Pairing Patterns 101

How to Master the Art of Mixing Patterns

Mastering the art of mixing patterns can help you make the most of your menswear, giving you both confidence and a bold, attention-grabbing look. But how do you pull off a patterned outfit successfully? With this guide, you’ll learn how to pair complementary patterns and wear them with style.

By Mary Beth Wallace

Samples of patternsTypes of Patterns in Menswear


Checks: From plaid and gingham to tattersall and tartan, there is a wide variety of checks on the market. It’s no surprise, then, that this pattern is one of the most popular in menswear, seen often in shirts, blazers, ties, and other outerwear.

Stripes: Chalk stripes and pinstripes are no strangers to men’s suits, while many men’s shirts sport stripes ranging in size from the pencil stripe to the awning stripe.

Paisley: Donning paisley is a smart and stylish way to make a statement – if you know how to go about it. Distinctive and busy, paisley is most at home in smaller accessories, such as ties and pocket squares.

Polka Dots: Polka dots can be either formal or casual, depending on their size. They usually appear in men’s dress shirts, ties, pocket squares, and socks.

Houndstooth: While technically a member of the checks family, houndstooth is so unique that it deserves a special mention. This striking pattern is commonly seen in blazers, but it also works well in suits and tailored trousers.


Guidelines for Pairing Patterns

Start slow. If you’re new to mixing patterns, or even if you’re a seasoned trendsetter, it’s always a good reminder to practice some restraint when incorporating patterns into any outfit. As a rule of thumb, start with patterned accessories – these items are generally less expensive, so you can experiment and find out what patterns suit you best. Patterned shirts are the next step up; try a simple pattern, like chalk stripes or gingham, before working your way up to more eye-catching designs. Once you’ve mastered these items, you can begin to bring in some patterned blazers to mix up your weekly professional wardrobe.

Create some contrast. When working with the same type of pattern, contrast is key. You should never pair two pieces that match exactly, but instead have two distinguishable sizes of the pattern. This means that if you’re opting for stripes, go for pinstripes on your suit and Bengal stripes on your shirt.

Pay attention to color. Color is another crucial component of any well-balanced outfit. Your goal is to find two hues that complement each other; one should be bold, and the other subtle. A few classic pairings for men’s clothing include navy and white, black and white, brown and cream, and green and khaki. For example, you might wear a white dress shirt with a tartan navy jacket, and complete the look with a textured tie.

Avoid competing patterns. Pairing two bold patterns together will likely create an undesirable clash. To achieve an elevated ensemble, draw the attention to one specific item of clothing – whether your shirt, tie, or trousers – where a bolder pattern takes center stage. A polka dot tie, for example, is best paired with more subdued patterns like a shirt with a subtle stripe.
Bottom line: Don’t be intimidated by pairing patterns! The more you practice, the better you will become at it. Experiment and have fun – you’ll find your personal style evolving in no time.

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