Do you want to wear patterns and textures? Do you want to express your personality through your clothes? Are you scared to wear patterns because you don’t know how to? Worry no more.
As I observe the many outfits men are wearing in my daily life, I come across various patterns and textures worn in many ways. For the average man, it might look hard to know what textures and patterns to combine together. Am I doing it right? Is it too much? Or not enough? In a lot of cases, choosing your patterns can give you headaches.
Excessively wearing patterns mostly comes out as being too aggressive and unnecessarily too flashy. By excessive, I mean wearing multiple patterns in one same outfit. Not wearing any pattern, on the other hand, can make you look bland, unoriginal, BORING.
Then, how can you wear patterns without looking too aggressive or too bland? I devised for you a quick and simple guide to patterns and textures so that you can understand the art of wearing patterned clothing and can rock every outfit with style!
What are patterns?
First things first. What’s a pattern? A pattern as defined by the Merriam-Webster is “a repeated form or texture especially that is used to decorate something (in our case, clothes)”
Since there’s a pretty big amount of patterns found in the fashion industry, let’s go through a few popular ones that come around often:
Argyle: a geometric knitting pattern of varicolored diamonds in solid and outline shapes on a single background color (according to Merriam-Webster)
Gingham/checked: pattern of colored squares/ patterns in squares that resemble a checkerboard
Floral: pattern consisting of repeated flowers
Herringbone: pattern made up of rows of parallel lines which in any two adjacent rows slope in opposite directions (according to the Merriam-Webster)
Stripe: Whether horizontal or vertical, stripes are straight constant lines, that vary in spacing
Polka dots: pattern consisting of repeated dots
Miscellaneous: any other kind of design that repeats itself over the garment. Can be anchors, apples, birds, triangles, etc.
A huge variety of patterns and designs are available on the market. There’s plenty for everyone and every style. My personal favorites are the stripes and the checks since they’re pretty minimalistic and fit with most of the clothes I try to pair them with! Don’t be afraid to try new patterns and designs when you buy a new garment. You might be surprised by the results!
So, how much is too much? How much is not enough?
Fashion is very subjective. An outfit you may consider okay, may not be okay for someone else. When we speak about patterns, here’s what I consider as too much and not enough.
A great example of too many patterns would be my banker’s outfit when I first met him. He was wearing a polka-dotted dress shirt, checked trousers AND a textured tie, that didn’t match any of the other patterns. He was overwhelmingly patterned; it wasn’t pretty. Everything was uncoordinated, too much.
On the other hand, when you wear a plain shirt (plain meaning a shirt of one simple color), plain pants and maybe a plain jacket, although it’s not necessarily wrong, I find that these outfits are, pattern-wise, boring because if everyone were to wear plain clothes, we would all look the same.
There are exceptions to those examples, don’t get me wrong. For example, a neutral colored shirt and distressed jeans (like my Simple Yet Trendy look) are a perfect casual outfit. But again, distressed jeans add personality and a certain vibe to your look.
Then, what’s the best?
As a rule of thumb, I’d suggest you wear one pattern per outfit (maximum two including socks). So what does that mean?
It means that you have to balance (oh, I love that word) your outfit. You have to stay clean and well-maintained while showing personality and even boldness sometimes. Balance means that if one part of you is patterned, you should have another part plain, to avoid excess.
If you try layering pieces, whether you use a flannel or a sweater or whatever, apply the rule too. If your outer layer is patterned, wear a plain shirt under (safest bets are white or black shirts). See the example below.
Let’s talk about another example. Let’s say you decide to wear checked trousers. Then you shouldn’t wear a polka-dotted shirt. It would be unbalanced. Personally, I would pair the trousers with a white/black shirt so that the trousers get all the attention they deserve. In the meantime, your outfit remains balanced. My Smart and Casual look, which features grey herringbone trousers (barely visible on the picture) and a black shirt, is a good example of a patterned bottom and a plain top.
On the other hand, if your top is striped/polka-dotted, go with plain colored chinos, trousers or jeans, a bit like my Business Casual look here:
See what I mean?
