Saturday, July 18, 2015

Prints, no Stripes, nor Flowers, nor Animal Prints

It can feel some days like there are no printed garments in the world that aren't striped, flowered, or animal printed - I know that I feel like I have to be careful not to inundate you all with tops from those categories. So today, I decided that I was going to commit my work day to find shirts, blouses and tee shirts that were printed, but that had a different take on the idea.

You do understand that I will not, EVER, try to convince you to wear any garment with something written on it? Good... I'm sick beyond belief of shirts with silly phrases written across one's bosom...

This might be a good way to add a little something to your current season wardrobe in order to get through the rest of the season, or conversely to find something to spice up the base wardrobe that already have lined up for the upcoming change of weather.

(And if you want to browse HUNDREDS of printed tops - get thee to House of Fraser, where they have tee shirts printed with postage stamps, or little stick figures swimming, or heaven knows what. And I can vouch for their service to the United States.)

For the newcomer to prints and patterns

Wearing only solid colors is easy, and tempting - I know that for years Eileen Fisher only MADE solid garments. So if you're new to the concept of wearing a printed item, something fairly mainstream like dots is a good place to start...

Black and white– Vero Moda; layered – Jane Norman; Sheer shirt – Jane Norman; ombre spot zip tunic – Mint Velvet

A low-key color scheme, in a geometric pattern, can feel comfortable too.

Half-moon top – Mint Velvet; fan print tunic – Biba; Abstract sleeveless – Warehouse; mandala print – Mint Velvet

For someone ready to take off the "print" training wheels

Stars! What a tremendously fun idea! I have never owned an Equipment shirt (their sleeves are MILES too long for me), but I know people who wear them and collect them with enthusiasm. I've got to admit that they make some really wonderful patterns...

Blue stars – Equipment; black & white stars – Equipment; Tank – Saint Laurent; multi-colored – Sonia Rykiel

Another thing to look for is a "nature" print that's not flowers. Butterflies and leaves are tremendously popular, but the dragonflies here are pretty nice, and that moon tee shirt is still easy to wear, in great colors. And peacock feathers are pretty genius!

Swallows print – Oasis; abstract bird print – Dickins & Jones; Butterfly sleeveless – Oasis; dragonflies – Sugarhill Boutique

Navy butterflies – Equipment; peacock feathers – Saint Laurent; Moons – Diane von Furstenberg; green butterflies - Equipment

For the expert print wearer

These tops will add a lot of zing to an outfit, but are still grounded in neutral colors, so they integrate easily into a well-established core wardrobe.

If you've always been intrigued by pattern mixing, but never been able to manage it with two printed garments, finding a top that includes more than 1 print is a great way to test that idea without a lot of risk.

Mixed print top – Desigual; navy and white – White Stuff; Border print sleeveless – Oasis; border print cap sleeve- Wallis

Heart prints! Nothing really outlandish about a heart, but I very seldom see anyone wearing anything at all like this. And man could I have fun with that Alexander McQueen tee shirt...

Ivory with blue – Dorothy Perkins; white with black shirt – Equipment; Ivory with coral – Dorothy Perkins; bright graphics – Alexander McQueen

If you look long and hard enough, you'll find that there are prints incorporating all kinds of inanimate objects. You have to be sure that you really LOVE the print, or you run the risk of wearing something that makes you madly uncomfortable. While I could easily wear any of these, I might be more uncomfortable wearing a top with a print of - fire hydrants? Some prints can be almost offensive, if you look closely - shop with care.

Sleeveless Paris print – Kitsune, faces print – Stella McCartney; Sailboats – Equipment; green apples – Peter Jenseon

You KNEW you'd see paisley here - I adore paisley. Amazing color combinations can be found in paisley garments; if you're looking for unusual colors pulled together into one fabric, this is a good place to start.

(wouldn't the top from Warehouse, at the top left, be a good way to bring flattering colors nearer your face while still wearing black trousers?)

Ombre-toned top – Warehouse; pink, black and white top – Oasis; green paisley – Oasis; placed pattern - Warehouse

And for the truly outgoing among us (raise my hand!) there are gorgeous geometric patterns around. Comme des Garcons is know for this kind of thing - although they're definitely "investment-grade" purchases.

But really, that blue top isn't terribly brash, is it?

Triangles blouse – Fausto Puglisi; circles tee – Comme des Garcons; Sheer blouse – Comme des Garcons; blue tunic – Diane von Furstenberg

I'm a big fan of texture, so I don't wear a lot of prints, beyond stripes. But I'm willing to keep an open mind, and an open closet door!

