The Timeless Principles of Pattern Mixing

Every season style blogs are filled with reports of trendy prints and the ways to mix them for the perfect outfit.
There is a myriad of tips like “Look for patterns that complement each other” or “Limit patterns to two” and even “Leopard goes with everything.”
These might be great examples of what works, but in this article I will cover the logic behind it, why it works. And why it doesn’t when it doesn’t.

“So, what principles considered the base of a perfect pattern combination?” you might ask.

First of all, in a well-designed outfit you would straightaway notice the strong, active print (or a color, shape) that sets the theme. The other details are working to reinforce that. An outfit needs to be structured to make it easier for the viewer to perceive the parts of composition. A glance will go to one part after another, starting from the most active (accent) to the quietest and neutral one creating the feeling of agreement and consistency.

That’s why an outfit that contains two or more identically intensive patterns causes visual confusion. The observer will be switching between them unable to identify the main and the subtle one.
fashion illustration of top and skirt with equally intensive patterns

Two identically intensive patterns

At first glance the garments above are combined according to the basic rules of mixing patterns. The scale is right – polka dot on skirt goes well with large circles of the top. The color combination is fine, complementary hues are used. But something just doesn’t feel right, isn’t it?

That’s because they doesn’t follow the main principle of print mixing: to achieve the harmonious look patterns should be of different intensity.
Below are the rules that will help to identify which of two patterns is dominant.

The balance in pattern mixing could be achieved through

Levels of pattern coherence:

  • Size. Bold patterns are dominant over fine ones. That’s why they say “pair same patterns in different scale”.
    fashion illustration of top and shorts with different scaled floral patterns
    Colorful floral print mixed with subtle organic pattern

  • Complex (structured) forms dominate over simple ones – paisleys are usually more eye-catching then dots. Other examples of potentially active prints include bold florals, detailed damasks or compelling geometrics.
    fashion illustration of floral jacket and polka dot skirt
    Jacket’s floral print is more complex so it becomes the centre of attention for this set

  • Color saturation. Pure hues are more prominent then gradations – pure red stripes are more eye-catching then maroon ones.

  • Color temperature. Patterns in warm hues dominate the ones in cool.
    fashion illustration of orange top and light blue shorts
    The warm orange top is dominating blue shorts

  • Color intensity. Tints dominate shades, the lighter color is getting the attention first.
    fashion illustration of dark top and light coloured skirt
    Light-patterned skirt paired with dark top

  • Contrast. High contrast objects look more fascinating then low-contrasting ones.
    fashion illustration of high contrast hounds tooth jacket and low contrast floral skirt
    Hound’s tooth jacket has higher contrast and dominates skirt

    These rules of pattern mixing work well considering all other characteristics are equal. In other words, between two patterns of equal size the lighter one will dominate. Between warm and cool ones of similar brightness conspicuous will be the one which is more pure and “warm”. Few visual examples below:

    fashion illustration of jacket slightly darker then skirt fashion illustration of two tops of the same design with different patterns
    Here are two organic prints both of a similar size. The dominant one is a skirt as it appears lighter

    Out of these two patterns zigzags are more noticeable due to a higher contrast and more complex geometry

    Q: If we have two dramatic patterns of a similar color shade and tone, would it be possible to wear them together and still have a balanced look?
    A: The answer is yes.
    Q: In that case which of them will be accent?
    A: Neither. Our vision is very good at noticing objects that stand out. Have one butterfly printed on the shirt and it will be the first thing everyone will see. Have a hundred of them and a tomato sauce stain and guess what people will look at. Same is here, we would need something to stand out. It could be plain color or accessory, e.g. nude shoes, a tan leather bag or big brown sunnies.

    Now, let’s get back to the example described at the start of the article and think how we can fix it.

    fashion illustration of top and skirt with equally intensive patternsprevious illustration with switched colour on patterns

    The set on the left feels a bit “undecided”. And indeed, it breaks the main principle of mixing patterns of different intensity. The polka dot, in spite of its size, is conspicuous by color while top’s circles dominate by size. So these garments are disputing on the level of color and scale. Two active prints are clashing and cause viewer “to jump” from top to skirt and back again while being unable to decide which of them has the priority.
    If we simply swap the colors, – make a polka dot pattern in shaded blue, and circles on of the top in pure red, the harmony will be achieved. Now bigger and warmer print has full control over the smaller and cooler one.
    In real life where we cannot easily change the color of our clothes (tomato sauce aside). I would then suggest to find another pair to either skirt or top. Or, try to add the accessories to improve the look. More shopping to be done in any case!
    fashion illustration of top and skirt with equally intensive patterns with accessories supporting one of them

    It may seem difficult at first to keep all these things in mind. But it’s like learning to drive a car. When you first get behind the wheel you are overwhelmed by all the tasks you need to do at once: following the rules, checking the signs, keeping the speed and changing the gear (if you unlucky enough to have a manual). Once you get a bit of experience it becomes too simple. Suddenly you are a pro driver ready to show anyone few tricks, think you can do it with one hand while drinking a coffee with another. At the end, it is all about few simple rules and a bit of practice.

