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Explore Bold New Ways to Mix Prints and Patterns in Outfits

Pro tips for adding a little swagger to your style game

(Left to right) Tracee Ellis Ross and Salma Hayek
(Left to right) Tracee Ellis Ross and Salma Hayek
Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images; James Devaney/GC Images

From simple stripes to fabulous florals to pretty polka dots, a good print and pattern can elevate an outfit. But if you’re looking to amp things up, it’s time to disrupt the status quo in your closet. We’re talking a little bit of power clashing to take you from basic to bold, with daring-yet-doable looks you can realistically pull off.

Whether you’re undergoing a fashion transformation or trying to break out of a style rut, mixing prints is a fun way to add some flair and individuality to your everyday ensembles. And though there are no hard and fast rules, it may take some trial and error in the beginning. “Mixing patterns is a skill and an art,” says Fausti, a fashion stylist based in New York City. “You can’t really teach it, but you can practice it.”

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Pro tip: Consider shopping for pieces before you need them. “Try to shop or at least browse regularly, and then spend one or two Saturdays a month just playing in your closet, because that’s what we do as stylists,” suggests Elsa Isaac, a fashion stylist in New York City, who’s worked with Katie Couric and Elizabeth Gilbert.

Tracee Ellis Ross attends the WIRED25 Summit 2019 - Day 1 at Commonwealth Club on November 8, 2019 in San Francisco, California.
Tracee Ellis Ross
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for WIRED

1. Start by playing it safe

“Polka dots, stripes and anything geometric is probably the safest way to start dipping your toe into pattern mixing,” Isaac says. An easy way to approach this is to pick out three different garments, two of which you would mix patterns together and one that’s a solid color to help tone it all down. For example, “I would probably do a black skirt or pant base with white, thin vertical stripes [to elongate your body]. And then, I would do a top with a white base and maybe black polka dots, and either a white blazer or a jean jacket over top,” she says. Make it even simpler by finding a blouse with a vibrant print and quieting it down with a classic, pinstriped suit in a darker hue like the one Tracee Ellis Ross, 49, is sporting.

Actress Yvette Nicole Brown attends The Diaspora Dialogues' 3rd Annual International Women Of Power Luncheon at Arbat Banquet Hall on March 7, 2020 in Burbank, California.
Yvette Nicole Brown
JC Olivera/Getty Images

2. Consider your body type

To make this style technique work for you, Isaac suggests looking for prints that are in scale with your body shape and size. For instance, if you’re thin and petite, larger prints can throw off the scale of your small frame; conversely, smaller prints can become a bit too busy on a taller, curvier body. It’s important to make sure the garments you’re putting together are tailored to your body — from top to bottom. “I’m what I call the ‘Jennifer Lopez shape.’ I have a booty, I have hips, but I have narrower shoulders, so I keep it really simple, tailored and dark on my bottom half, and then I play with a lot more volume and brighter colors up top,” Isaac explains.

Big Shot’s Yvette Nicole Brown, 51, has a look that illustrates the inverse color concept brilliantly. “She’s doing the dark color up top with the beautiful v-neckline … and having the smallest print be at her waist to draw the eye and cinch her waist in, with the maxi-length skirt [in a lighter color],” Isaac says.

Jennifer Lopez is seen at 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' on June 5, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.
Jennifer Lopez
RB/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

3. Look for contrast and commonality

Another trick to mastering a mix-and-match moment? Look for contradiction. “But there should [also] be something in common,” Isaac says. “When they’re telling two different stories, it becomes too noisy and doesn’t work.” Singer/actress Jennifer Lopez, 53, nails this concept by pairing houndstooth and checkered patterns in a similar color and slightly different scale. “The top has a pattern that’s tighter and smaller, which helps bring your eye to all the right places,” Fausti says.

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Salma Hayek is seen on January 8, 2020 in New York City.
Salma Hayek
Jose Perez/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Same goes for the getup worn by actress Salma Hayek, 56: “Each piece she has on is sharing the same colors and shapes of prints, which gives a cool optical illusion,” Fausti says.

Victoria Beckham is seen arriving at JFK Airport on May 31, 2015 in New York City.
Victoria Beckham
Alessio Botticelli/GC Images

4. Tinker with texture

The way designer/singer Victoria Beckham, 48, mixes texture and pattern is another avenue worth exploring. Because the top is textured and neutral, she’s able to offset the vibrancy of the red, as well as the fine print, Isaac says. “[It] also gives [the outfit] an element of interest with texture,” she adds. If that’s not enough, Isaac suggests doing away with the jacket and simply wearing the top and pants.

Tracee Ellis Ross, wearing CHANEL, attends CHANEL and Charles Finch Pre-Oscar Awards Dinner at Polo Lounge at The Beverly Hills Hotel on February 8, 2020 in Beverly Hills, California.
Tracee Ellis Ross
Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images

Another playful example: Ross’ subtle hint of texture with a satin, lace camisole plays down a bold pairing of houndstooth and plaid.

Sarah Jessica Parker is seen on September 29, 2020 in New York City, New York.
Sarah Jessica Parker
RCF/MEGA/GC Images

5. Play a little dress-up

If some of these looks seem impossible to pull off (unless you’re actress Sarah Jessica Parker, 57, of course), consider doing a test run first. Parker’s take on print mixing is where personal style comes into play. “She’s wearing a schoolgirl, plaid skirt with an animal-print blouse, and I think the animal-print mask kind of makes the outfit,” Isaac says. Fausti adds that the similar color palette and the “nice balance between dark and light” is what makes this quirky look work.

“I think everyone should ‘go for it’ in the process of practicing,” Isaac says. “Take [these] concepts and experiment because we all need a reference point. And if it doesn’t work, that’s totally fine. You have no idea how many pieces these ladies have tried on before they stepped out in the look you see.”