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7 Prints and Patterns that Work as Neutrals for Mixing and Matching

by Tina Boomerina (Christina Gregoire)

If you’re ready to play with the prints and patterns in your closet, here are some tips about prints that can be used like neutrals. The only way to find out what works on your body is to actually try things on. Then, take a photo to make sure your mix and match outfit works the way you want it to… before wearing it out in the world.

Go to your closet (or wander around a consignment store) and try on prints from this list. Look for patterns in your favorite colors, patterns in complementary colors (opposite your favorite colors on the color wheel), or patterns in neutrals (various browns or monochromatic black and white). When a print has more than one color, try squinting to see how it reads. For example, a red and green plaid may look almost black when you stand back (or when you squint).

neutral prints for mix and match outfits

You can add wilder patterns later, but first you need to have a few of these staples:

1. Tone on Tone Prints: “Tone on tone” means the pattern is all one color, but it’s made up of lighter and darker versions of that one color. This is one of the easiest patterns to play with because it often looks like a solid and is often just like adding a bit of texture.

2. Small Repeating Geometric Patterns: Common geometrics used for mixing and matching are checks, dots, tiles, squares, stripes, and diamonds, but there are endless variations of geometric patterns. They run the gamut from the classic patterns found in old-school knit cardigans to fabulously wild digital prints.

3. Florals that Read Like Solids: Flowered patterns that look like neutrals run from small, ditsy florals to large florals where every color is the same shade (darkness) or tint (lightness). A pattern with very little contrast (like navy next to burgundy) will read more like a solid than a pattern with a lot of contrast (like navy next to ice pink).

how to mix and match plaids boomerinas.com

4. Tartan Plaids: I only have two plaid items in my closet and both of them are scarves, so I had to play around in Photoshop to see what went together. Well, I was surprised how easy it was to mix tartans. Look for colors with a similar theme, however keep in mind that reds are the most difficult color to match (in my opinion), so stand back or squint at plaids to see what the reds really look like together.

5. Animal Prints: Not all animal prints (like leopard or cheetah) read like neutrals, but that is true of any print or pattern. You have to look at each pattern on its own merits. For example, ask yourself these questions when determining if a leopard print works as a neutral. Is there a lot of contrast between the spots and the background? Are the spots giant and obvious? Are the spot’s edges hard or soft? Is there a lot of space between the spots? Every pattern on earth is like a fingerprint. It’s different from all other patterns. This is true for every type of pattern, not just leopard spots. And, even the same pattern will look different on velvet than it does on jersey.

how to mix and match prints patterns

6. Watercolor Prints: Watercolor patterns are usually pastel colors and have shapes that bleed together with no sharp edges. Any extremely pale pastel print will work the same way and will be just as easy to wear in mix and match outfits.

7. Tribal Patterns: Most geometric tribal patterns (Aztec, African, etc.) are easy to mix and match with other geometric patterns and florals. Just limit your colors until you gain confidence. If tribal patterns feel too harsh for your fashion style, try Ikat prints.

Pre Mixed Prints: A scarf, top, or dress made from a mixed-print fabric (diamonds with scrolls, florals with leopard, etc.) is a good way to get started in the print-on-print trend. Just pick one color from the item and look for a tone-on-tone or small-geo pattern in that color… or a similar color. The color doesn’t have to match, but it should have the same general level of brightness (or toned-down coloring).

Final Tips for Mix-and-Match Fashion:

  • I have found that most blues go with all other blues.
  • Some outfits look better with patterns that contrast with their neighboring pattern. Other outfits look better with patterns (and colors) that blend like an impressionist painting.
  • Florals with a black or white (or other) background color often look good when paired with other prints with the same background color.
  • Prints in different scales (like tiny florals with giant florals) are usually easy to mix and match.
  • Many tapestry prints go with almost everything.

It’s fun to mix and match your tops and bottoms… and purses and shoes… and scarves and raincoats. Anything with a print is fair game. The more you play with the clothes in your closet, the better you’ll get at this, so don’t be afraid to let your freak flag fly… even if it’s only at half-mast.

More Fashion Articles for Baby Boomer Women:

How to Mix and Match Prints Using Japanese Kimono Rules

Cruise Wear for Plus Sizes - Formal Nights

Wearable Spring Fashion Trends for 2014: 9 Ways to Add Color

Different Types of Tribal Print & Pattern Trends

Photo Credits: Prshots.com.

  • Main Photo: River  Island 2013.
  • Mouseover photos for more credits.

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Tina Boomerina (AKA Christina Gregoire) is a Baby Boomer born at the end of 1952. Her mission is to make the internet a kinder and gentler place for Baby Boomer women around the world. Tina's specialty is fashion for women over 50.

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  1. kay kerns

    How fun and playful makes our clothes less boring

    • Tina-Boomerina


      I love looking at mix and match outfits, but I still haven't perfected it in my own daily wardrobe yet... probably because I need a bigger inventory (a bigger wardrobe, more clothes, more patterned scarves, printed jeans, etc.). However, I DO experiment with mixing and matching on my own body... much to my husband's amusement.

      Some failures. Some successes. I love experimenting with clothing.

      I think mixing and matching is a little like designing a quilt... which I've never done... hey, I love seeing packets of quilting material in quilt stores and fabric stores.

      And, if I could sew, I would love to make lagenlook-style tops by mixing different prints and textures to make altered clothing. I can visualize what would look good, but I'm not good with three-dimensional projects. For example, I can draw and paint, but I can't sculpt or sew.

      I could probably design a house (by visualizing it), but I can't build a house (or put together a bed from Ikea). haha.

  2. ShanaLH

    Love you all's articles. Where can I find the large print leopard midi?

  3. ShanaLH

    Omg, thanks a lot!