Many dressmakers are attracted to patterned fabrics – unsurprisingly as making garments in black or navy is not very exciting, even though most of us wear neutrals most of the time. But while we make clothes with gaudy fabrics, flamboyant prints, and loud colourful cloth, many of us have difficulty in integrating them into our wardrobes. (I have been meaning to write about this topic since 10 August 2014!)
The most obvious, and safest way to wear pattern is to use it in accessories eg a scarf, bag, or a tie. A little more adventurously I like a patterned blouse or shirt with a business suit. More daring is to wear a skirt, trousers, jacket or coat in an obviously patterned fabric, but most people will pair this with neutrals or at least one plain colour that matches the pattern.
Much more challenging is when we wear more than one pattern at a time – clashy-clashy. Which is why this is a rare look, certainly in London. I really enjoy seeing people, often the highly confident or the artistic, putting outfits together with more than one pattern. I look out for mixed patterns on the tube and always give the person a virtual high-five when they nail it. In fact wearing “clashing” outfits with many prints is almost a faux pas – implying you come from a different culture, or may even be socially or mentally inadequate. I really enjoy those accidental pairings that I photographed in Romania, and love naive choices of kids who are allowed to choose their own outfits. Yellow sweater, pink swirly skirt, frog wellies and a hat. Designers often pair toning patterns to good effect, and artistic types just know what works together.
The high street has some good patterned offerings at the moment, just asking to be combined artistically. These high street outfits (featured in the Evening Standard magazine) really appealed, despite the somewhat pyjamay vibe.
In the photo below (from 2014) I am wearing two patterns together – trousers with a scarf (on a camping holiday by the looks of it!). I may or may not have on a navy and white Breton striped T-shirt as well. I love these two textiles together as they both have a light navy background and pink flowers on them. The colours of the scarf are stronger and brighter than the trousers but they look nice together in the same way that a garden looks good together. Lorraine – a dear colleague from work always dresses beautifully, embracing colour, pattern and interesting jewellery. Although in her case the two fabrics are not as similar as the two I chose, the ditsy flowers on her dress and scarf are similarly orangey pink and green. Like me she has neutral cardigan/jacket which doesn’t fight with the pattern. Maeve, a dancer who works at The Place in Euston, is wearing three patterns which again harmonise nicely. The scale of the flowers on her dress and cardigan are similar and although they are not the same design exactly they look a bit like we have two colourways of the same fabric. For warmth and additional pattern she has added an ethnic woven wrap. This introduces stripes and another set of colours. Finally I have a photograph of Sue, another amazing leader from Notting Hill Housing. Sue has mixed two check garments – an olive and black blouse under an orange and black pinafore dress. Here by playing with scale and using two colours (with black) that harmonise nicely Sue has got a really up to the minute, classic but individual, work look. I love it.
I am not really sure if there are any rules on pattern matching. It takes confidence to do it, and artistic people just know what works, even if it doesn’t. Here are some rules that seem to work for me.
- I like to have one predominant colour – blue for me, and black for Sue.
- Another approach is to stick to one colour group. Sue is wearing deep-warm colours that work well for her. Mine are bright and cool. This helps ensure a harmonious look even when two or three patterns are used.
- Think about scale. Narrow and wide stripes can work well together; equally the same scale but different colours. Sue has larger checks on her dress and smaller ones on her blouse.
- Florals tend to work well with other florals. So do stripes. Or checks (eg three tartans). Or polka dots. But I really like florals with stripes, as does Maeve.
- If you are really confident use at least three patterns. For a less edgy look try two patterns and a neutral like Lorraine.
Do you use patterned fabrics or do you prefer plain cloth? Do you ever wear two or more patterns together? What works for you?