Making Sense of Patterns

Why do people wear clothes that have patterns?

For visual interest, modification of apparent body dimensions, and psychological variety, everyone should have clothing with patterns.

If only selecting patterns were easy. Misusing patterns can damage an image. Some simply are not appropriate. Others violate the rule against letting the clothes wear the man.

Because options in menswear are increasing and with it so are the chances for confusion and poor choices, you could use an overview of patterns. Let's start with types of patterns.


- can slim and lengthen if vertical and widen if horizontal - but broader stripes can negate such effects

- often too attention-getting (if they're looking at your legs, you're doing something wrong) leave the chest stripe for casual wear


- usually very safe

- seldom liven up a casual outfit


- best left to shirts and sport jackets


- mainly found on ties and socks


- found in shirts, sweaters, and in some shoes for casual wear


- florals fine in shirts, but only when done subtly, like in many Tommy Bahama items

- paisley designs found on ties, socks, and some shirts

- geometric patterns include argyle, a diamond-shaped men's classic

- abstract patterns

FABRIC-GENERATED PATTERNS (pique, herringbone, etc.)

- good for all situations and types of clothing

- herringbone and narrow-wale corduroy can have a vertical-stripe effect

- twill nicely and subtly broadens in an upward direction

Scale is very important. Use a small-to-medium size pattern for a small or medium frame and a medium size for a large frame. (Large-scale patterns rarely work for adults.)

In the interest of simplicity to those of you who are not style experts, we recommend against mixing types of patterns. If you want to try anyway, remember that the colors in the patterns should be compatible and very similar patterns throughout makes a clown of a man.


* Striped and plaid shirts

* At least one shirt with a check pattern

* At least one shirt with a printed pattern

* Striped sweaters

* A subtly patterned sport jacket, such as a tweed jacket

* A subtly patterned suit, if one regularly wears a suit

* Striped dress shirts, if one regularly wears a suit

* Striped and paisley ties

* Striped and argyle socks


* Patterns on just the shoulders (similar to two-tone athletic jerseys) make the upper torso appear larger.

* Patterns on the collars can add authoritative contrast.

* Larger vertical spacing between patterns can increase apparent height.

* Be careful about where the motif, dominant part of the pattern, falls on the body. For example, you don't want the biggest, brightest geometric shape on your stomach.

* Angular shapes are more masculine than rounded ones.

* Patterns can look very different up close than from farther away.

* Men should not wear slogan or cartoon patterns.

* Patterns should not contain photographic or otherwise realistic-looking figures, including those of living creatures or parts thereof.

Some materials adapted, with permission, from Conselle's Pattern guidebook.

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