Coordinating patterns is not always intuitive, but the pay-off is great. Unfortunately, many men give up before they even try. They wear all solids and if they do wear a pattern (like a striped shirt or patterned tie), they wear solids every where else. Here are some guidelines to you pattern-challenged men out there.
1. Many men assume if they wear a patterned tie, they must wear a solid shirt. False!
2. Any shirt that has a single color pattern on it (ignoring the white background) such as a pinstripe, check, plaid, etc. can be considered for all intensive purposes a "solid" shirt. For example, the grey plaid shirt on the far right can be considered a "solid" white shirt. A blue and white pinstripe shirt can be considered a white shirt if the pinstripes are thin and spaced far apart. Conversely, consider it a "solid" blue shirt (see above) if the stripes are so close together the optical illusion is that it's a solid blue from a distance.
If you consider shirts like this a solid shirt then coordinating a patterned tie or jacket becomes much easier. However, unlike a true solid shirt you have a little more style and interest to your look!
3. You don't have to match the pattern of your tie to the pattern of your dress shirt. Contrast is recommended!
4. If you are wearing a vertical stripe shirt, it's nice to select a tie with a contrasting pattern (plaid, windowpane, paisley, floral, stylish geometric, dots, etc.). A striped tie is ok, but mix it up sometimes!
5. The key is to create contrast and interest. Too much matching leaves you with a dull look.
6. Balance is another key to success when coordinating patterns. If you have more than one bold pattern and you feel like a clown, it's because the patterns are competing against each other instead of coordinating with each other. (see the example at the very bottom of this article)
For example, I love the shirt and tie below (right), but not together. The large coin pattern on the tie is unbalanced with the thin stripe on the shirt. A better combination would be the orange geometric tie (below) with a smaller scale print that balances the narrow stripe better.
8. Start slow...pick a stripe shirt and coordinate it with a
contrasting pattern (a windowpane, glen plaid, check, paisley, dot-all
the rage now-or floral). This can be a tie, a jacket, trousers, a
scarf, what have you. Just go on and put the two together, make sure
the colors coordinate (they don't have to match! just look
good together) and then go out and let the compliments pour in. After
that, you will be able to recognize the value of coordinating multiple
patterns and will be able to "own" bolder combinations and find your
inner chemist! Mix away!
This photo, captured by The Sartorialist, is a perfect example for three reasons.
While I think this man would probably look stylish in a paper bag, I do feel he is demonstrating the competing pattern problem I previously mentioned (the suit is a bold choice, but it's the shirt that sends his look over the edge in my opinion).
However, he is beautifully demonstrating how to balance patterns with regards to scale. The check and geometric patterns on his tie, suit and dress shirt while competing, are nicely balanced with regards to scale (size).
Lastly, and most importantly, style isn't something you wear, it's something you own, and it comes from within. It's a confidence that some are born with, some are raised with and some learn by pushing their boundaries step by step until it comes naturally. Don't be afraid to push your comfort zone a bit and learn to own your style. It's one of my favorite parts of being a Trunk Club Expert...I get to see it happen everyday!
-Lisa Bruckner, Trunk Club Expert