    You may also like to read about:
    How to Coordinate Colours in Outfit, Designer’s Method

  • Simple Shoe Classification, Part 2: Toe Styles, Brogues

    About a month ago I’ve posted a Simple shoe classification – a comprehensive guide for identifying men’s classic shoes.

    Today I’m about to extend it a little. And firstly I am going to talk on a topic of a toe style.

    Toe style

    There are 5 basic toe styles each of them imply different degree of formality. Have a look at the table below that shows what each one is about.
    table showing main styles of shoes' toes:plain toe, cap toe, wingtip toe, moc toe, apron toe, bicycle toe

    Most classic and versatile are captoe and plain toe shoes, they are suitable for any attire and could be found on vast varieties of styles.
    A grade down are Moc (Apron) and Bicycle toes. They are mostly used in semi-dress foot wear, on those occasions where shoe discipline is not so crucial (think relaxed Friday lunches).

    And at the last comes Wingtip toe (my favourite one at the moment) which is most often worn with a casual style. Wingtip shoes usually have brogueing (perforations) as decoration.


    All perforated shoes are brogues either they are oxfords or derbies. By the amount of perforation and toe style brogue shoes themselves divide into 4 categories.

    table showing main styles of brogue shoes: full brogues, half brogues, semi-brogues, quarter brogues, longwing brogues

    If oxford full brogues or semi-brogues have wingtips and cap toe (and sometimes the lace panels) in contrasting tones we can tell they are Spectator shoes.Fashion illustration showa difference between saddle shoes and spectator shoes

    Not to be confused with another 2-tone low-heeled casual shoe – Saddle shoes!

    These are usually plain-toe oxfords made in white or tan leather with a darker saddle-shaped piece sewn across the mid foot. The “Saddle” part is traditionally black, brown or red, although who could really stop shoemakers doing something new?

    Well, I have expanded original Simple shoe classification a little bit to cover almost all types of men shoes by now. Hope you find it useful.

    And remember, they say you can tell personality of 90 percent of all the people just by looking at their shoes. So, it could be even a psychological tool for those who master it.

    On the pictures below there are some models from selected e-stores just to illustrate the idea and give you a hint what to look for.

    Brogues, Full Brogues, Semi Brogues
    Leonardo Principi Dark Brown Full BroguesFratelli Rossetti dark Brown Semi Brogues

    Quarter Brogues, Long Wing Brogues shoes
    N.D.C. Made By Hand Camel Quarter BroruesMFW Collection Black Longwing Brogues

    Black and white Spectator shoes
    Dsquared2 Spectator Shoes

    You may also like to read about:
    Simple Shoe Classification. Part 1: Shoe Styles

    Basic Principles of an Outfit Layout: Focal Point

    My recent post about relations of peplum and pants has touched an important principle of an outfit layout – the subject of a focal point.

    In fashion, like in art, focal point (centre of interest) is where the viewer attention is naturally attracted.
    Proficient arrangement of focal points can turn a plain outfit into a good one. It is a sort of visual magic when a scarf thrown over a shoulder resuscitates the entire look. The question is how do you know what trick to use where.

    Every garment independently of the outfit has its own centre of interest – it could be a collar, a pocket, a yoke, pleats, gatherings, you name it.
    On the image below the shirt catches the eye and it is the focal point of this look. But both skirt and blouse has their own centres of interest – it is a slit and a yoke respectively.
    fashion illustration of woman wearing red blouse with front yoke and skirt with slit

    So, in an outfit the focal centre can be:
    -a certain garment (blouse, T-shirt, shoes, shorts)
    -a detail or accessory (collar, pockets, sleeves, brooch, bangles, and necklaces)
    -a set of clothes (hat and scarf, scarf and gloves, shoes and skirt)

    fashion illustration of woman wearing brown jacket and skirt paired with red gloves and scarf style

    There are 4 basic approaches to emphasise something as focal point:
    -by colour
    -by texture
    -by shape
    -by complex trimming or other striking elements.

    fashion illustration of woman wearing silk dress with sophisticated sheer sleeves fashion illustration of woman wearing dark skinnies and bright top decorated with frills

    The number of centres in an outfit can vary from one to as many as desired as long as they are hierarchically coordinated.

    Multiple focal points add interesting complexity. The diversity and elegant balance of details get attention of viewers. Most of the times we don’t even know why, but we can tell there is something in that look.

    At the same time there should be a clear connection between individual parts of the design. They should be sending the same image message.

    The cohering elements of an outfit can be present on different levels. Every one of these is a big subject and deserves a topic of its own, so we’ll keep it simple here.

    -Proportion: consider how to vary placement of garments so they articulate strong message and the outfit has its centre of interest. The size of focal point must complement the proportion of the garment (e.g. you might not be the only one who thinks that a big bow on slim evening dress looks ridiculous).
    -Colour scheme: coherence on this level works best when one accent colour dominates the look and the others work to support and add interest to an outfit. Have another look on that red blouse above. That’s it.
    -Shape: sophisticated and irregular shapes cause strong sensory responses so they must be balanced within an outfit to avoid undesirable effect.A decorative blouse with plan paints works well.
    -Texture: textures influence our mood. We make assumption according to certain textures about age, personality, lifestyle, degree of sophistication. Textures are also perceived according to hierarchy. Smooth and glossy fabrics are catching attention first.
    -Pattern and decoration: some of them are active and dominant while others are not so strong.