Do you wear prints? Any particular kinds?


p.s. - If you are looking for more color inspiration, check out the Vivienne Files Images and Color Schemes document in the Planning Documents section of the website.

p.p.s. Serious question: Do you want/need me to write anything about the Nordstrom Pre-Season sale? Some of you have mentioned it to me. I don't usually address it, because I don't really like to push you into purchases just because something's marked down. (and yes, I give up quite a bit of income by ignoring this sale). But if you feel that you'd like my guidance in finding gems among the masses of sale merchandise, I could certainly do that for you!


  1. As I am scrolling down the page I go ah! wow! magic! and then I look at the next set of garments and go ah! wow! magic! again. I am a flowers, paisley, mosaic and checks person and I'm good for butterflies and dots. My horizon's have been expanded. When I am planning a wardrobe ahead of time, I now always keep in mind your suggestion of having a clothes level in patterns - I have put this poorly - as it makes the planning easier. Grand post! Thanks Carol S

  2. I can happily walk past a lot of prints, and then suddenly one will leap out at me- but tatan/ plaid patterns and bold but not busy floral fabrics in strong colours have been some of my more recent purchases in the last few years. Jazz

  3. Please do write about Nordstroms!

  4. I do love a loud, patterned SKIRT! In fact, I have many. One type of pattern you did not address here is checks - I have a woven-check skirt that is made up of 4 different colors in both the warp and weft - so with all the combos of colors, well - you do the math! It's a simple ankle-length moderate A-line wrap made of raw silk, and it's one of my favorite things ever. I wear it with a fitted T-shirt in one of the colors.

    In the rest of my wardrobe, I do gravitate to simple, smallish patterns made up of my two core neutrals - navy and white. Stripes, florals, paisleys, I even have a cool vintage soft-geometric print... they're VERY easy to wear with a coordinating solid. I do love a particular navy-white striped t-shirt, worn with dark-wash jeans and a red cashmere sweater in the cool weather. This look:

  5. I'm not too fond of most prints, but paisley will get my love every time.

    Once in a blue moon, some quirky print will catch my eye, usually because of a color combination. (If it's milk chocolate brown and ballet pink, I cave Every. Single. Time.)

  6. I think a post on investment pieces that can be found at the Nordstrom sales would be nice. Or maybe a core of four post. For those of us who are building our wardrobe from scratch

  7. I have found some lovely print tunic tops by Joie. They are 100% silk and feel wonderful in all but the hottest weather. Dry clean only, though. I for one, am sick to death of the Nordstrom sale. Just over exposed, I guess.

  8. I would love your thoughts on the Nordstrom sale. I was looking at it last night.

  9. One of my most favorite prints lately: a student was wearing a crisp white blouse with dots. When she came up to talk to me after class, I saw that the dots were actually tiny black bowler hats. Sigh!

  10. I wear most of my prints on the bottom half as I am top heavy or patterned dresses. Paisley forever. I also really appreciate the block prints from India and other such countries. The African artists produce wonderful prints.
    I am very bored by he typical blog posts on Nordstrom BUT I know you would throw in a novella and provide us with an imaginative and inspiring way to go to Nordstrom. What about a woman who, for whatever creative reason you come up with, needs to start from scratch. Could she do that by only buying sale items from Nordstrom?

    Deb from Vancouver

  11. What fantastic resources here, thank you! I have plenty of stripes and dots, don't like floral or butterflies or hearts, and have been struggling to find anything else. Also, I'm a 16 up top, and that can be limiting. Boden has great prints too, some vintage, some fresh and modern. Now I'm going back to your post to happily click links!

  12. I'm obsessed with ikat prints this year--which seem to look a bit bohemian and on-trend at the same time.

  13. I only seem to wear prints in the summer. And I love the last set of graphic bold printed tops. I've been trapped in thinking that prints are too casual. You have a way of finding better clothing pieces that I do. Cost is usually a factor.

    If you are looking for a topic, may I suggest imitation fur? Theresa

    Nordstrom's was so boring this year. Shapes were predictable. My vote would be skip it.

    1. I agree, I find myself wearing more prints in the summer, maybe because they are more readily available. I find myself gravitating towards printed silk scarves in the fall and winter to give my solid winter clothes more value and color contrast. I am not so much "busty" but have a short decolltage' and don't want any added bulk from all the infinity and Pashmina scarves that are all the rage,

  14. I too am totally saturated with, and tired of, the Nordstrom Sale. Partly because I've seen it done to death elsewhere; partly because any sale is only as good as what happens to be in the branch one can access; partly because one can't access any branches of Nordstrom in Europe. A post on the sale that was about the sale would be boring. But one of your usual insightful and educational posts, complete with novella, that just happened to be populated with items from the Nordstrom Sale would be another matter - no different from those posts populated with designer labels well beyond at least my reach, but which contain useful guidance and principles more generally applicable. All I have to do is interpret those according to my own style, local suppy and personal budget.

