Mixing Textures and Patterns

mixing textures and patterns2017 Update: We still think this is great advice for mixing textures and patterns — but you may also want to check out our more recent discussion on fun but professional patterns and colors.

Reader E has a fabulous, fabulous question about our bet tips for mixing textures and patterns for a professional wardrobe…

With all of the new tweed, boucle, flannel/textured skirts in my fall closet thanks to early sales…can one wear a textured or patterned jacket on top? In other words, are the skirts treated as solids or patterns? I see so much mixing of patterns on the runways and in ads, but for the office? For Corporettes? If a solid jacket, could the jacket and the top/blouse/sweater underneath be an entirely different color or should the top portion be tonal? Such decisions.

What a great question, particularly since I’ve been wanting to talk about mixing patterns with patterns for a long time on Corporette and just haven’t had a chance. First, I think textures shouldn’t be thought of so much as a “pattern,” but thought of in terms of volume. For example — if you’re trying to pair a thick tweed skirt (let’s say, for now, in a solid color), your consideration for the top should probably be a much lighter knit — think a close-fitting silk sweater, or even a tucked-in or fitted blouse. Similarly, if you’re wearing a boucle sweater, you might want to pair it with a slender pant, or a pencil skirt. IMHO, it seems like it’s a very rare outfit where a voluminous top works with a voluminous bottom — or vice versa, where a close-fitting sweater truly looks great with a pencil skirt. (Pictured: LOVE this example from The Sartorialist!)

Now — can you mix patterns with patterns? For my $.02, this is something that every fashionista should aspire to. If you think about it, men do it all the time — how many pinstriped suits paired with printed ties do you see on a daily basis? For women it can be trickier, and I’ve kind of been compiling examples of times I thought it worked well –for example, The Sartorialist shot a woman (detail shot above) wearing a plaid jacket, a dotted sweater, and a ribbed sweater, and I thought overall it looked amazing.  Similarly, here’s another Sartorialist link to a woman wearing two graphic prints together.  Similarly, here’s a shot Perez Hilton posted of Victoria Beckham wearing a plaid with pinstripes…  While it can be tricky, I think these are some helpful guidelines…

  • Stay in the same color family.  For example, try pairing a black and gray houndstooth skirt with black tights with a vertical ribbing.
  • Have the second pattern be only a small component, proportionally, of your outfit — try layering a floral blouse beneath a solid-colored sweater vest, topped with a pinstriped blazer.
  • Balance the size of the prints — this comes back to volume.  Two huge prints, worn together, are going to be a dramatic look — if one print is bigger (a wider floral, or a large swoopy abstract) it may be better paired with a smaller, tighter pattern (a houndstooth, a windowpane, even some animal prints).
  • Ask yourself if it would work in a tie/suit combo for a man.  This works particularly well with preppier patterns — try pairing a patterned grosgrain belt with a skirt or dress in a suiting material.

Readers, have you tried mixing textures and prints — either textures with textures, or prints with prints?  What are your guidelines for success?

Social media pictures via Stencil.mixing textures and patterns -- stealing tips from menswear

Professional women like lawyers are often hesitant to start mixing patterns and textures for work outfits because it feels a bit too "fashiony" -- but men do it all the time with their ties, shirts, suits, and more! Some of our best tips for how to start mixing textures and patterns to kick your work outfits up a notch!


  1. I love mixing! What a sophisticated way to add pep to a professional wardrobe. In fact, today I am wearing a dark grey tweed dress with a fuscia silk blouse underneath…oh the compliments! With patterns I second the “stay in the same color family” rec. I find that small pinstripes and polka dots work really well together.

  2. Reader P. :

    I mix-and-match all the time, too! A sample outfit (caveat: I do work in the creative professions): red, quilted, patent leather flats; straight leg black pants; black tank with tiny ruffle; khaki, cotton blazer; teal and black polka-dotted scarf; minimal gold jewelry, i.e. thin gold bangles and small earrings.

    Tips? Start with bold scarves and accessories if you aren’t ready to mix-and-match. My scarf combos are a little out of this world ;). I’ve worn a red, paisley-print chiffon scarf with a printed, light brown, empire -waist dress with much aplomb.

  3. surrounded by lawyers :

    YES! I agree with the above comments. While we’re at it, stylin’ within work outfit constraints, let me encourage:

    –A watch AND a bracelet, on the same wrist! (e.g. today I’m wearing a thick, mens-style watchband with a very fine chain bracelet, both silver tone)
    –A necklace AND a scarf, positioned so you can see both!
    –A decorative ponytail holder AND decorative bobby pin, worn on the same day! (maybe they are the same color or play off each other in some way)
    –More than one necklace! (Either they are both highly understated, or one of them is just a chain and the other is stones)
    –More than one ring, either stacked on one finger or just on the same hand! (Obviously they are not all gaudy, but maybe one of them is.)

    I only ever do one of these things in a single day, and I probably wouldn’t mix patterns at the same time as doing any of the above either. It’s like either doing emphatic eye makeup OR a strong lip color, but not both.

    I will add that I am not, by any stretch, in a “creative” position. I just need to make myself little loopholes in the rules. :)

  4. What fabulous advice – both from Cat & fellow corporettes!
    Makes me want to break out my harris tweed :)

  5. In a similar mix-and-not-quite-match vein — I have been loving tights (especially in various shades of grey) with colored shoes (especially purple!).

    I disagree with Kat’s view that a close-fitting top can’t look great with a pencil skirt — I think this can look very sleek.

    • Agree, I love a nice pencil skirt with a light sweater or tucked-in blouse. Hope we’re not hopelessly unfashionable. : )

  6. I’m clearly massively fashion-challenged, as mixing e.g. checks and stripes just HURTS me. I can’t even handle it. There is no hope for me. :-(

    • surrounded by lawyers :

      Au contraire! You’re a minimalist. Super-sophisticated in its own right, and the look is sooo hot this season–I just can’t bring myself to try it. :)

  7. Parisienne :

    The British wear a tweed skirt or pants with a floral print top and it looks juist great. Worth a try.

    I wear black pin-stiped pants with a sheer floral shirt in black and pink where the flowers run in vertical stripesa. I like the look.

  8. Makeup Junkie :

    The Satorialist photos seem to work because in both cases, the mixed patters involve overcoats, which presumably will come off once you hit the office. I can’t imagine wearing a plaid blazer with a polka dot blouse to work.

  9. Albert Einstein :

    “Once you can accept the universe as matter expanding into nothing that is something, wearing stripes with plaid comes easy.”

  10. I recently uploaded a video called “Keep, Tweak, Delete”. It’s an opportunity for viewers to critique my, the image consultant’s, look. Listen, everyone could use an occasional image consult, including the image consultant.

    I was floored by the results. NOBODY liked my favorite look which I felt gallant display of pattern mixing. The look involved a structured white and red/pink “quiet” plaid jacket, with a bold red/pink, white and black pencil skirt. Think Chanel in terms of styling.

    Here’s what I’m going to assume: (1) That a lot of people are uncomfortable with mixing patterns and may not appreciate any type of pattern mixing. (I like this assumption.) (2) That I did a lousy job of capturing the details of the skit and jacket with my FlipCam. (Agree: I plan to re-shoot very soon.) (3) That I got it ALL wrong. (Maybe, but I’m standing by this look . )

work fashion blog press mentions