    Let’s have a look on the example. Below, a light patterned shirt is teamed with a plain skirt in matching colour. This outfit is well-adjusted on the levels of colour, pattern and texture. Here all the attracting attributes of each level belong to the shirt and that makes the look balanced. It might be, however, lacking a certain degree of sophistication, but that’s easily corrected by adding accessories.
    fashion illustration of woman wearing floral blouse and plain brown skirt

    Getting a balanced look is not an easy task as it may seem. But as most of things, you get it with a practice. A good rule of thumb here is: if you are uncertain about something just make it simpler. The safest way to mix clothes in an outfit is to start basic, use one focal point, or one accent.

    You may also like to read about:
    Connecting Dots. The Importance of Intermediary in an Outfit
    Cherry on the Top or Contrast Principle

    How to Wear Peplum With Pants

    This summer peplum is again on the top of the fashion wave! And according to the fashion weeks taking turns in northern hemisphere this embellishment will be a trend at least one more season.

    Now it is presented in the most refreshing and outstanding way since its appearance – it is teamed with pants and shorts.
    I find this tendency to be a great subject for a field study.

    Close observation of peplum+pants combination on the streets, fashion blogs and catwalk photos lead me to a number of ideas.

    Peplum itself is a dominant feature highlighting the waist-thigh area and pants in their turn are doing the same. So, put together they make lower body the centre of attention.

    There are several ways to make the look more balanced. Fist way to reduce the number of glances towards the hips would be to wear well-fitted pants without any visible fly-fronts, fasteners, pockets and other distractive details. The minimal number of lines and visible details creates lean appearance.
    fashion illustration demonstrated two identical women one of them wearing pants with side fastening the other with front one

    Second option is to use long peplum. This will help to conceal fragile to attention area.
    fashion illustration of woman wearing pants with long peplum jacket

    Another method to attain a light image is to shift a focal point to the upper body.

    This can be done by using colour, pattern or accessories. A waist accentuated by peplum and plain top emphasize slim torso and drive attention to other areas.
    Inverse also works. Patterned pants with plain top help to create desired silhouette and disguise lower body. The trick is that decorated surface attracts attention and at the same time provides a camouflage.

    The right arrangement of decorative motifs and colour blocks become crucial in this situation.
    fashion illustration of women wearing theirs peplum and pants outfits with focal point on top and bottom respectively

    And the last, but not the least approach for the graceful peplum look is to use single-colour combination.
    Add a pattern and we have even more streamlined silhouette.
    fashion illustration of women wearing patterned  peplum and pants outfit

    You may also like to read about:
    How to Wear Crop Tops
    Maternity Style Tips. Look Stylish when They Say You Can’t
    Connecting Dots. The Importance of Intermediary in an Outfit

    Simple Shoe Classification. Part 1: Shoe Styles

    Recently I’ve found a pair of wonderful shoes neglected for a couple of years after unsuccessful attempts to build a look around them.

    I forgot about them because they are not quite my style – a kind of a variation of men’s classic shoes for women. Nevertheless I decided to give them another chance. Being convinced that footwear is the staple of one’s look I made meticulous research to classify men’s shoes and figure out what to wear with a particular style.

    I’ve found out that men’s shoes come in four styles – oxford, derby, monks, loafers
    (well, not exactly… The fourth category is slip-on’s, but for the sake of convenience and clarity let’s agree about loafers to be the part of this classification:).

    Each of them calls for a particular dress style.
    Table demonstrating difference between shoe styles:oxford shoes, Balmoral, derby, blucher, monk, loafers

    Now, the most formal shoes are oxford. These black patent leather shoes paired with tailcoat equals white tie affairs. For the black tie dress code it is appropriate to put on black leather oxfords with tuxedo. At the less official events derbies and monks are the best choice, whereas loafers are mostly considered as casual footwear.

    Back to my shoes, they turned out to be derby:) But that’s not the end of the story and shoe classification.

    Plain Toe Oxford Shoes
    Rochas Plain Toe Oxford ShoesCostume National Homme Plain Toe Oxford Shoes

    Cap Toe Oxford Lace Shoes
    Doucal's Dark Brown Cap Toe Oxford ShoesDoucal's Black Cap Toe Oxford Shoes
    Derby shoes
    Dsquared2 Cocoa Derby ShoesDoucal's Dark Brown Derby Shoes
    Monk Shoes, Buckle Shoes
    Fratelli Rossetti Dark brown Suede Monk ShoesGivenchy Light grey Suede Monk Shoes
    Loafers, Moccasins
    Malo Cocoa LoafersMaison Martin Margiela 22 LoafersFratelli Rossetti Loafers

    You may also like to read about:
    Simple Shoe Classification, Part 2: Toe styles, Brogues