Real People: Mixing Patterns

Once again, our friend Peter in San Francisco shows us how to mix patterns easily and successfully using just two rules-of-thumb:

  • Vary the scale and density: Scale refers to how large the pattern is, while density refers to how closely things such as dots and paisleys are set next to each other. However you’re mixing patterns, just be sure to vary the scale and density of your pieces. Otherwise, you risk looking like this guy
  • Cheat: Subtle patterns are the easiest to use. Such as a hairline striped shirt with lines so fine that the color resolves to a solid from more than a couple of feet away. Or the wool tie Peter is wearing in the first photo above, which features a pick-and-pick weave with dusty greens and golds. That’s more of a texture than a print, but the effect of textures is the same: they help add visual interest to what you’re wearing.

Of course these are just general guidelines — things to help you choose what to wear in the morning. In the end, dress according to your eye. If it looks right, then it looks right. And know that if things get too complicated, it’s always easy to wear just two patterns. That’s pretty much failproof.

Wearing Boring Outerwear

Next to tailored clothing and shoes, most of my clothing budget is spent on outerwear. In my closet are some field jackets – the kind with two pockets at the chest and two at the hips. Then I have some coats with various belted riggings, which are used to help cinch in the waist, as well as some “designer” pieces with unusual pocket placements. It’s said that these sorts of jackets are often inspired by hunting coats, but I can’t imagine anyone who has bought these sorts of things (including me) has ever hunted for anything but their keys and an open bar. 

Some of my coats, however, are quite simple. Boring, even. There’s a waxed cotton Barbour Bedale, which I bought in the standard dark green colorway. It has a corduroy collar, but the overall look is so generic at this point that the jacket has become almost nondescript. I also have a heavy Melton wool pea coat from Buzz Rickson, a green barn coat from LL Bean Signature, and a brown, waxed field coat from last season’s Barbour x Norton & Sons line. The brown field coat actually looks something like this vintage piece I found on eBay over the weekend.

Each of these lack the kind of bells and whistles that can make an outfit interesting, so to balance things out, I sometimes layer in some heavy, textured knitwear. Above are some examples. Underneath the pea coat is a very subtly textured, black Shetland, which is also from last season’s Barbour x Norton & Sons range. Underneath the LL Bean Signature barn coat and waxed cotton Bedale are some heavy, cream-colored sweaters, which are from Inis Meain. The first is a basket weave sweater that’s been made with an open interlocking lacing on the front body. The second is your standard cable knit Aran, although done to Inis Meain’s design. Finally, underneath the brown field coat is also an Aran from Inis Meain, but this time, in navy. The pairing of blue jeans and a navy sweater can sometimes look off, but the jeans here, I think, are light enough that there’s enough contrast.

The chunkiness of these sweaters and their texturally interesting designs help make boring outerwear pieces look slightly less boring. If you wanted to wear a scarf with these, it would be better to stick to something that’s also solid-colored, but textured - such as a grey cabled knit. That way, no element sticks out too much on its own. By relying on complementary colors and playing with textures, you can make outfits look interesting without needing to turn to the brashness of patterns or unusual design details. It’s a quieter, arguably more sophisticated, way of making a statement. 

(Pictured above: sweaters and coats as described; straight legged 14.5oz selvedge denim jeans from 3sixteen; undyed thick harness leather belt from Don’t Mourn Organize, made with a buckle bought at Slash Clothing; and shell cordovan boots from Brooks Brothers)

"Combining the patterns and colours is simply a question of getting a contrast. With a striped suit I wouldn’t wear a striped shirt. With a striped shirt I would wear a plain woven tie in a much deeper or brighter colour. The thing to keep in mind really is that the shirt, tie, and suit can’t look all the same in colour or scale of pattern, and, of course, not to be self-conscious about combination. The one thing that I am especially conscious of is combining ties and pocket handkerchiefs. I avoid matching them at all costs. The pocket handkerchief should be coloured and patterned, but not matching the tie. Better to have it related, or even entirely unrelated, so long as they don’t look wrong together."
— Douglas Fairbanks Jr., from an interview he did with Vogue in 1966. (via CrimsonSox)

"Combining the patterns and colours is simply a question of getting a contrast. With a striped suit I wouldn’t wear a striped shirt. With a striped shirt I would wear a plain woven tie in a much deeper or brighter colour. The thing to keep in mind really is that the shirt, tie, and suit can’t look all the same in colour or scale of pattern, and, of course, not to be self-conscious about combination. The one thing that I am especially conscious of is combining ties and pocket handkerchiefs. I avoid matching them at all costs. The pocket handkerchief should be coloured and patterned, but not matching the tie. Better to have it related, or even entirely unrelated, so long as they don’t look wrong together."

