[Skip to Content]

Style Encore Style Blog

Print Mixing Basics

By Sally McGraw, alreadypretty.com

Just 10 years ago, the mere thought of wearing polka dots and plaid in the same outfit would've given any fashion editor heart palpitations. But now? This practice isn't just normal, it's ubiquitous. Everyone from celebs to it-girls to regular gals with an eye for style are piling on the prints, and looking fresh and fabulous as they do so.

But if you're new to this technique, it can be quite daunting. How do you mix prints without looking like you got dressed in the dark? What are the rules? Are there any foolproof formulas? Allow me to walk you through the basics.

Pick Prints With A Color In Common

The key to squeezing more than one print into an outfit is to make sure those prints have some visual commonality. Color is the easiest shortcut, and any two prints with a color in common will look at least somewhat related. To drive the point home, make the common color the background color for one of your prints: So a floral on a navy background paired with navy polka-dots on a white background.

Pick Prints Of Different Scales

Just as it's important that your prints have aspects in common, it's essential that they look somewhat different.* In most cases, varying print scale works beautifully since it helps the prints look distinct from one another. Think a huge paisley with pin-dots, or oversized houndstooth with a ditsy floral.

Always Include A Geometric

Most prints are either organic (florals, paisley, watercolors) or geometric (stripes, dots, plaid), and it's considerably harder to make multiple organic prints look harmonious together. Geometrics can read as neutral due to their regularity, which makes them ideal print mixing candidates. By all means experiment with multiple flowy organic prints if you're so inclined, but if you're just dipping your toes into print mixing start by always including a geometric.

Separate Prints With A Solid

Can't quite stomach the look of an ikat blazer with a windowpane-print top? Try creating some breathing room between your prints instead of piling them on top of each other. A printed scarf, solid top, and printed skirt is a perfect starting point. Or try a printed top, solid pants, and printed shoes. This is a subtle way to mix prints and looks less busy and overwhelming.

Foolproof Combo: Stripes And Florals

OK, "foolproof" might be a bit of an exaggeration but this pairing is pretty hard to mess up. You will want to pick a stripe and floral with a color in common and it'll work better if they're different in scale, but neither of those requirements is difficult to fulfill. And just about any combination of garments will look fab: Floral cardigan with striped dress, striped top with floral skirt, striped jacket with floral top and solid pants. Any way you mix them, stripes and florals look dynamite together.

Not sure this trend is for you, even worn subtly? By all means, take a pass. This look isn't for everyone, and if you're all about clean, classic minimalism there's no need to force it. But if you've been curious for a while but unsure how to make print mixing work, these tips should get you started!

* The exception to this rule is mixing two versions of the same print, so two stripes of the same width but in different colors. That combo looks fab if you can find congruent prints!