Patterns are defined as discernible regularities in the natural world or in a manmade design. They are characterized by the fact that they repeat one or more elements in a predictable manner. Natural patterns are usually a lot more chaotic than manmade patterns, and often involve fractals.
In fashion, patterns are often used on clothes to make them deeper, more stylish and lavish. The fact that patterns are extremely mathematical makes them so easy to wear and so calming, even though they might be extremely charged, dynamic and bold.
If a piece of clothing has a certain design on it, but one that is not regular and repeated, such as a drawing or a painting, that design is called a “print”.
There are many types of patterns when it comes to men’s fashion; some are more modern and others are well-established classics. We are going to break down the most well-known classic patterns and see what makes them so special and even how you can wear them. There is no exact rule on how to wear patterns, you can wear them however you like, but, there is a rule when it comes to mixing patterns and prints.
The rule on mixing patterns and prints
Mixing patterns and prints is easy if you follow one basic rule: make sure that the two patterns you are mixing are different in terms of size. Thick lines, for example, should go with small lines, small polka dots, small anchors, small anything. If you choose to mix patterns of the same size, you might look an optical illusion. The exception to the rule is the following: You can use the same pattern twice, as long as there is a very big or a very small difference (for example if you wear a checked shirt with a tie that has the same checks, they should be either completely different in terms of colors or exactly the same should that work). It’s hard to list all the exceptions, you can experiment with patterns and see what you like and what you don’t. Patterns should not be vague: however you choose to wear them, make sure you do it boldly.
The same goes with mixing patterns and prints: big shapes on a print go with smaller patterns and vice versa, but this is a rule you can break if you make it work.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common classic patterns and see what they are all about:
The word “gingham” comes from the Malay genggang which means striped, and refers to a medium-weight balanced plain-woven fabric. It is made from dyed cotton or cotton-blend yarn. What you should know about gingham is that in terms of color, there is right or wrong side in case you were considering getting a custom-made shirt.
Gingham has been popular since the 1960s when it was worn by the so-called mods. Fred Perry and Ben Sherman are just some of the brands that use a lot of gingham in their collections today.
The gingham check can basically be worn with anything: it is one of the most common, versatile and flexible patterns. You can even wear it with another pattern, but make sure that if you do so, the two patterns aren’t of the same size. You can keep it simple, by wearing a gingham checked shirt with a sweater on top or you can use it as a statement piece and use a gingham jacket.
Also known as Glenurquhart check or Prince of Wales check, glen plaid is a woolen fabric characterized by a woven twill design composed of small and large checks. Glen plaid is generally made of black/grey and white, but sometimes it is made with more muted colors. Generally, there are two dark and two light stripes that alternate with four dark and four light stripes. This creates a crossing pattern of irregular checks. Glen plaid is not reserved for wool, as it is also used as a woven pattern for cotton shirts and other non-wool fabrics.
You can wear glen plaid pieces with solid color pieces or with other patterns. As you can see in the picture, you can even go really crazy with it!
The windowpane pattern is a very light, creative and open pattern and is named after the pattern of panes on a window. You can identify it as it is composed of large checks and was used in the past for hunting and other semi-casual events. Today, it has seen an increase in popularity since 2009 when Tom Ford brought it back into the mainstream and is used on business suits, casual suits and semi-formal suits.
The windowpane pattern has been redefined and can be used in many ways. Men’s fashion brand Gagliardi recently launched their amazing spring-summer 2014 collection in which they included the windowpane patterns several times. What we like about it is that they did not make it a reference to hunting, but they redefined it and made it their own by giving it an air of Mediterranean warmth.
The Gagliardi collection is a great example of how you can make a pattern your own.
Seersucker has nothing do with a “sucker”. It is a puckered, thin, all-cotton fabric, generally striped (but you will also find it in its checkered version). It is usually associated with spring and summer wear, as, because the way it is fabricated, it generally doesn’t “glue” to the skin, therefore it facilitates air circulation and heat dissipation. Due to its manufacturing process, it is not necessary to press your seersucker pieces, as they will look well in any conditions.
Speaking of its etymology, as we stated, the word is not related in any way to being a sucker. It originated in English from Hindustani, and comes from the words “kheer aur shakkar”, which means “rice pudding and sugar”. The connection between these three elements and the fabric probably comes from the resemble of its rough and smooth stripes to the fine texture of the milk and the rough texture of sugar.
