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Four ways to wear a printed shirt

Four ways to wear a printed shirt

There are few summer style question to which the answer is not: “A printed shirt”. Need a way to seasonalise your nine-to-five? Wear a printed shirt. Looking for something to bring life to a barbecue? Wear a printed shirt. Looking to outshine a groom? There’s a printed shirt that’ll do it (although there’s also wiser versions that won’t).

In fact, the best printed shirts don’t subscribe to the notice-me school of style. For every hula girl shirt out there, there's a long-sleeved button-up in subtle polka dots that lifts your look in subtler ways. The key is finding one that fits in with your style, and your wardrobe.

"The great thing about a printed shirt is that it can easily transform a look from mediocre to interesting," says Thread stylist Luke McDonald. "It also allows you to have fun with colour and break up your neutrals."

One of summer’s challenges is that warm-weather clothing tends to be quite 'flat'. A cotton tee and cotton chinos offer little in the way of texture, which means that even though you keep cool, you’re not, you know, cool. Add pattern and you create distinctiveness. “Summer is a great time to try out print because it's a season where brighter and more expressive clothing is expected,” says Luke. “It's an easy way to make a proper ‘look’ out of only a few items."

But the flipside of flat is ‘funky’ – a pitfall to steered equally clear of. "Avoid anything novelty," says Luke. "You want a pattern to be interesting, but not a punchline. If you’re unsure, stick to things like florals, or geometric patterns. They’re really accessible and hard to get wrong.”

Finally, think about your existing wardrobe before deciding whether you’re a polka dot or birds-of-paradise kind of guy. “Think about what you normally wear and which colour will complement it,” says Luke. “If you wear a lot of blue, then a pale pink or yellow will really pop. If grey is your shade, you might want some red or burgundy. You want it to be a versatile addition to your wardrobe."

That versatility means your new patterned shirt will work beyond the luau. Below, Luke explores your options – from mild to wild – so you’re covered for any occasion. Slip one on and watch your style game jump from rookie to pro.

The gateway shirt

Photographed: Suit dot print shirt (£54)Gant brown chinos (£67.50)Clarks desert boots (£95)

"For the guy who does smart-casual but wants a bit more expressiveness, small polka dots on an otherwise low-key Oxford are a nice detail that doesn't scream 'look at me'," says Luke. "It's a twist on a classic, and because it's a micro-print, the subtle detail will only be obvious up close."

How to wear it: Anywhere you would a blue button-down. It will look as good with a blazer as it does unbuttoned over a tee.

The up-close pattern

Photographed: Folk patterned wave shirt (£145)MVP white t-shirt (£12)MVP navy chinos (£30)

“If you’re a minimal guy who still wants something a bit interesting, this shirt is a great shout,” says Luke. “It's not too conservative, but because it's tonal blue it's super easy to wear with any outfit. Keep it casual though, as the cut and pattern are a little too directional to read as formal.”

How to wear it: From a distance, this shirt looks like block colour, but up-close, the pattern reveals itself. So don’t cover it up. Try with jeans or chinos to keep the tonal thing going.

The quiet statement

Photographed: AllSaints Hawaiian shirt (£85)Norse Projects off-white tee (£45)Paul Smith slate blue chinos (£125)Novesta olive trainers (£49)Timex Watch (£80)

“This is for the guy who doesn't mind showing off a little,” says Luke. “While it's a large floral print and pretty distinctive, it's grounded in earth tones so it's not that hard to pair with neutrals you would already have in your wardrobe.”

How to wear it: With something this distinctive, keep the shirt to the fore. “It references the classic, 1950s tropical shirts with its camp collar and boxy fit. So stick to that era with a plain t-shirt and chinos.”

The loud and proud

Photographed: Sunspel Cotton-Linen harrington (£295); AllSaints Tsuru Hawaiian shirt (£85)Boden blue chino shorts (£45)

“For the guy who wants to make a big statement, a bold design screams summer,” says Luke. “Go for something grounded in a classic, illustration style, which stops it being obnoxious.”

How to wear it: This is the kind of shirt people will comment on. “It's fun but it still looks sophisticated. You’ll want to build your look around this shirt, so it should be the one thing anchoring your outfit. To do that, pair it with neutrals like sand, navy and light blue.” If you do feel the need to tone things down, a jacket means less shirt on show.


Words: Tess Harold