(Masterful) Pattern Coordination

The latest episode of our second season, titled "Eccentric Style", comes at a good time for me. I’ve been wanting to talk about this fantastically good Styleforum thread on the subject of complex pattern coordination. Not that combining four or five patterns necessarily brands one an eccentric. Indeed, one of my personal style heroes, Luciano Barbera, often mixes numerous patterns without making it seem unusual at all. On the other hand, Tom Wolfe, who arguably has a bit of an eccentric style, is often seen carrying no more than one or two patterns at a time. 

Still, a high level of pattern mixing is more in the realm of eccentric style than not, and learning how to pull off complex combinations is worth discussion.

The rules are basic enough, and the principles for mixing many patterns stem from the ones we have for mixing just a couple. For example, two patterns of the same design (stripe on stripe, or checks on checks) can be combined if their scales are as different as possible. This avoids that terrible vibrating effect that can strain the eyes when too many patterns are present. So, a repp stripe tie with thick block stripes can be put on top of a Bengal striped shirt, or a puppytooth check tie can pair with a large windowpane suit.

Mixing two different patterns (stripes with checks) has the opposite rule. Rather than differ, the scales should be similar. This allows some contrast while still maintaining harmony. The only exception is particularly small-scale patterns, which can again distort the eye when two are placed too closely to each other.

From there we have the principles for mixing three or four patterns. Things should contrast, but also harmonize. If mixing three patterns where two are of the same design, vary the scale of two of the players – for example a hairline stripe shirt with a widely spaced chalk stripe suit. The third pattern can come in the form of a paisley or repp striped tie, so long the colors are complementary. For mixing three patterns of the same design, make all three vary in scale, perhaps letting them graduate from small to large as your ensembles moves outwards (shirt having the smallest scale; sport jacket medium; tie large). To get a fourth pattern, you can swap out the tie for a dissimilar design, and throw in a pocket square with a complementary pattern for final effect.

Of course, scale isn’t the only dimension to consider. There’s also texture, vibrancy, and color. A patterned woolen will look quite different from a patterned worsted, for example, and these things should be taken into consideration. But that entails a treatise that I’m not prepared to write, which is why your best bet is to follow the discussion here and observe the examples that some of the more astute StyleForum members have posted.  

On Contrast and Balance

Dressing well means pulling things together that both match and contrast, and in doing so, striking a balance. Basic pattern mixing, for example, should involve varying patterns by type and scale. A striped shirt can sit well behind a bolder striped tie and glen plaid suit, or maybe even a windowpane. 

Stephen Pulvirent, the writer behind The Simply Refined, recently wrote about the advantages of mixing “hard” and “soft” garments. Hard garments are things such as crisp white shirts, polished calf shoes, and any metal jewelry, while soft garments are flannels, challis ties, and wool sweaters. Wearing too many soft garments can make you look a bit sloppy and too relaxed, while wearing too many hard garments can make you seem rigid and stiff. Pulvirent admits that there are exceptions - a tweed jacket, corduroys, wool sweater, and suede loafers go quite well together - but he suggests that mixing the two is best. It’s a potentially controversial idea, but not one without some nugget of wisdom.

I think there are other dimensions that are worth striking a contrast. A textured tie such as a woven grenadine or silk knit can sit well against the flatness of poplin or smoothness of gabardine. Likewise, a man should consider how he balances between the shine and dullness of his clothes. A lustrous silk tie looks good next to a dry linen pocket square, and a tie in a duller fabric, such as wool or cotton, is perfectly complemented by a shiny pocket square in a printed solid or foulard. Similarly, the gleam of a man’s tie or well polished shoes can act as a good counterbalance to his otherwise matte ensemble.

There are ways of doing this poorly, of course. A satin tie would not go well with a tweed jacket and winter wools shouldn’t be mixed with summer linens. Though you want things to contrast, nothing you wear should stand out on it’s own; everything should harmonize. But that’s why we seek to both match and contrast, and in doing so, we strike a balance.

Simon Crompton at Permanent Style offers a primer on combining shirts, ties, jackets and squares.
mostexerent:

stripe on stripe on stripe
Japanese style waterfall shoulder.

A wonderful example of pattern combination. All three patterns have different scales and orientations, and the colors (and the intensity thereof) are dramatically different as well. Well played.

mostexerent:

stripe on stripe on stripe

Japanese style waterfall shoulder.

A wonderful example of pattern combination. All three patterns have different scales and orientations, and the colors (and the intensity thereof) are dramatically different as well. Well played.

I have a Harris Tweed windowpane in a very similar color combination to this, and it’s always tough to find a suitable shirt and tie.  The challenge is to bring out the color of the jacket rather than overwhelming it or letting it fade.  Well done, here.