— Douglas Fairbanks Jr., from an interview he did with Vogue in 1966. (via CrimsonSox)

Real People: Mixing Patterns

Figuring out how to combine patterns can be confusing if you’re just starting to pay attention to how you dress. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen convoluted tutorials on how to wear just a simple shirt and tie. Some kind of check goes with some kind of stripe, but if you have paisley, you must wear some other thing …

Our friend Peter in San Francisco shows how to wear patterns simply and easily under one simple rule: vary the scale. Here, three or four patterns are mixed successfully by just making sure each varies in density. The only exception is the second photo, where the micro-gingham on the checked shirt is in a similar scale as the herringbone on the coat. This can sometimes work when the patterns are small enough so they look solid from afar, but even here you can see the combination needs a double striped tie with a large open ground to keep things from looking dizzying. 

Try Bolder Sport Coats

I consider myself a fairly conservative dresser, at least compared to other men interested in style. Not to say that you can’t be well-dressed and adventurous, of course. Jesse made a great case for what he calls a "point of distinction," and some of my favorite style icons, such as, Beppe Modenese and Luciano Barbera, are known for their daring choices (though, like Jesse, I think such moves are probably best left to well-experienced). 

The one area where I think men can be safely daring, however, is in boldly patterned sport coats. A bolder pattern helps distinguish your jacket as a true sport coat, rather than something that was intended to only be worn as part of a suit. It’s also makes for easier coordination between all your elements, as presumably your patterned shirts and ties won’t be as striking. When combining patterns, varying the scale is always the easiest way to ensure that nothing clashes. 

See Gianni Agnelli above as an example. In a number of photos taken throughout his life, he was seen wearing a mid-brown jacket decorated with a fairly large glen plaid. Here specifically, he’s combined it with a subtly textured woolen tie, light blue shirt, tan trousers, and some suede boots. The boldness of the jacket lends a bit more visual interest in a way that a solid coat might be lacking, and if he were to wear it with a striped shirt, you can be certain that almost any stripe would work. Even the boldest of butcher stripes is unlikely to clash.  

Of course, there are ways you can go wrong with this. Some patterns are so large they risk looking like horse blankets, and there are certain environments where only a conservative coat will do. Still, a little boldness can go a long way in making a tailored jacket versatile, and if the design is traditional and color conservative, you can be daring without being foppish. 

Real People: Bold Dressers

I consider myself a fairly conservative dresser, but I don’t think one has to dress conservatively in order to look good. Niyi from New York is a perfect example. He has a very strong, bold sense of personal style. What he wears might not suit everyone, but it works excellently for him.

Pictured above are two of his recent summer ensembles. The first combines charcoal trousers with a tan sport coat (the best combination for charcoal trousers, in my opinion), and plays a bit with proportions. The jacket’s gorge is higher, lapels narrower, and collar points shorter. I’d normally think such proportions look affected on most guys, but Niyi carries it off here exceptionally well. I also like the soft fit of the jacket along the shoulder line, and think it helps him look natural and relaxed.

The second ensemble is deceptively more complicated than it seems. Here, Niyi is mixing four patterns without any of them clashing. There are the narrow stripes on the suit, the wider stripes on the shirt, the boldly patterned tie, and the complementary (but not matching) patterned pocket square. To go with the summery shirt and suit, he’s picked chestnut shoes instead of your regular dark brown. I think it looks fantastic.

Incidentally, like our friend Rob, Niyi is also putting together his own men’s accessories label. It’s called Post Imperial, and the two ties you see here are actually from his line. I’m told that the shell fabric is made of a cotton treated in “adire” – an old hand dying process developed by the Yoruba people in the southwest region of Nigeria. These ties will be available in Spring of 2014. 

Real People: Spring Scarves and Patterns
Where I live, in the Washington, D.C. area, we’ve already had 4 days of 90 degree heat, so I’m envious of people like C. in the Netherlands who can wear light scarves late into spring and even summer. I’m also envious of C.’s scarf itself in these photos, in a simple brown and cream patterned linen that complements the tone of his trousers and the blue of his shirt. When tied, it occupies the space that otherwise might be covered by a tie, and a scarf like C.’s can be a good casual tie alternative without going full ascot.
C. also submitted this as one of the more subtle entries in the recent Styleforum four-pattern challenge. Really, only the scarf is boldly patterned; otherwise, it’s a variation on a look most men return to over and over: navy sportcoat, blue shirt, and light colored cotton pants. Adding subtle patterns and the texture of looser weave linen refines the combination.
Finally, beyond patterns, C. has truly mastered the “walking toward the camera selfie.” Many bloggers (me included) have used up their camera phone’s storage space with poorly timed attempts at this level of on-camera nonchalance.
-Pete

Real People: Spring Scarves and Patterns

Where I live, in the Washington, D.C. area, we’ve already had 4 days of 90 degree heat, so I’m envious of people like C. in the Netherlands who can wear light scarves late into spring and even summer. I’m also envious of C.’s scarf itself in these photos, in a simple brown and cream patterned linen that complements the tone of his trousers and the blue of his shirt. When tied, it occupies the space that otherwise might be covered by a tie, and a scarf like C.’s can be a good casual tie alternative without going full ascot.

