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How to wear printed shirts this summer

How to wear printed shirts this summer

One of the best things about these longer, warmer days is the defrosting effect they have on your wardrobe. When it’s dark before you leave work, wearing anything too bright feels a bit jarring. But when the sun’s still in the sky long after you’ve got home, all kinds of colour and print come into play.

That’s especially apparent in this year’s biggest (and easiest to wear) trend – the printed shirt. A few years ago, those two words either meant the all-over floral prints so beloved of panel show comedians, or the novelty Hawaiians your office’s resident joker wore to the annual barbecue. But now, they’ve taken on a more artistic edge. As menswear has loosened up, and the lines between what you wear in the week and what you wear on the weekend have eroded, designers have crafted all manner of shirts that feel fun, but not funny.

The best thing about this trend is that, really, it’s not a trend at all. Rather, it marks a shift in attitude. It’s an encapsulation of the fact that clothes can be joyful and that our wardrobes can – and should – express something about the way we feel and how we approach the world. When you swap block colours for print, your look becomes more unique. More distinctive. More you.

And unlike most trends, which tend to welcome only the more adventurous dressers, this new take on printed shirts is so wide-ranging that there’s a way in for everyone. If the biggest style risk you tend to take is wearing a different shade of navy, then something like Folk’s Gabe shirt, with its barely-there print, is the perfect way to mix things up (a little bit). If, on the other hand, your wardrobe is already full of colour and pattern, then you’ve got everything from Reiss’s art deco florals to Edwin’s grown-up spin on a Hawaiian shirt to choose from.

As with any trend, there are approaches that work, and those that don’t. But printed shirts are so easy to make look good that, really, there are fewer tripwires than you might expect. The only thing you really need to think about is picking a print that makes you feel happy. Then, if you follow these guidelines from our expert stylists, your new shirt will quickly become the first thing you reach for when you want to put a smile on your face.

Think big

For years, printed shirts stuck to small patterns – tiny flowers, polka dots, narrow stripes. Now, though, it’s as though they’ve been put under a microscope. On florals, you can actually see the petals. Dots have expanded into large circles. And stripes have got thicker, further apart, even been joined by other geometric shapes. It all makes for shirts that feel more artistic – rather than hiding their designs until onlookers are up close, they catch the eye even from a distance.

Avoid novelty

This new breed of patterned shirts wants to make you smile, but not make you laugh. Tropical plants are good. Hula girls and ukuleles are not. Even the wildest spins on the style – Danish brand Soulland has one inspired by the film Airplane! – take an aesthetics-first approach to design. Yes, that shirt is covered in clouds and knotted jumbo jets. But it’s also got a muted, mature colour palette and will look great worn with a white tee and jeans.

Try a new collar

One of the biggest problems with printed shirts of the past was that the patterns were fun, but the shape was not. There’s something about a collar that buttons all the way up that always feels smart, as though it’s awaiting a tie. Enter the Cuban collar. Also known as a camp collar, or revere, it’s akin to a suit lapel, sitting flat against your chest and completely removing the need for neckwear of any kind. Old-school takes – think Saturday Night Fever’s Tony Manero – were oversized and deep cut, revealing more chest than is ever appropriate. The modern way is to keep the silhouette but slim it down, so you can wear them open over a tee or dress them up with a blazer.

Keep your shirt as the focus

As with any pattern, less is more. If you’re wearing a shirt covered in palm trees, avoid the urge to wear it with striped trousers or a checked jacket. The shirt should be the focal point of your outfit. What matters more is getting the palette right. The easiest way in is to go for a shirt that’s mostly neutrals, but with one accent – think green leaves with red petals – and then stick to earthy colours elsewhere, like stone chinos or washed-out denim.

Words: Tom Banham
Photography: Danny Lowe
Styling: Freddie Kemp