Full disclosure: I’m walking on risky territory with this post. Pattern mixing is an element of my own wardrobe that I rarely risk and when I do, I doubt myself the entire time. So we are taking this trip together.
If we are being honest, pattern mixing is an element of fashion that men actually probably have an advantage in. With the popularity of gingham and the reemergence of patterned suits and jackets, all paired with usually patterned ties, you guys are basically old hat at this now.
One basic rule I’ve heard is that if at a distance your pattern looks like a solid, then it acts like a solid. In the pictures below, at least one, if not more, of the patterns are faint or easily appear as a solid. This makes them easy to pair with anything you would usually put with the predominant color. Often these will be monochromatic patterns, using slightly different shade of the same color to make the pattern. These are also the types of patterns most commonly found in suits, so that they can be paired with basically anything. The other type of solid appearing pattern is featuring a really small design, like in Michael B. Jordan’s shirt and tie.
Another method of pattern mixing is picking a uniting color. This is where I struggle because I actually get uncomfortable if I’m matching. Neutrals work as an easy uniting hue without feeling too matchy. Coordinating colors work too. A basic way to tell if colors go is if they are on opposite sides of the color wheel, like orange and blue (shown both above and below). Here too though you need to be aware of color saturation. If your blues are too royal and your oranges too basketball-y, you are going to end up looking like a very dedicated Boise State fan. Tones with more grey will likely look more masculine and grown up.
One area where I would say you can definitely take a risk is outerwear. I have a navy plaid coat that I absolutely adore and for years I wore it with absolutely everything. Particularly with winter coats that you will ditch once you’re inside, have fun with it. The same goes for sweaters, where you will see just a bit of the shirt beneath, just make sure the colors go.
Also a safe zone is when your patterns a separated by a significant amount of unpatterned space. Just buy those polka dot socks, you will not regret them and they will not clash with your shirt or tie.
When mixing patterns also try to use different sized patterns. This will either make one seems like a solid from afar or at least provide enough solid space to not become an optical illusion/headache inducer.
Pattern mixing is definitely adventurous, but it doesn’t have to be. Just make sure you feel comfortable, check yourself out in the mirror and maybe get a second party’s approval. Baby steps are still steps. We don’t expect you to layer three different patterns well on the first try.