Questions From The Readers: On Wearing Patterns

Questions From The Readers: On Wearing Patterns



…So, as background for my real question, I have built a base of quality suits in conservative colors – navy and grey – and I am reviewing the fit of my shirts to bring those in line with the tailored look of my suits.  My real question now though is pattern.  How do you mix or combine patterns?  Suit, shirt, tie?  It’s all a little confusing and overwhelming to me.  I grew up thinking you didn’t mix patterns on suits and shirts and any sort of a pattern on a tie meant a plain white or blue shirt.  As a bigger guy (former college linebacker) I enjoy a simpler look sometimes but I would also enjoy the option of switching it up as well.  Any help or guidance you can give in this area would be much appreciated.


Now to answer your query, and it is a good one, one that plagues many men (many of whom get it wrong).  To be honest the subject is rather exhausting and complex.  There are many factors that can go into a proper pattern matching ensemble, but I think it can be slimmed down.  So for your case I will give you a few guidelines and a recommendation.

– The most important thing about patterns is that when patterns are worn together they be of different scales.  That is, do not wear a striped shirt and plaid jacket that have the same width in stripes.  Everything about a suit is about proportions (including patterns).
– The smaller a pattern the more formal it is.  As an example, a tie with small paisleys is more formal than one with large paisleys.  A gingham shirt with large checks is less formal than one of small checks etc…
– There is a hierarchy to the formality of patterns.  Pinstripe and vertical stripes being the most formal followed by checks and plaids (for suits and shirts).  So a bengal strip shirt is more formal than a gingham shirt which is more formal than a plaid shirt.  Also, I tend to think paisleys on ties and pocket squares fall between stripes and checks.  But some may disagree.
– Most clothing enthusiasts limit their ensembles to 3 patterns (or so seems to be the conventional line of thought at the moment).  I would advise slowly working them into your wardrobe via accessories and then via suits and jackets.  That way you can figure out what you like and most importantly what you look good in and what you are comfortable in.
– Also keep in mind that pin stripe suits should really only be reserved for business, not social affairs.  That is, if you are going from work to social that is fine.  But do not wear pinstripes just to go to a social event.
– Since you are a larger man, I would gravitate toward larger stripes and patterns, if you have a pinstripe suit and the stripes are really close together it could look too busy.  Same with small scale ginghams.
– Often it is best to avoid using the same pattern twice in a single outfit.  So don’t wear a houndstooth jacket with a houndstooth shirt.  But this applies mostly to more unique patterns, like houndstooth.  Stripes are much easier to work in.
– Don’t go too crazy, especially for business affairs.  An obnoxious paisley tie can turn some people off.  And for the love of god and country, please never ever ever wear one of those awful Burberry check ties.
– Do not wear any regimental stripe or club insignia ties unless you come from a proper position to do so (like you or direct family member is part of the club or regiment type of thing, as an example).
– Don’t underestimate the power of solids.  Sometimes they just look best.  And at a minimum they serve to ground an ensemble with patterns in it.

I hope this helps.  Please let me know if you have any follow up questions.  I recommend you check out Alan Flusser’s book Dressing The Man; he speaks a lot on this topic.  Or any of the other great menswear writers like Bruce Boyer, Bernhard Roetzel and Nicholas Antongiavanni.


Justin L Jeffers


  1. Follow up question to this – I was told by someone that under no circumstances – regardless of pattern size – should a striped shirt be worn with a spotted tie, but this seems really counter-intuitive to me. Thoughts?

    • Ed,
      I do not think I have heard that at any time, however, I wouldn’t be surprised if it is written somewhere by someone. I’m pretty damn partial to wearing a polka dot tie with a striped shirt, so you know where I stand on that one…

  2. I have a Taupe sport coat with a very subtle large windowpane pattern in it. I wear it over Navy Blue dress slacks. When I wear a tie with it, is it okay to wear a stripe tie with a solid color white or light blue shirt? My wife says no but I think it looks great because the pattern of the tie is much smaller and bolder than the jacket. In addition , the dress slacks and dress shirts are solid color.

    • Don,
      I don’t see why the striped tie would be an issue provided to colors mesh well with the blue/white shirt. Your point on pattern size is important, you want them to be of different scale. Hope this helps.