  15. Browsing the House of Fraser site and in danger of a) running up huge bill; b) drooling over keyboard!

  16. By the way, just saw an older lady in the undergounrd wearing black soft wide-leg trousers with tiny white dots, white lace shell-style shortish (but not cropped) top over black crop-top style something (didnt look quite like a bra, more like a short bustier with straps, i that makes sense - obviously, visible, but not much and not ostentatious). It looked amazingly elegant - i have always avoided the lace tops unless lined, because of the issue of underpinnings, but this was totally suitable, and very appropriate for today's 36C plus weather. Oh, and black-and white sneakers, for comfort. I did something I never, ever do: took my courage in both hands and politely asked her if I could say how elegant and chic she looked. She appared to be surproised and very pleased - I think (hope) it may have made her day!

  17. I adore those star prints. They hit that fun-but-not-twee spot.

    1. Those caught my eye as well...maybe because of my telescope/astronomy obsession? ��

  18. Please say more about House of Fraser. You feature them often and the clothe slook so nice but I have been wary. Tell us about quality, sizing and customer service etc.

  19. I do own two printed tops that I wear for long distance travel only. They are a top-notch cotton with a wee bit of stretch and I can get off the plane looking none the worse for wear. Other than that, I always feel the prints are wearing me.

  20. I do own two printed tops that I wear for long distance travel only. They are a top-notch cotton with a wee bit of stretch and I can get off the plane looking none the worse for wear. Other than that, I always feel the prints are wearing me.

  21. Janice,

    Lovely selection. Lately I've discovered the revived Marimekko. Perfect for the no longer young (and no longer skinny) who want to bring a bit of colour and freshness to their wardrobe.


  22. Inspiring! -- I cherish a handful of Uniqlo silk blouses in prints by Celia Birtwell from a few years ago; people looove them every wearing. Shapes are safe, but the prints make them special.
    Please do share your thoughts on Nordstrom sale. I resisted all clothing but ordered some pretty bath towels; parents are visiting next month!

  23. Would you please add the links for the last 4 tops? I love the DVF but can't find it. A very inspiring post indeed as I tend toward solids with fabulous scarves or jewelry. You stretch me Janice!

  24. LL Bean could name a line of solid-color tshirts after me. Thank you for a new perspective!

  25. I own the 'stick figure swimming' top you mentioned above - bought it from House of Fraser delivery to the US - love it! Perfect for the hottest weather, and modest enough to wear anywhere. I wear it with navy Ralph Lauren silk joggers and Sarah Kosta Mei earrings or with pieces you made a travel pack of in your June 2nd post:
    How to Pack Light: Navy and Beige "Whatever's Clean 13" for Uncertain Weather

    Never fail to get compliments, which is a bonus, since all I was aiming for was fun, cool, and comfortable. Using a few super casual one-season pieces with quality neutrals and 'better' jewelry is a formula that is really working for me this summer. Thank you so much for all your lessons.

    Personally, I'm a big fan of printed tops with complex scarves or cardigans/jackets, and especially love how Tory Burch is mixing patterns these days. Enjoyed this post very much!
    Sue G

  26. I would like your curated view of the Nordstrom sale. I shop Nordstrom because I find items that work for me and there seem to be fewer returns and mistakes.
    I enjoy your blog, particularly the travel, packing, art and this current post that helps us see different possibilities. Thank you for all the time and energy that you devote to your readers.
    Enjoy! marywyatt

  27. My wardrobe is mostly solid colours, with a few stripes and polka dots. But the swallows and stars and moons have me going, "oooh." It seems that the popularity of prints is resurging. I find that it's important to scale the print to one's body size and personality. I find that prints can easily overwhelm a small frame and although I admire bright, large prints on others, I feel uncomfortable when I wear them.

  28. I do like prints but unless they are classic in nature, check, stripe, plaid, dots, then they are too memorable and date too quickly. I have straighter lines on my upper body, shoulders and face but am curvy below the waist. I prefer geometrics on tops with a solid color on the bottom, I am attracted to scrolls, paisleys and lace on the bottom. I've read, and noticed too, that florals seem to date very quickly so I am steering myself away from them.

  29. I would appreciate ANYone but me digging thru Nordstrom's pre-sale for me :-) xoxoxox