Mixing print pieces doesn’t have to be overwhelming

CorrespondentApril 17, 2013 

  • How to mix prints

    Pick a leader: One pattern should be larger or bolder than the others, like a madras plaid with barcode stripes.

    Pick a color: Combine patterns of the same color, like blue gingham check with blue polka dots.

    Pick a pattern: Pair similar patterns of different colors, like green herringbone (zigzags) with a blue argyle or tiny florals with big florals.

    Watch your weight: Fabrics of similar weight help patterns coordinate better.

    Do a background check: Match the underlying color, like the white background of a Swiss dot and an Ikat or African print.

    Finish it: Printed bags, shoes, jewelry and scarves make an outfit yours.

  • Pick before you mix

    Here are four easy steps for picking a print that suits you.

    1. Creating symmetry between your face shape and clothing is a subtle way to look pulled together. If your face and jawline are curved, choose rounded patterns like polka dots, calico or paisley. If your face is angular, consider stripes, geometric shapes or buffalo plaid.

    2. Don’t let the pattern wear you; prints should be in proportion to your body. A bold floral might overwhelm a small-boned or petite woman. Small print can look fussy on a larger woman, since she can generally handle larger patterns.

    3. An extrovert can carry off bolder patterns because they match her personality and expressive movements. A quiet woman might be better suited to smaller patterns because they call less attention.

    4. A pattern draws attention, so wear them on the part of your body you want to highlight. If you love your eyes, patterned glasses might be the ticket. If your chest and tummy are fetching, wear a blouse or jacket with a print to draw eyes up. Shapely legs get their due in printed skirts, pants and shorts.

  • More information

    Models: Bianca Harris and Katie Marshall

Spring means renewal and rebirth, which makes it a perfect time to try a new style. Ready to play?

Florals, polka dots, geometrics, tribal symbols, abstracts, paisley, embroidery and embellishments inundated the runways, and now they’re ready to make their way into your closet.

Why not put a fresh spin on your patterned pieces by wearing them head-to-toe? With a few tips, you can mix patterns without them overwhelming you and without looking clownish.

Designers and retailers are showing us how. J.Crew paired a Liberty-print floral suit with an embroidered button-up blouse with eye-size flowers. Wal-Mart is packaging tie-dye skirts with African-print totes in its Empowering Women Together line. Proenza Schouler made grommets cascade to the hem of its photo-print dresses for spring. Printed pants are everywhere, often shown with patterned tops.

“If you know your colors, you can wear prints together, and you don’t have to clash – they can complement each other,” said Lola Olufolabi, who with her husband, Yemi, owns Exotique on West Main Street in Durham. “I see it as a form of art.”

Print and pattern dominate her boutique, which has pattern-dappled sundresses from Ghana, bright brocades, iridescent wrap skirts from India and pieces made of mudcloth from Mali and woven Kente cloth, among others.

Arlene Goldstein, vice president of trend merchandising at Belk, gave a forecast for spring that listed the “glam globetrotter” as a major influence this season. That includes African textiles, tribal patterns, animal prints and Missoni-inspired color-coordination.

Belk is full of patterns, print and color this season, and Goldstein says mixing prints and pattern gives each piece extra oomph.

“Color, pattern and texture are what make the looks this season,” she says.

To mix with panache, choose prints that contain the same or complementary colors, Olufolabi suggests. Two prints that have a brown background can coordinate if one has a blue print and the other has orange, because those colors go well together.

The Pink Hanger in Charlotte takes the guesswork out of mixing prints.

“We aren’t doing different prints like mixing tops and bottoms that have different prints,” says Jennifer Ugland, store manager. “Some of our tops have mixed prints in one piece: The front of it is a floral and the back is polka dot. … In another, the middle (section) is a paisley and the sleeves have elephants. For our customers, they want to be trendy, but they want it a little toned down.”

Ombre jewelry gives the effect of a print without being too aggressive, she says, and the store has bags with Aztec prints that are popular. Ugland says her own closet is full of printed tops and jackets with prints, which she layers with subtler patterns like gray leopard.

“I think as long as you play around and it looks good, it’s good,” she says.

Olufolabi notes that mixing prints is a nod to tradition; she lived in Nigeria, where patterns are embraced, and England before moving to the U.S.

“The wearing of prints isn’t a trend in Africa; it’s very traditional,” she says. “The rest of the world is very comfortable wearing color and mixing different kinds of prints and patterns. I don’t know why people are more reluctant here.

“We’ve gone the whole winter wearing dull colors, neutrals in gray and brown. There’s no better time to use your prints because everything is coming to life.”

Sheon Wilson is a personal stylist and image coach. Reach her at sheon@SheonTheStylist.com or twitter.com/sheonwilson.

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