C. also submitted this as one of the more subtle entries in the recent Styleforum four-pattern challenge. Really, only the scarf is boldly patterned; otherwise, it’s a variation on a look most men return to over and over: navy sportcoat, blue shirt, and light colored cotton pants. Adding subtle patterns and the texture of looser weave linen refines the combination.

Finally, beyond patterns, C. has truly mastered the “walking toward the camera selfie.” Many bloggers (me included) have used up their camera phone’s storage space with poorly timed attempts at this level of on-camera nonchalance.

-Pete

The Advantage of Textured Ties
This photo of Oscar de la Renta perfectly demonstrates one of the things I love most about textured ties. In an ensemble with a solid colored jacket and shirt, a textured tie can help break up the plainness. Without it, the ensemble can look a bit flat and uninteresting. That’s why I like to have at least two patterns in whatever I wear. 
At the same time, with two patterns like you see here – worn through de la Renta’s shirt and pocket square – opting for texture allows you to combine things a bit more easily and with less thought. If the tie were patterned, one would have to consider how well the numerous colors play together and whether the types and scales of patterns clashed. Not with a textured tie, however. It looks just as comfortable against a solid color as it does a pattern, and when you don’t want to bother with thinking about what goes with what in the morning, reaching for a grenadine or silk knit can often be a very safe choice. 
(Photo via voxsart)

The Advantage of Textured Ties

This photo of Oscar de la Renta perfectly demonstrates one of the things I love most about textured ties. In an ensemble with a solid colored jacket and shirt, a textured tie can help break up the plainness. Without it, the ensemble can look a bit flat and uninteresting. That’s why I like to have at least two patterns in whatever I wear. 

At the same time, with two patterns like you see here – worn through de la Renta’s shirt and pocket square – opting for texture allows you to combine things a bit more easily and with less thought. If the tie were patterned, one would have to consider how well the numerous colors play together and whether the types and scales of patterns clashed. Not with a textured tie, however. It looks just as comfortable against a solid color as it does a pattern, and when you don’t want to bother with thinking about what goes with what in the morning, reaching for a grenadine or silk knit can often be a very safe choice. 

(Photo via voxsart)

Two Patterns

I enjoy getting dressed in the morning, but I don’t like spending a lot of time fussing over it. Which is why most of the items in my wardrobe are white, blue, brown, cream, or grey. Colors outside of that tend to be no wilder than burgundy or dark green. This allows me to easily grab things out of my closet and be assured that the colors will complement each other.

I’ve also found that it’s easier to dress with just two patterns. Having no patterns can leave an outfit looking a bit flat and boring; having too many runs the risk of things clashing. There are exceptions to this, of course. Formalwear is the most obvious one, and things such as a navy suit with a crisp white shirt, folded linen handkerchief, and a solid navy tie will always look great. For everything else, I usually try to stick to just two patterns – enough to add visual interest, but not so many that I have to worry whether I’m creating a dizzying eyesore.

Above are three of my favorite style photos, and they demonstrate this in the most basic way – a patterned sport coat or suit paired with a patterned tie. Everything else is kept solid and basic. But there are other variations. For example, imagine wearing a navy sport coat with a solid brown tie. Instead of a plain blue shirt and white pocket square, you can use a blue Bengal striped shirt to give your tie a more interesting background, and then stuff a patterned hank into your pocket, so that the Bengal stripes don’t look too lonely.

Similarly, you can apply this principle to textures. Think of a green, waxed-cotton Barbour jacket worn over a blue oxford-cloth shirt and a thick, but plain, merino crewneck sweater. Below, there can be a pair of worsted flannel trousers. The flannel trousers are nice, but a thicker woolen with a more obvious nap would be nicer. Or better still, swap those out for a pair of brown corduroys, and change the plain merino crewneck for something more textured, such as a Shetland. The ribs of the corduroy and fuzziness of the Shetland will add some important visual interest to an otherwise very basic ensemble.

By sticking to two patterns or textures, you can ensure that there will be something interesting about your ensemble, but with minimal risk of things going awry. This will also allow you think more about what purchases you might need to make. If your collection of sport coats and ties are mostly solid, instead of plain blue and white shirts, you may want to buy some stripes and checks. This way, it’ll make dressing in the morning easy. 

Learning Basic Patterns and Weaves

If you’re interested in familiarizing yourself with some basic patterns and weaves, StyleForum member Apropos has a nice guide you can download here for free. Originally scanned many years ago by another member named Sator, this simple, eighteen page guide covers everything from the common hopsack to the less common diamondweave. This may be useful if you’ve ever needed to describe a garment accurately (e.g. when selling something on eBay) or just want to know more about the clothes that fill up your closet. 

Note, when reading the descriptions, remember that warp refers to the lengthwise yarns set on a frame or loom, while weft refers to the transverse threads drawn over-and-under the warp in order to create the fabric. How the warp and weft yarns are set will determine each fabric’s color, pattern, and weave. The rest of the descriptions in this guide should be self-explanatory.