I have a Harris Tweed windowpane in a very similar color combination to this, and it’s always tough to find a suitable shirt and tie.  The challenge is to bring out the color of the jacket rather than overwhelming it or letting it fade.  Well done, here.

(Source: da-i-net)

todaystie:

Lawrence Covell

One, two, three, four patterns.  Perfect.

todaystie:

Lawrence Covell

One, two, three, four patterns.  Perfect.

One Shirt, Two Shirt, White Shirt, Blue Shirt

Elegance often comes from simplicity.  Our friend MistahWong is one of the best-dressed guys we know, and with his suits he wears plain white and blue shirts.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

But when and how should you wear solid blue and white shirts?  What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

White shirts are the all-time classic.  They came to be regarded as the formal shirting in a time when people had access to far fewer clothes.  The fact that you could wear a “white collar” meant that you were a successful professional or aristocrat who could afford to own and maintain easily-soiled shirts.  That meaning, of course, has faded, but the white shirt remains the standard for formal dress.  If you’re going to a christening or a funeral or a board meeting, you will likely (and reasonably) wear a white shirt.

The white shirt also goes with everything.  It is a neutral ground for almost any tie or coat.  Today, in fact, I’m wearing a white oxford shirt with robin’s-egg blue trousers that would have looked a bit off (not to mention a bit much) with almost any other color shirt.

Of course, the white shirt has its disadvantages as well.  Probably the most significant is that it isn’t complimentary to the coloration of almost anyone.  The complexions of light-skinned white men, in particular, tend to be washed out by white shirts.  A lot of bright white can make a man’s skin look vaguely sickly rather than vibrant.  This is less of an issue if you have dark skin, but it’s dangerous without a marked contrast - you’d probably look better in cream or ecru anyway.

The white shirt is also ubiquitous.  It is the shirt of the poorly-dressed man.  A poorly-fitted or poor-quality white shirt is the quickest route to looking like a bank teller or a teenager selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door to “pay for college.”

The blue shirt is less formal than the white shirt, but it’s still acceptable in almost any formal situation.  You wouldn’t wear a blue shirt with black tie, and you might be less likely to wear it to an art opening or funeral, but it’s certainly acceptable in almost any office.  The reality is that most, outside of England anyway, would accept in in pretty much any situation. 

It’s also much more gentle on the complexion.  No less suitable for the man of color, for most white men it will almost invariably look notably better.  If you happen to have blue eyes, there’s no excuse not to wear it, as it will make you sparkle.

The blue shirt is also just as versatile as the white shirt.  It’s tough to find a combination of tie and suit that would look wrong with a plain blue shirt. 

So, what should you have in your closet?

Certainly use white shirts for important occasions.  Have one or two great white shirts.  My own white shirts include a Barba I bought for my wedding, a Charvet I thrifted and a Corneliani I bought for everyday wear.  All three have rich weaves and soft hands that make it apparent I’m not wearing a $19 shirt from Marshall’s.  They are formal shirts that reflect the significance of the occasions when I will wear them. 

I also have several white oxford-cloth button down shirts for casual wear.  Oxford cloth has a texture which reduces the sheen which can make a white shirt look cheap and can make your face look extra-sickly.  It is particularly important to avoid non-iron finishes in white shirts, which tend to make them look slick, cheap and all-around lousy.  For a casual shirt, there’s nothing wrong with a little rumple.

What do I do?  When I’m grabbing a shirt from my closet to go with a sport coat or suit, it’s usually blue.  A few blue oxfords from Lands’ End and Benjamin Bixby are probably the shirts I wear most.  A few harder-finish nearly solid blues (shirts with a slight pattern that read as solid) are what I grab for suits or more formal sport coat situations. 

Generally, your go-to shirts should be blue, too.  Your more formal shirts should be white.  Particularly with white shirts, keep an eye on quality - it’s easy to look like you went for the white shirt because without it, you couldn’t manage dressing yourself.

(via free-man)
These are fall colors, but it’s such a wonderful combination, I thought I’d repost it now.

(via free-man)

These are fall colors, but it’s such a wonderful combination, I thought I’d repost it now.

This, from “Old Dog,” is a wonderful example of a well-matched combination of patterns and colors.  The solid-color knit tie allows Old Dog to wear a bolder blue striped shirt.  Note that the color, type of pattern and scale are all different on the shirt and coat.  The bolder blue of the shirt and purple/yellow of the square make an outfit built around tan and brown feel Spring-y.

This, from “Old Dog,” is a wonderful example of a well-matched combination of patterns and colors.  The solid-color knit tie allows Old Dog to wear a bolder blue striped shirt.  Note that the color, type of pattern and scale are all different on the shirt and coat.  The bolder blue of the shirt and purple/yellow of the square make an outfit built around tan and brown feel Spring-y.