Pattern Mixing 301

My apologies for double posting this outfit, but I would love to have some discussion about the intricacies of pattern mixing. This particular mix met a varied response. Some people thought it worked, others didn't. Paraphrasing the reasons given:

Worked: The top's small print almost reads as a solid; black & white tones are echoed in the skirt.

Didn't work: Too busy; need to be in more similar tones; need another element of the teal in the outfit.

Would love to hear more thoughts on this mix (and complex mixing in general), and what makes it work or not work for you, alone or in context of the whole outfit. I've added a close-up of the top's print; it is composed of black, white, and turquoise which I think got a bit lost in the original photo. Does this change your opinion on whether the pattern mix works? If not, what would you change? If you could swap one of these pieces to another patterned piece, what would it be?

I'll post my own rationale behind this particular outfit after we get some discussion going, I'm curious to hear your thoughts first :)

This post is also published in the youlookfab forum. You can read and reply to it in either place. All replies will appear in both places.


  • Queen Mum replied 8 years ago

    I liked it... end of discussion :-)
    Seriously, I'm not sure why it worked.. probably because the colors are of the same intensity and the patterns are both "mid sized"

  • kellygirl replied 8 years ago

    I really liked it too. I still see the top print as reading like a solid plus the black seems to pick up the black in the skirt. I think it's perfect as is : )

  • Joy replied 8 years ago

    I like it too. I think the smaller tight geometric pattern of the top offsets the big loose floral skirt and the repeat of black and white unifies them. The whole look is interesting.
    It might make the mix more acceptable to some if you divide the prints with a wider belt so that there's a definite separation.

  • catgirl replied 8 years ago

    I think it works to an eye that understands and accepts pattern mixing. Not all eyes will - my husband's eyeballs would explode at this combo. The patterns are both complex but the colors are complementary and don't clash.

    The sophisticated part is that the chevron is such a different style of pattern - it isn't really a large or small design inposed on a solid background color, as with polka dots or your floral, but an all-over pattern. I think if one color dominated in the shirt, it would be an easier mix.

    Does that make sense?

  • rae replied 8 years ago

    I think it works, as the dark colors are repeated in the top as well as the skirt. Can't please everyone all the time, right?

  • mrseccentric replied 8 years ago

    Good points. also, if you look at the top to bottom 'width' of the dark part of the zig zag pattern it is just about the same measurement as the width of the circles made by the smaller flowers in the floral design. the shapes of the 'pods' in the floral design are also curved zigzags.

    (too much art history). the eye picks up on these things, even subconsciously. lots of times you can 'figure it out' in the left brain after your right brain has led you to pick out the complementary patterns.

    really fun outfit and it looks smashing on you!!! steph

  • RandomThoughts (Andrea) replied 8 years ago

    It's funny how people "see" differently.

    I agree that it works. In fact, I love it. However where QM sees two 'mid-sized' patterns, I see one large, one small. IMO, when there are repeating colors in each pattern (B/W in this case) and you have a large and a small pattern they seem to work better than two of the same size range. I also like the geometric/floral mix which had you asked be before seeing this I would not have thought they would work in conjunction. Clearly I was wrong!

    I do think that there are some people whose eyes are not, and may never be, used to pattern mixing. I am not one of those folks!

  • bella replied 8 years ago

    Aida, I am not very good at pattern mixing and for my own closet, I feel like less is more when it comes to pattern, so I will not give any advice. I will however refer you to this blogspot, which I thought did a wonderful job of analytically examining why certain pattern mixes work while others don't:
    Also, if you are into pattern mixing, she is good blogger to follow because she does it very often and I think a lot of success.
    Hope it helps!

  • Suz replied 8 years ago

    I love it, but didn't give my reasons. Invited to analyse, I'd say something pretty close to what Joy has said.

    Another factor that plays into the way this works (for me) is that both patterns strike me as somehow "mod" in vibe. The cut of the skirt isn't mod (nor the top, either) but the cuts are complementary, and somehow it ends up feeling like a cheeky tribute.

  • Lisa replied 8 years ago

    This worked for me because despite the two very different patterns: there are only 3 total colors in the outfit: white, black and blue. No color overload here and all 3 colors went well together in the separate items as well as paired between the two items. Also, one pattern is very small and more like a variation on the texture while the other pattern is big and bold and obviously a pattern. If both patterns were big and bold this may not have worked as well. There would be too much to look at.

  • Girl X replied 8 years ago

    To me, the outfit almost works. I think these two patterns can definitely play together, but I feel like the outfit needs a separator of some sort - a much bolder belt, red or bright blue or even a thick band of black - so the patterns aren't fighting each other for attention. It's like, this pattern mix is so bold, that it doesn't make sense to my eye to tone down with the beige/brown belt.

  • modgrl replied 8 years ago

    I think I must be a maximalist/minimalist. I definitely have an ALGO streak - gold heels, fever pink and sheer lace for work - but pattern mixing of two very distinct patterns just looks too busy for me. I think it works when one reads as a neutral like a snake skin or similar textural type print. I also think it works when one is sort of a derivation of the other - Marc Jacobs and DVF have both done this well. Here is the kind of look I'm thinking about

    I have two pieces that would work together like this but the jacket is crazy and the skirt is crazy. Together it would be head to toe ridiculous, and I don't mean in a good way.

