The Guy’s Guide to Mixing Patterns

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“Never mix patterns” is one of those outdated pieces of fashion advice that reeks of old-fashioned superstition more than it does style. Anywhere you see the hottest looks, whether it’s a Gucci menswear runway show or the red carpet at the VMAs, you’ll see pattern mixing.

It can take a little bravery to pull off, considering that one wrong move can leave you looking more like Sheldon Cooper than Bradley Cooper (and pairing the wrong plaids can lead to a full-on Urkel vibe). Learning the tricks to mixing things up really comes down to just a few simple formulas. Stick to these rules, and you’ll soon be rocking the prints like a pro.

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Start simple

Ease into pattern mixing by starting with something lots of fashionable men do every single workday: combining shirt and tie prints. Keep your colors complementary, and pay attention to balance. (Pro tip: Let your shirt be the boldest piece of clothing. A bright striped shirt, for example, pairs well with a checked tie in a more muted tone.)

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Texturize

Ready to experiment with patterns but not quite ready for the big leagues? Keep in mind that some textures read like prints to the eye. For example, pairing the visible wale in a pair of corduroys with the nubby texture of a hand-knit sweater is a neutral way of mixing stripes and dots.

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Pay attention to scale

When you’re ready to get down to some serious mixing, keep one thing in mind: scale. It may sound counterintuitive, but you want your patterns to be in different sizes. Sporting a shirt with fat polka dots? Then you’ll want your jacket to have micro-dots. When mixing stripes, plaids or other patterns, pay strict attention to the scale of the design. If you pair the same size patterns, you risk looking like you just got out of a clown car.

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Stick with neutral accents

Keep your wardrobe classy when mixing textiles by choosing classic neutral accessories. Belts and shoes in traditional colors and styles can make even the wildest looks seem grounded and can be the difference between tasteful and tasteless.

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Consider color

Advanced pattern mixers can go crazy with color (like a kid using MS Paint), but even the bravest choices require adherence to rules if they’re going to work. If you’re not a graphic designer, you might want to familiarize yourself with the color wheel and learn what color combinations are complementary. It’s science! Until you master the complexities, focus on one or two color combos. Eventually you’ll be such a mix master, they’ll stick you in the DJ booth.

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