How to Style Prints

Pile of printed shirts on top of a pair of black shoes

When choosing your top for the day, solids are an easy go-to. They match everything and you don’t really have to put much thought into it. However, your wardrobe begins to be monotonous and your style can seem boring. It’s time for a change. Stop the repetitive cycle by opening your closet, and mind, to new ideas. Veering into prints can be daunting and confusing. Where do you begin? There are so many options—one might argue too many—but once you know how to incorporate them, you’ll find that picking out an outfit can be a fun experience and not just a mindless task. Let’s explore some different patterns and how to style them. 


A man wearing a plaid blazer and a second man wearing a windowpane suit


We’ll start with something familiar. Plaid is the more commonly worn print because it’s generally more subtle and always produces a classic look, making them easy to match. They come in all sizes and categories of clothing. Grab a button-down with your favorite jeans or shorts for a day to night look. Better yet, wear a pair of plaid pants! Feeling more adventurous? Opt for a plaid suit instead of your typical black or navy. Keep these neutral since they are statement pieces. Dress the pants or suit up with a solid button-down or wear them casually with a t-shirt. Gingham and windowpane are close cousins and I included them here because they can be styled similarly. Gingham is a denser print—you may recognize it as a “picnic” pattern, so they are worn predominantly in the warmer months. The lines in windowpane are more sparse and understated. They are also utilized in suits and pants so if you ever get tired of plaid, this is a comfortable alternative. 


A man wearing a horizontal stripe shirt, blue jacket and cap

Stripes: Vertical vs Horizontal

Stripes are the second most common print. There are wide lines and thinner pinstripes and it really comes down to preference. Pinstripes can produce sophisticated looks whether they’re in the top, bottoms, or a suit. Neutral shades are best for both the print and whatever article of clothing you decide to pair them with. Some may say that vertical stripes are more flattering than horizontal, but it’s more a matter of how you style them. Horizontal stripes can be complementary to any body type if you have a dark layer on top, like a blazer or jacket. Thick black and white stripes can be mistaken for an old fashioned “jail” uniform, so you can avoid that by making sure the black lines are significantly larger than the white or just choosing a different color palette. 


A man outside in a burgundy polka dot button-down shirt

Polka Dot

Polka dots should only be used for tops, unlike plaids or stripes. I recommend wearing smaller prints rather than larger dots so you don’t run the risk of looking childish or clown-esque. White and black is a classic combo, but richer shades like navy, burgundy, and emerald produce more elegant looks. When you’re utilizing a neutral top, contrast it with a colorful bottom and vice versa. If you’re going to experiment with pattern mixing, polka dot is the one to do it with. The key is to use a microprint with a larger one and maintain dark shades. A burgundy polka dot top looks great with black and gray plaid pants. 


3 men wearing different geometric patterned button-downs


Geometric is a general term and can embody so many different patterns. Basically, it’s any sort of repeating object or shape. Due to the broad definition, you can have fun experimenting with the multitude of options you have. I recommend restricting it to tops. Since it’s already vivid, you don’t need to make it a statement piece in a jacket or pants form. Let the garment speak for itself and balance it with a neutral khaki, black, gray or blue bottom. Try an open button-down with a solid tee underneath to tone it down. You can also add a belt to further break it up. Whether the pattern is colorful or monochromatic, it brings out your personality and tells the world that you are fearless. 


A man in a football field wearing a black suit and floral button-down


Don’t disregard floral so quickly! I’ve heard it called everything in the book: flashy, feminine, metro. Throw all of your preconceived notions out the door. In reality, floral is whatever you make of it. It can absolutely be masculine—a denser print button-down worn with a black suit produces a sleek look that’s bound to make anyone swoon. Not to mention that wearing a softer pattern portrays confidence and self-assurance. It doesn’t need to be associated solely with Spring either, you can wear it whenever you want. Dark shades like black or burgundy look great in Winter and browns or yellows are perfect for fall. If you’re known for your bold style, you can use floral in a statement jacket, pants, or even boots.





Mauve Michelle
Stately stylist, writer, and designer based in Los Angeles, CA