  • Mellllls replied 8 years ago

    I never saw the original post but I'm a nay on this. But I like more simple looks.

  • Fruitful replied 8 years ago

    I'm surprised at myself as I'm not experienced with pattern mixing but I love this.

    It's the seamlessness of the silhouette that slays me - a gorgeous A-line that looks like the pieces are sewn as one garment. I have a bias as this is my favourite silhouette and it makes the mix work.

    I agree with Suz that there's a mod vibe (both original mod and 90s retroist mod) and you style it to perfection with your sandals, belt and hair and let's not forget your sass.

  • cjh replied 8 years ago

    Perfect! You paired the prints perfectly! The pattern mixing formula would call for small/large, geometric/floral, related colors.

    You have done it: Small scale geometric with larger scale floral, both with a common color, shapes of the garments are extremely compatible - Success. I LOVE it.

    P.S. If you want more hints on pattern mixing, do an internet search on mixing prints in home decorating.

  • taylor replied 8 years ago

    I can't figure out if it works or why it does or does not...I am just lost when it come to this pattern mixing:)

    BUT...your shoes and bag are PERFECT for this and you look gorgeous as always...I really love the shape/print of the skirt!!

  • sarah replied 8 years ago

    It works for me because of what Joy, Lisa, and cjh said.

  • Marley replied 8 years ago

    I LOVE pattern mixing!

    I think that I missed this the first time that you posted it. I love the colors - the belt and shoes and purse - but the pattern mix is just not quite working for me. I'm trying to figure out why - and I think its because there doesn't feel like there is a balance between the two patterns - and I'm not really sure what I mean by that. It might be that the top is so saturated with pattern and the bottom has such a loose and open pattern that they just don't work to my eye. It just seems to need a little more open white space on the top - my eye wants to see more white in the top, in order to balance out the bottom.

    I really have no idea what I am talking about - its just a gut reaction.

    Here's a few pics that I posted last winter of a pattern mix that I tried. I too got mixed reactions from forum members. Those who didn't care for it thought it was "too busy." What I thought worked about it was that the patterns were all reflected in each other (squares) as well as the colors - but I'm not sure. Angie gave it a thumbs up so I felt good about wearing it again!

    Sorry I can't be any more helpful!

  • rachylou replied 8 years ago

    I think it works and has a lot of pizazz.. To me, it reads as non-competing patterns (small + large, graphic + floral) unified by a common colour (black) and given lots of white space (in the skirt). I love the belt and shoes because they don't compete for attention, but are the perfect foil instead. I have a neurosis about putting types/weights of fabrics together, and may not have put this knit top with this flat woven skirt, but then again I might have. They both seem "summer weight."

    It does put the emphasis on "bold", though, as opposed to "amiable." Not that a person can't be both, but bold is leading.

  • Katiepea replied 8 years ago

    I think it is fabulous dahhhhling! :-) For me, it is because the accessories (shoes, bag, belt) really pull it together.

  • Jonesy replied 8 years ago

    I think it's great, but then again I really love pattern mixing! I think it's very subjective. It reminds me of the whole "flattering" (highlighting your body by emphasizing your "best" features) vs. waist-surrendering or other slouchier, looser looks that might actually make you look bigger. Some people are never going to like the latter; it's just a matter of personal preference.

  • Aida replied 8 years ago

    Ladies, ladies, you are all awesome! Apologies for my super late reply, had an intense work deadline to meet which knocked me offline for a while there >< This has been a FAScinating read; all of your responses are so insightful, you've definitely caught onto things I wouldn't have ever noticed (esp. Una, Steph, Suz, and Fruitful). While I don't pattern mix often I definitely feel that the information here is incredibly useful to keep in mind; this is especially true because I generally use analysis (engineer brain) when purchasing garments, but gut (artist brain) when styling outfits daily.

    I do understand that pattern mixing is, itself, subjective so not everyone will like every mix (Una, I think my husband's eyeballs did explode at the sight of this one). I can also now see that beyond determining which prints "go" together (color, print, scale, style, etc.), there is a LOT more separate from the print that can affect the success of mix! Fabric, silhouette, and even hairstyle and accessories can serve to help or hinder the final outfit (though this is true with most outfits, I suppose). All very good food for thought.

    The way this outfit came together: I wanted to wear this shirt, which is too short for pants. So I looked at my 3 summer skirts (the others being 1 white gauzy, 1 tan floral) and selected this one (for the pockets!). The print busyness called for nude/neutral accessories (silver earrings, metallic belt, nude+metallic sandals, gold purse). I didn't have a tangible reason for picking circular elements at the time, it just felt like that's what would "go" (but now I can see that it echoes part of the skirt's print). There was very little analysis that went into the individual item selection, it was all gut. But, you all know me, I like to understand WHY those gut decisions either work or don't :)

  • Mellllls replied 8 years ago

    so would you wear it again?

  • Aida replied 8 years ago

    I would! I think I could also change up the accessories and feel comfortable with it, though I would probably still keep to simpler/more neutral accessories (e.g. a white belt, gray heels, a single metal cuff, etc.).

  • taylor replied 8 years ago

    You are amazing...bravo :)

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