Why animal prints are summer's polka dots
Take a walk on the wild(er) side this season
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Summer and prints are inseparable, and for good reason. Unlike the artist formerly known as, prints don’t always have to be ostentatious. But precisely like Prince, their beauty is in their range. They encompass everything from simple, subtle stripes to all-over tie dye and everything in between, which means that no matter where you sit on the minimalist-maximalist spectrum, there’s a way for you to wear prints this summer.
Summer is, after all, the perfect time for prints. When it’s chilly, layering is your go-to technique for making outfits look interesting. Come the sunshine, your options there evaporate. Prints do the same job, but without the weight. They’re the eye-catching point of difference (or, as eye-catching as you want them to be), the thing that makes your shorts-and-tee outfit different to every other shorts-and-tee outfit.
They’re also much easier to wear than other difference-makers, like colour or fit or silhouette. Prints make an outfit, but they also won’t overwhelm an outfit. You wear prints – they don’t wear you. Which isn’t always the case with really bright shades or exaggerated shapes. That doesn’t mean they require no thought, or that there aren’t more challenging ways to trial them (see the expert moves at the end for evidence of that). But you’ll also find that with risk comes sartorial reward. Prints take a bit of nuance, so their impact is more refined than the kind you get with, say, a neon t-shirt. Here’s how to master them.
When looking for ways to liven up a suit, there’s always a temptation to go colourful. Like, really colourful. Which is understandable – a suit, being such a static, classic thing, doesn’t offer that many avenues for experimentation. But there’s a reason for that, the main one being that there are very few instances when a lime green suit is the wise choice.
Print, however, always is. And by print, we don’t mean anything OTT like florals or Mickey Mouse heads. Remember that, unlike most printed pieces, you’ll be wearing this one head-to-toe. Something as simple as a grey-on-grey check speaks volumes, and more pleasantly than anything genuinely loud. Shunning colour also means you’ve got more room to play with the other things in your outfit. Here, a polka dot print connects the shirt to the pattern in the suit jacket, but you could try the same trick with a tie or pocket square. Just don’t add them all at once. With prints, two’s a party. Three’s a crowd.
Stripes are the entry-level print. They’re as easy to wear as block colours and universally flattering (you can ignore that old myth about them making you look wider). They also come in every shade and configuration under the sun, which is why summer is the perfect time to embrace the ones that look particularly good under the sun. Think bright reds or nautical-inspired navys.
Their ease also makes them the perfect way to master a more advanced move – pattern-clashing. Unlike more complex prints, stripes generally offer only two options. You can wear a vertical-striped shirt over a vertical-striped tee and look absolutely fine. But switch one to horizontals and you create a pleasing tension in your outfit. There’s a sense of discord as one item responds to the other. This is a good thing.
That’s not to say that you can throw any set of stripes together and they’ll just work. To make sure they’re in dialogue, rather than engaged in the sartorial equivalent of a screaming match across a crowded bar, stick to two colours and make sure at least one appears in each striped item (here, Pranav’s gone for blue in both, while Ben doubles-down in navy and white). The effect you’ll create, as they have, is one of unity through contrast. No wonder they look so pleased with themselves.
Once you’ve nailed stripes versus stripes, you can graduate to trickier ways of mixing things up. Clashing apparently unrelated prints might seem like a no-no, but this style move is built around all the same rules that work for stripes – keep your colours simple and make sure there’s something to connect the two items. It’s also vital that both printed pieces are either quite simple, or that one’s much busier than the other. If you try to pair a wild shirt with eye-popping trousers, no one will know wear to look. Apart from in the other direction.
Though this combo might look complicated, it’s simpler than it appears. There are only three colours, all of them complementary, and the white and blue appear in both the shirt and trousers. Pranav’s also made the smart decision to keep the brighter shade away from his face – people tend to look at your top-half first, so punchy colours up high can dominate the rest of your look.
It’s counterintuitive, but for some reason wearing one pattern from your ankles to your neck is tougher than throwing together two that contrast. Perhaps it’s because, when there’s as much of one pattern as there is of you, the man inside can disappear. All people see is the print, not the person who’s actually wearing it.
But that’s no reason to avoid looks that are this coordinated. It just takes a bit of a rethink. Ben’s shirt-and-trousers combo is, at heart, just an off-duty suit, albeit one with an ikat print inspired by traditional Japanese dyeing techniques. Pranav’s, admittedly, is trickier – a short suit is never as easy to wear as a suit-suit – and the print he’s picked is rather more attention-grabbing (it's an artwork by Bristol’s Goss Brothers that depicts the moment that Greek hero Orpheus meets his bride Eurydice. Expect to have to explain that).
However, if you can muster the confidence, then actually wearing a single print head-to-toe is incredibly simple. Everything’s guaranteed to match, so long as you avoid the urge to throw on some acid-tinged trainers or a tartan cap. You’ll also notice that, in both looks, the shirt is layered over a plain white tee. This means that, if you do decide that perhaps the all-over thing is a bit much, you can slip off the shirt and bring the whole look down a few notches. Proof that pattern can be more flexible than you might think.
Words: Tom Banham
Photography: Lola & Pani
Styling: Millie Rich
Styling assistant: Izzy Harvey
From subtle stripes to eye-catching florals, summer’s best shirts take your look beyond block colours