For the most part, since early childhood I suppose, most of us haven’t particularly cared for rules. Rules are confining. Those who are inclined toward creativity and proclaiming their originality are especially prone to finding ways to bend the rules to their own will. There’s an old saying: You first have to know the rules before you can break the rules. Dalai Lama XIV is quoted as saying, “Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.”
With respect to wearing pattern (and color), there are rules that neither you nor I invented that, when given due respect, will allow any one of us to appear to others in a way that is both agreeable and very individual. The fact of the matter is that the eye seeks visual harmony and is distracted or annoyed by visual dissonance or incongruity. That is one of those rules or laws of nature.
When what you are wearing is harmonious in color and pattern, the people who see you better enjoy the experience and you enjoy a better reception. It is in knowing the rules, including the major-minor rules, and then effectively following, breaking, or bending them where a clear path to individual style is made visible.
Not to be confused with monotony, harmony is a pleasing or congruent arrangement of parts. It’s all about how you put it together. I’ve heard it said by others and I’ve said it myself when seeing someone who is either a particularly well proportioned human being or is simply dressed in a way that is especially well done, “She (or he) is put together!”
Harmony – being “put together” – can be achieved in a nearly endless variety of combinations of pattern, color, and texture. In this forum, we will deal mostly with the mixing of patterns, and that in the simplest of terms. Pattern, or form – whether stripes, checks, plaids, paisleys, or geometrics – is based on lines, both straight and curved, and how they are configured or relate to one another. The successful wearing and mixing of patterns – achieving visual compatibility instead of optical vibration – involves several factors, and especially these:
- Scale (proportion)
- Intensity (contrast)
- Type of pattern (stripe, check, etc.)
Rules to Guide You:
1. When combining two like patterns – two stripes for example – vary the scale of each. If the jacket pattern is a large plaid, then combine it with a shirt (or contrasting vest) exhibiting checks that are closer together. If your shirt has narrow stripes, then you can wear it with a jacket that has wider stripes. This rule holds true, even if another item in the total look is not solid, but of a different pattern.
2. When combining two different patterns – a stripe and a check – they will better harmonize if similar in scale. The exception to this rule – and aren’t there always exceptions to every rule? – is the combing two smaller or tight patterns. If at least one or both are muted or of subtle intensity, then you will probably not give others a headache when they look at you. Otherwise, if one pattern is small/tight, then it is likely best combined with another pattern that is larger in dimension.
3. Mixing three patterns – a herringbone jacket, check shirt, and stripe tie – is especially in harmony when all three patterns are similar in scale and intensity. Even when all of the pieces are from the same color family, the use of multiple patterns creates substantial visual interest. If you want to create more “pop” – a desire that I frequently hear – then consider choosing a tie of bolder intensity than the suit and shirt or varying the dimension of one garment in the ensemble.
Not forgetting the simple elegance of suits, jackets, shirts, and ties of solid color made from beautiful cloths, the rules above provide a basic framework for successfully wearing patterns. The point is to use pattern to your every advantage to announce your individuality and to communicate clearly who you are and what you’re all about.
Mixing it up with style and substance,