How To Wear Mixed Prints for Spring / Summer 2010


P3272377  We're seeing mixed prints everywhere this Spring:  Fashion mags, blogs, runways – you name it, it's there.   But it's a tricky, tricky trend.  While a haphazard approach to just throwing on mixed prints can work, this type of look is usually pulled together by a killer pair of heels and a statement bag.  So the overall look screams "I'm purposely not matching in an ironic way!!" instead of "I got dressed in the dark!"

Moms, however, rarely are rocking killer heels or a statement bag, so the quirky mixed trend look can quickly veer off into crazy-lady land. 

Additionally, while I find spreads in fashion magazines very inspiring, I often feel that that the clothes are either impractical for my daily life, or (especially in this case) the look can only be achieved with the exact carefully selected silk floral skirt and shirt shown in the spread.  In short:  beautiful, but not accessible.

So here's my attempt to take this trend in a very mom-friendly direction.  It's an easy and fun way to perk up your everyday basics.

Rules for Mixing Prints

I'm not typically very rule-based (rules-are-made-to-be-broken, right?), but in this case, keeping the following two rules in mind makes this pairing much easier to pull off:

    1. In general, you want to mix BIG prints with little, busier prints.  Consider the following:

  • Thick Stripes ==> Tiny Floral Prints
  • Skinny Stripes ==> Large Floral Prints
  • Tiny Floral Prints ==> Large Floral Prints

    2.  If your prints contain more than three colors, then they must have a color in common.

Using the the pic above as an example:  I'm wearing a navy & white striped top, and there's both navy and white in the floral scarf (along with a few other colors for additional interest).

Pictured above:  Trovata top from Barney's, Random scarf from Younkers (Midwest!!), Gap boyfriend jeans, Cardi Ugg boots, and J.Crew spring parka.

Striped Shirt + Floral Accessories

This is one of the easiest takes on the mixed print trend.  Most of us have some kind of striped shirt already in our closet (if you look back through 2009's Spring / Summer Moms Street Style, we featured some kind of striped shirt nearly every month).  Next, find some fun floral accessories. 

Let's start with my favorite pick:  a floral scarf.  You want to choose a floral scarf that has some of the same colors as your striped top. 

Here are a few fun pairings to get you started:

Scarf3 The first pairing is Old Navy's Striped Cinch-Hem Tank in purple, paired with their Floral Print Jersey Scarf in Cool.   This is a perfect example of the thick stripes + busy floral print combo.  And the color they share?  Yup.  Purple. 

Next, an example of skinny stripes + large florals.  The top is Old Navy's Ruffle-Strap Tie Belt Tank in green, and the scarf is the Beaded Painterly Scarf by Echo Designs.  The tiny stripes and large floral are perfectly balanced in this combo, and the whole thing is tied together with spring green.

My favorite way to wear the scarf is to tie the ends of a regular scarf together and wrap it around your neck twice, infinity style (a tip from our End-of-Winter Outfit Inspiration post).  Echo Designs make some amazing summer-weight floral scarves for under $50.

If you are less scarf-inclined than I, you can also choose to accessorize your stripes with floral flats, bag, or bangle bracelets, like the pairing below:

This is J.Crew's Vintage Bateau top, paired with a Liberty of London for Target Duffle.  Big blooms plus thin stripes, tied together by both gray and white.  This bag would make a great diaper bag – I love that it can be worn across the body.

Mixed Florals

This is harder to pull off than the stripe + floral combo, and even when done correctly, results in a quirkier look.  However, the same set of rules apply:  Mix big with little, and tie them together with a common color.

Also, in order to keep this mix looking intentional, I prefer it a bit dressier.  This is a perfect look for date night, out with the girls, or any other time you can pull off wearing a skirt.

Dress2 Skirt 

Gap's Mini Floral Dress and Henley Tank are made from a sophisticated print that mixes well with others.  I love this dress with a soft peach and gray floral cardigan, like the Sophia Cardigan from Forever21.  Keeping the color pallet muted keeps the whole look chic.  

For more color, I like Gap's floral tank paired with Old Navy's Floral Linen-Blend Whirly Skirt.  The soft gray of the skirt ties in with the darker gray tank, and both pieces have a bit of pink.  This outfit would look amazing with some serious shoes: something strappy, studded, gladiator, etc. to toughen the look up.

Bending The Rules

Part of the charm of mixing prints is achieving that careless, "I look good in anything" vibe.  It's offbeat, it's quirky.  So while the rules above help one execute the look successfully, there are times to bend them.  Here are a few examples:


Above is J.Crew's Vintage Bateau top, paired with Echo Design's Floral Printed Open Weave Scarf.  The top's stripes are a bit thin, and the scarf's print is a tad busy, the flowers are smallish.  So according to our formula, this should be a no-no.  But, the outfit works. Why?

The color scheme.  The entire look is made up of soft neutral colors, and, in fact, both colors in the striped shirt can be found in the scarf.  The net result is easy on the eyes, despite the fact that this combo isn't the usual large print + small print formula.

Call me crazy, but I love the above combo.  It doesn't quite match, but really, that's part of the charm. So why does this look work?  For two reasons:  first, the color intensities are a close match.  Pairing two hues of equal saturation will almost always look good together, no matter what the actual colors are.  Secondly, this skirt's floral print is basically two different shades of the same color, so it almost looks like a solid.

The tank is Old Navy's Smocked Print Top, and the skirt is J.Crew's Floral Antibes skirt.

Never, Never, Never

There's one easy way to veer straight off-course with this trend.  Voila:


This flower t-shirt is cute.  The skirt is cute.  Together, they look like something you can find at Gymboree.  Please resist the temptation to mix flower t-shirts like the one above from Old Navy with a floral print.  It might be easy, but it also looks way too matchy-matchy.  This outfit has lost the whole point of mixing prints: it's so, so cool.




  1. THANKS! Bought the cutest brown and black floral skirt from JCrew and had no idea what to wear it with. Enter my striped cardigan! Totally awesome–the rules are great.

  2. Whit – Am cracking up! Your article was perfect: My husband would easily be in the same boat. Our one saving grace is that boys clothes are still fairly boring. We do lots of black t-shirts and jeans. But I did do a quick primer for my husband, which he now applies to R’s closet as well. It started with rules like: “Just because a shirt and pants are both GRAY doesn’t mean they should be worn together.” LOL Engineers.

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