Seersucker is used today for a very wide variety of products, including suits, shorts, shirts and much more.
Generally, seersucker comes in blue or white, but you will also find it in red and other colors. It is a produced in a large color palette, and usually the colored stripes alternate with puckered white stripes which are slightly wider than pin stripes.
Seersucker pieces look great in casual settings, especially if you want to add an elegant twist to a semi-formal outfit.
Pin stripes refers to the pattern composed of very thin stripes running in parallel. These can be of any color and on any type of fabric.
Pin stripes are generally associated more with menswear rather than women’s wear and the pinstriped suit is strongly associated with the conservative businessman look.
However, since 1907, pin stripes have also been used on baseball uniforms, which tie the pattern to sports and active living. Some basketball teams in the NBA also incorporate pin stripes in their uniforms, so this thin pattern is polyvalent and very versatile.
Chalk stripes are very similar to pin stripes and many guys who don’t look close enough can actually take one for the other. The difference between the two lies in the fact that chalk stripes are made not just from one thread, but from several threads which are used to create a stripe that resembles to a chalk stripe drawn by a tailor. This pattern looks more fragmented and resembles a rope. Chalk stripes are also wider than pin stripes.
The houndstooth pattern (also spelled hounds tooth or hound’s tooth) is duotone pattern. It is composed by broken checks or abstract four-pointed shapes. Generally, the houndstooth patterns, also known as dogstooth, dogtooth or dog’s tooth, comes in black and white, but you will also find it in more colorful versions.
This pattern’s name comes from the fact that it looks like the tear that would be the result of a dog’s bite. However, when it appeared in the 4th century in Scotland, it was created as a pattern that would signify peace. Maybe it was supposed to mean that the dog bit away all that was bad?
The houndstooth pattern also has a smaller version. This is called the puppytooth pattern.
The dogstooth is a very powerful pattern, it has a big impact and it is very versatile. Adding a piece that has a houndstooth pattern will make your overall look more aggressive and will give you a lot of presence. Many brands, from Paul Smith to J. Crew incorporate houndstooth in their designs.
As we said, the houndstooth is very versatile and it goes great with almost anything! Try it too and if you are not comfortable with it from the start, you can start small.
The nailhead pattern is a very subtle geometric pattern. It is characterized by a sold background and small “pinheads” or “nailheads” in the foreground. These are spaced at very small yet regular intervals and the resulting effect is that the background color seems to be overshadowing the nailhead pattern. To create an interesting visual result, you can wear this pattern with a shirt in the color of the nailheads, which will bring the nailheads to dominance.
This pattern is similar to the bridseye pattern, but the difference is that it does not share the signature center dots or the diagonal orientation of the birdseye pattern.
The nailhead pattern is very versatile and you can wear it in a lot of settings, but we would not recommend wearing it at a very formal event, not even at a semi-formal one.
The herringbone pattern is a v-shaped weaving pattern. It is found in several fabrics and at often times mistaken for the chevron pattern. The difference between the two is the break at reversal, which makes the herringbone look like a broken zigzag.
The herringbone is mostly used for suits and outerwear. It is a subtle and timeless pattern and most men consider it to be more appropriate for the cooler seasons.
To keep it classic, you can wear a small herringbone pattern, but if you wish to update it and give it a fresh, more modern look, you can wear a bigger one.
Worn on a tweed fabric, you will get a country-sporty look, as it is also associated with equestrian activities. This look will make you look both modest and traditional but sophisticated and sharp.
The herringbone pattern can be easily mixed with big prints and strong colors and even with animal prints.
Make sure you don’t mix it with another small pattern, as you will lose the polished look a carefully-worn herringbone pattern will add.
However you choose to wear patterns, make sure you keep your clothes as neat and fitted as possible, unless you are willingly breaking the rule.
To conclude, we can say that the classic patterns are complex and having sartorial knowledge about them can definitely improve the way you look and feel.
There are a lot of choices to be made and experimenting with clothes can always be both fun and educative. Learning how to put order in the outfits you create will make you have a more ordered perspective of the things you do as well. A better understanding of what you are wearing will make you more attentive to details in general and will make you a better man overall.
Fraquoh and Franchomme
P.S. Which one of the classic patterns do you like the most? If you have any comments or questions, you can leave them below!