people rock a sailor stripe without looking like Popeye. The key is to make sure that everything fits properly, and it may mean buying less fitted pieces than you normally would. A boxy, slightly cropped boatneck shirt looks great in a stripe, and patterned silk pants with a looser fit look incredibly chic right now. Avoid anything too tight.

Pairing them together

Coordinate the color scheme. This is the most important part of successful pattern mixing, and the reason that buying neutral(ish) colors will be very helpful. If you wear a pair of pants with a spring floral print and a shirt that’s dark gray and black, your outfit will be severely disjointed. Think in color themes, whether that’s jewel tones, pastels, brights or neutrals. One of my good friends generally dresses in a military color scheme -- army green, white, cream, khaki, navy, red and gold -- so everything in her closet tends to match.

Start with layering. There’s no reason to be afraid of this, because you can totally start small. Grab a striped sweater and put it on over a Swiss dot chambray shirt. Congratulations! You’ve created your first pattern mix.

In general, patterns should either be very similar or very different. You’re going for either coordination or a stark contrast. Take a white shirt with black polka dots. You should either be pairing it with something extremely similar, like a black piece with white dots, or something extremely different, like a pair of black, gray, white and rose pants with a paint splatter print.