Add patterns & prints

Patterns and prints instantly catch the eye and can so lift an otherwise dull outfit.
They can even be an outfit in themselves (think of a patterned jumpsuit!).

But the thing with patterns and prints is that they are not as versatile as neutral-colour garments when it comes to creating outfits. So you have to strike the right balance between interest and versatility.

I like to think of patterned items as accent items – like accent colours. A few fun items are a great way to spice up my wardrobe but they are not the pillars of my wardrobe.

On the next two pages, you will find an overview of patterns and prints commonly used in fashion design. If something strikes your fancy add it to your wardrobe planner.But first, let's talk about how to choose your patterns and prints, and how to wear them.

The difference between patterns & prints

The terms pattern and print are often used interchangeably throughout the fashion world. But - they are not the same!

A pattern is any repeated design -  such as geometric, checkered, etc. which can either be woven into a fabric or printed on top of it.

A print is a pattern which is not woven into the fabric but applied to the top with dye by various methods such as digital printing or screen printing. If you can no longer see the pattern when you flip the fabric over to the backside, it is most likely a print.

So now we know that all prints are patterns, but not all patterns are prints. For the remainder of this article I will use pattern to refer to both patterns and prints.

How to choose patterns & prints

A pattern can be broken down into various characteristics or elements.When choosing a pattern to add to your wardrobe, you have to pay close attention to these elements and work out if they suit you.

Elements of patterns & prints

I. Scale

Determines how small or large a pattern is. The larger the pattern, the taller you need to be to wear it. Large patterns can easily overwhelm petites who typically look better in smaller designs.Since large patterns tend to create the illusion of size, they can be placed strategically to add volume to certain areas of the body that require balancing.

II. Sparsity / Density

Determines if you can easily focus on individual elements of the pattern.

A pattern is dense if it's hard to focus on individual elements within it, i.e. there is less negative space between the elements.

Since dense designs keep the eye moving, they tend to be more optically slimming, whereas sparse prints can be used to create focal points when placed strategically.

III. Contrast

Determines the difference between the colours in the pattern.

A high value contrast pattern is one that combines darker colours with lighter colours. The greater the difference in value between the colours, the higher the pattern's contrast value.

Low-contrast patterns are made up of similar colours and look more like a texture than a print. They are easier to mix with other patterns. Highly contrasted prints, such as African prints, that contain a wide range of colours stand out more.

If your natural level of contrast is low, low-contrast patterns will suit you better. The higher your level of contrast, the more contrast you can tolerate in patterns.

IV. Order / Randomness

Determines whether the pattern is in an ordered arrangement or spread randomly across the garment.

A semi-orderly pattern is seemingly random but actually has an underlying pattern to it.

Classic prints are typically more ordered, whereas artsy and creative prints tend to be more random.

V. Colouring

Determines how bright or muted the pattern's colours are.

Your natural colouring determines how bright or muted the colours on the pattern should be. If you don't know what your colouring is head over to the Colour Analysis section.

VI. Placement / All-Over

Determines whether the pattern is repeated over the entire garment.

A placed pattern covers only part of a garment and is actually quite rare to find. The more common pattern type is the all-over pattern which covers the entire garment.

VII. Style

Determines which style the pattern is associated with.

Certain patterns are firmly associated with a certain fashion style. Polka dots, for example, conjure up images of ladies in vintage dresses with flaring skirts.

Some of the more common ones are:

  • Artsy – wearable art, abstract and ethnic inspired patterns
  • Bohemian - geometric patterns, feathers and paisley
  • Casual – horizontal stripes and checks
  • Chic – repeating patterns, geometrics and stylised patterns
  • Classic – vertical stripes and small/fine geometric patterns
  • Feminine – small, delicate curved patterns such as florals and paisley
  • Glamorous – bold, high value contrast patterns, such as animal prints
  • Rock – skulls, slogans, pop art and animal patterns
  • Vintage - floral prints and polka dots

What to consider when choosing patterns & prints

Assess before you invest

As with the other clothes in your concept wardrobe, you want to make sure you are investing in the right garment that will give you maximum wear for your money.
When buying patterns and prints, it’s particularly important not to buy on impulse – these are the items that are going to be hardest to integrate into your wardrobe.

Think about the item's wearability

Patterns are generally statement or accent pieces in your wardrobe. Because of this, understanding when and how you will wear a patterned item is key to successful pattern shopping.

Think of every single realistic occasion to which you could wear the item. If the number is too low the pattern is not worth your money.

Select the right type of garment

A printed dress or jumpsuit will be easier to wear than a top or bottoms because you won’t have to match it with anything. But it will also be suited to fewer occasions because it will be harder to dress up and down.Separates, on the other hand, will have greater versatility in your wardrobe.

Based on the last step, it will be easier to decide which type of garment is the right choice.

Understand whether it's a timeless or a trend pattern

As with any style, some patterns stay in fashion, while others are more a trend and reflect a certain moment in style.If you are conscious of trends opt for classic, timeless patterns/prints that don't go out of style.

Want to jump on a trend bandwagon? Invest in smaller items that are easier to incorporate into outfits.

Analyse the colours of the pattern

The key to buying patterns that fit seamlessly into your wardrobe is to pick ones that will be easy for you to wear.

If you want the most versatility in your prints, opt for colours that are part of your personal colour palette.

Incorporate the patterned item into outfits

Before you invest in any garment, make sure you actually have other items to wear it with.

There is no point spending money on an item that will catch dust in the back of your wardrobe because it doesn't go with anything else. If you can't incorporate the item into at the very least one outfit consider leaving it behind.

How to wear patterns & prints

There are lots of ways to incorporate patterns and prints into your wardrobe. Whether it's just a statement item, all over, or even mixing different prints in one outfit, find what works best for your personal style. The below questions should help you answer the best ways to wear patterns and prints for you.

How much pattern/print?

Just A Bit Pattern, Print - the concept wardrobe

Just a bit

If you are new to patterns or just not a big fan of them you could simply add some patterned accessories to your outfits. This could be shoes, socks, a scarf, belts, handbag, or even just a printed collar.

Statement Pattern, Print - the concept wardrobe

A statement item

You can draw attention to a particular printed garment by pairing it with plain fabrics. This can either be a neutral colour or a complimentary colour from your colour palette. The patterned/printed item will stand out from the rest of the outfit.

A Lot Pattern, Print - the concept wardrobe

A lot

If you want to wear more than one patterned/printed item you will have to combine different patterns/prints.

Combining patterns / prints

First, remember that the easiest way to wear prints is not to mix them with others. But you can wear several prints in one outfit.

1. Colour harmony
There is one simple rule: A good print mix is one in which the colours of the prints combine nicely. By following the rules of colour harmony your mixed print outfits will be amazing.

– Mix two prints featuring the same colours
The easiest way to achieve a great look without risking a “faux-pas”.

– Mix neutral prints with coloured prints
The neutral print will provide a backdrop for the coloured print.

– Mix prints that have complementary colours
This will ensure that the colours of your prints won't clash and blend in nicely.

– Mix prints that have neighbour colours
Neighbour colours usually go well together, so they will also harmonise in your prints.

2. Pattern sizes– Patterns of different sizes
Create some cool optical effects using patterns of different sizes.

3. Combine pattern shapes

– Similar patterns

– “Clashing” patterns
Clashing patterns are more daring. They will work better if one of the items is in a neutral colour.


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