Zebra Stripes, Leopard Prints and a Horse of a Different Color: A How-to Guide on Mixing Patterns

Style Features

Patterns, like polka dots, nautical stripes and bright florals, have their place in every closet. But, when clashing these prints against one another, there is usually a method to the madness. I still remember the first time I read that leopard print should be treated as a neutral. While the notion was absolutely crazy to me at 16, with a wardrobe consisting of mainly black tank tops and bell-bottoms, with a grungy plaid button down as my only patterned item, I found myself drawn to the daring print with its pinup vibes and ‘50s housewife connotations. A pattern easily paired with other prints and neutrals, leopard sparked a style change and got me thinking about new color combinations and spots with stripes.

The art of the mix and matched pattern has become synonymous with individual style and is a true test of a fashionista’s artistic skills and vision. While these experiments sometimes end with a disastrous busy-ness akin to a flea-market explosion, a few key tricks will help keep all your prints in a row. An outfit’s focal point is everything and a thoughtful color palette, seemingly unmatched by the overall pattern’s conflict, helps balance any look.

As floral patterns grow bigger, stripes bolder and luxe, textured fabrics find their way back in favor year after year, clothing pairings have never been so inspired and one of a kind. And, as always, fashion “rules” are never steadfast, especially when it comes to prints, so if you find a pattern combo entirely yours and entirely against these quick how-tos, who the eff cares. No one is expecting a leopard to change her spots anytime soon.

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A photo posted by Courtney Trop (@alwaysjudging) on

One Pattern to Rule Them All

When approaching two patterns, or three, or four, always think in terms of size and scale. With the addition of each print to the mix, one distinct pattern should dominate the rest. As the outfit’s focal point, this print acts as a center for the other, lesser notes. Even if you decide to combine the same pattern, i.e. different variations of herringbone, distinct size differences bring a chic edge to the mix and introduce a quiet harmony to the outfit amidst all the patterned noise.

Marc by Marc Jacob’s FW15 collection adhered to this size/scale awareness with their varying sizes of the William Morris-inspired textiles.

All in the Family

Regardless of the pattern’s type, a tonal, color blocked style helps stabilize the various prints. Instead of looking at each individual pattern, take the general color and utilize this as the outfit’s base. If need be, grab a color wheel and play with the monochromatic and complimentary, or the bold and brash, or quietly neutral patterns, to invigorate a classic look. Prints help break away from the usual monotony and with a basic color palette, lend a bit more edge to any stylish ensemble.

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Fashion Blogger, Frédérique Tietcheu from I Go By Frankie, adds a blueberry punch to her outfit, all the way down to her shoes, by pairing various shades of the rich hue together.

Texture as a Print

Textured fabrics are a mix and matched look’s best friend. Whether knit, denim or metallic, fur accents or feathers, these additions to an already vibrant ensemble help create a variety and mayhem to the mix. A pair of chevron tights with a floral mini dress echo a baby doll sweetness, but also keep the eye moving across the overall silhouette. Helpful in all combinations, texture brings a sense of whimsy to any outfit and grounds the patterns as well.

Rodarte’s FW15 collection nailed this notion of texture as a print with their beaded skirts, metallic accents and tweed oversized jackets. Initially, this look could have played loud and cumbersome, but, with the addition of unexpected texture and a basic black core, the conflicting combos play well against one another and keep the whole look unified in its mismatched disarray.

Keep it Subtle with Accessories

For those new to the mix and match game, trying out the clash with accessories is a great way to start. With subtle accents like polka dot tights against a larger scale textured dress, or a striped headband to interact with a herringbone blazer, patterned accessories introduce new patterns, amp up an old standby and give you the freedom to try new color combinations with these subtle, small touches. Don’t forget to utilize printed shoes or purses either!

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Bethany Marie brings a playful pop of color to her mostly blue tonal garb with yellow tortoiseshell shades.

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