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How to match patterns

How to match patterns

Patterns add two things to a look – interest and complexity. Get patterns right and an entire outfit comes together. Get them wrong and you look like a magic eye picture. For fear of the latter, a lot of men avoid patterns at all, figuring that it’s better to stick to safe, block colours. But that means they’re missing out. “It’s a way of asserting your style and character,” says Thread stylist Luke McDonald. “When patterns are correctly matched and balanced you look brilliant, in a way you never can in neutrals.”

But the line between ‘correct’ and ‘football pundit’ can be a tricky one to negotiate. Fortunately, Luke has three tried-and-true tips, that draw on colour theory and rules of aesthetics, to make pairing your patterns a breeze. We’ve used ties, shirts and pocket squares to illustrate each, but they work equally well for matching anything in your wardrobe, from tees to knitwear.

Big goes with small

Big and small patterns

Photographed: T.M. Lewin tie (£29.95); T.M. Lewin pocket square (£25); Selected blazer (£130); T.M. Lewin striped shirt (£34.95)

“The key rule for pattern-matching is contrast. They should be complementary, but have a bit of distance in the details. One of the easiest ways to do that is to mix up the proportions. If you have a big or busy pattern on one item, choose something simple like a pin-dot or micro-paisley to contrast. Then just make sure the colours complement: a blue pattern in the tie could be echoed with a similar shade in the shirt, for example.”

Never match exactly

Contrasting patterns

Photographed: T.M. Lewin wool tie (£34.95); Hammond & Co pocket square (£20); Selected blazer (£130); Research Garments formal shirt (£49)

“The same pattern on multiple items looks like a uniform. It’s an especially easy mistake to make with ties and pocket squares since they often come in kits, but you look like you work for an airline. A simple fix is to swap one patterned piece for a complementary block colour. In this example, the orange in the pocket square is echoed in the tie, but not copied. They feel consistent, but still distinct.”

Avoid more than two patterns at once

Subtle patterns

Photographed: Paul Smith polka dot tie (£80); Reiss pocket square (£30); Selected blazer (£130); T.M. Lewin striped shirt (£34.95)

“Pattern works well in moderation. You want to frame it with more neutral tones to really show it off. After all, if everything is a feature, then nothing's a feature. Pick two contrasting patterns like a striped shirt and a polka dot tie, then add a neutral jacket and pocket square. White, navy and grey are your friends here. Bolder colours can be tricky as they have to match both patterns, but neutrals are like a blank canvas.”