Basic Fashion for the Non-Basic: How To Wear Mixed Prints

I have a steady job in a conservative environment, and I still love wearing as many clashing patterns at once as possible.
Publish date:
January 29, 2014
shoppables, prints, mixing

Read more from Kelly at xoVain!

In college, I used to have a beloved pair of red and blue paisley tights that I would wear with boots, cutoffs, a striped top and a loud plaid coat.

At the time I thought I was the hottest thing on campus, but now I realize it was just part of my misguided war against all the other students in their Uggs and North Face jackets. I want to go back in time and pat my younger self on the head: “Hey, relax; you don’t have to wear every weird thing in your closet at once just to prove that you’re different.”

I’m out of college now. I’m older, I have a steady job in a conservative environment, and I still love wearing as many clashing patterns at once as possible. Luckily, by now I’ve figured out how to do it so that it looks intentional and not like I got dressed in the dark.

If you get a kick out of looking like you got dressed in the dark (that was my look for four years of college, so no judgments here), or if you’re already a pro at mixing prints (are you Solange and if so can you be my mentor?) then you can skip this. Otherwise, read on for my baloney, totally made-up rules on how to combine unexpected patterns.

1. Black and white is your easiest bet.

Not only is it extremely easy to pair black and white prints, but I think we can all agree that nothing is better than graphic black and white. I like to pair black and white stripes with black and white polka dots -- or polka dots with polka dots and stripes with stripes. You can just go crazy because black and white makes everything seem modern and fresh.

2. Pair two different prints with a unifying color.

If you want to wear two different prints, try to find prints with similar colors or at least one color that can tie them together. I also like to pull the whole outfit together with my makeup, like a pop of red lipstick to draw out the red in a dress. It helps to make it look like you put thought into your outfit and didn’t just randomly throw pieces together.

3. Pair the same print in two different colors.

This is the previous rule reversed: If you want to wear two different colors, it’s usually best to stick with the same kind of pattern -- for example, stripes with stripes. I paired this striped T-shirt with a striped skirt. It works because even though they’re different colors, they’re in the same color zone and they both have thick black stripes.

4. Mix things up with patterned accessories.

As you can see in the second picture above, I love wearing leopard-print shoes with a striped dress (or a striped top and skirt, in this case). Maybe I feel like I can get away with it because my feet are hidden behind a desk for most of the day, but either way accessories are a good gateway into print mixing. Try floral shoes and a striped clutch with a solid-colored dress the next time you go out.

How do you feel about mixing patterns now? Try it if you haven’t yet. You might be surprised at all the new potential clothing combinations you have waiting in your wardrobe. The possibilities are endless, especially if you just throw the rules out the window like I did with this outfit.

I like wearing this leopard print cardigan with this plaid dress even though there’s no unifying color or pattern or anything, really. There’s no logic to this at all. I just like it.

And if you still feel uncertain about it, try dipping your toes in the water with some store-mixed prints. No thinking required on your part, just throw one of these cute dresses on:

Yes, one of those things is not like the other. I threw a scarf in there too. It’s an easy way to have fun with pattern mixing without having to commit. If you decide it’s not for you, just whip the scarf off. It’s not so easy to do that with a dress, I can say from first-hand experience.

Now go forth and mix patterns like the wind! I hope to see pictures in the comments section of the craziest patterns you’ve ever worn together. Make me and Solange proud.