The same goes for suits. If you have a patterned dress shirt, go with a plain suit and tie. When your suit is patterned, go with a plain white/blue dress shirt and tie. When your tie is patterned, go with a plain suit and dress shirt. Patterned clothes stand out. Make them pop by pairing them with plain clothes so that you can give your patterns all the attention!
As for socks, I like going with patterns when my bottom half is plain (that is, trousers, pants, etc.). Socks are a great way to showcase your fashion style and personality. Mostly overlooked, socks are a great option to tell people you care about the small details. I love showing my original socks wherever I go. My socks stand out and add a lot of personality to my outfits!
Again, those rules are just general. They don’t apply to every. single. cases. I’m simply giving you some guidelines to avoid mistakes so that you can experience patterns and designs safely. Once you get skilled and understand how to wear patterns, then you can go on and break the rules and expand your outfits’ looks!
When is pattern acceptable?
As you might’ve known already, patterns can and can not be accepted on certain occasions. Outfits are more casual if they include patterns than if they were plain and monochromatic; you have to take that into consideration before going out to an event so that you don’t break the dress code and seem out-of-place.
For example, floral patterns are not, in my opinion, considered formal. During formal events such as weddings or proms (for the younger ones) or business events, you rarely see patterns, because patterns in often cases make your outfits casual. A tweed suit or a polka-dotted dress shirt are worn in business-casual settings.
In most times, smooth textures and plain dark-colored garments are more formal than patterned and textured ones. If you decide to wear patterns, keep them small and subtle. A great example would be the following.
Are textures and patterns the same thing?
Whether to count textures as a pattern or not is a very good question to ask. Textures, as defined by the Merriam-Webster, are “structures defined by the threads of a fabric”.
Textures, to my mind, can be considered as a pattern and counted as such when the structure defined is very pronounced. For instance, woven wool clothes can add some dimension to your monochromatic clothes. Light textures like suede or velvet wouldn’t count as a pattern, although they would add some personality to your outfits.
As you could see in the previous image, a strong texture paired with a light pattern on the jacket make a good-looking combo.
Furthermore, what makes textures great in my opinion is that they can be paired with light patterns without disrupting the overall balance of your ensemble. You could wear textured clothes with plain clothes, it would work. You could also wear textured clothes with lightly patterned clothes, it would work too.
On another note, I would not recommend two textures put together because again, in my opinion, it would disrupt the balance (unless your textures are light).
It is up to your judgment to gauge how structured your texture is and whether it should be paired or not with another pattern (or texture). If you have difficulties judging, try to observe more the environment and read my article on how to think like a fashionable man!
How to use patterns to your advantage
As I have mentioned in my article “How To Easily Find Your Own Style In No Time”, you can use patterns while considering your height. By the use of optical “illusions”, you can trick people into seeing you differently.
For instance, when you have a small physiology, you can try to seem taller by using vertical patterns so that you create this vertical impression that would “elongate your silhouette”. To the contrary, you can add horizontality to your silhouette by wearing horizontal patterns. I actually don’t find this “optical illusion” very effective as I consider myself short but still wear horizontally striped outfits without thinking I look shorter.
Nonetheless, if you really feel complexed about your height, you can try these tricks and see for yourself whether it works or not (or read my article about being comfortable and being confident about yourself)!
To be able to experiment with patterns, and textures, you have to keep in mind one word: balance. As a general rule, tell yourself your outfit should have one pattern per outfit, 2 if your bottom is pattern-less and your socks are patterned. When your bottom half is patterned, your upper half should be plain and vice-versa.
As for textures, you have to evaluate how pronounced your garment’s structure is. Light textures can be paired with strong patterns or another light texture and light patterns go well with a structured texture.
I can’t stress enough how important balance is when it comes to dressing well. Once you are able to pair patterns and textures in your outfits, nothing can stop you from being stylish!
Thank you for reading.
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Ryoma Martin, from The Soul’s Garment
At Your Service