Monday, September 07, 2015

Mixing Solids and Patterns, or 18 = 108 (or more...)

Ever since I started trying to identify my signature wardrobe items, and have worked with A Common Wardrobe, I've pondered the various ways in which printed or patterned garments can be incorporated into your wardrobe. I think for most of us, either non-solid pieces, or accent colors, are pretty important to give a sense of change and variety...

So I started with a wonderful 9-Piece Slot Machine Wardrobe in solid black. These pieces run the gamut from a tank top for warm weather to a cashmere turtleneck for (in my life) about 6 months of winter.  Just doing the math, these give you 27 3-piece outfits (3 x 3 x 3), plus 12 more 2-piece outfits. Some of the combinations might be a little unlikely - like a linen tank top with waxed cotton jeans - but the majority are wearable.

(these pieces are based on my wardrobe, but aren't exact matches - too many of my things are long gone from the retail world!)

short cardigan – J. Crew; open cardigan – J. Crew; boucle jacket – IRO;   
black linen tank – Eileen Fisher; black tee shirt – Eileen Fisher; black turtleneck
 – Donna Karan; black slouch pants – Eileen Fisher;  black skirted leggings – 
Eileen Fisher; black waxed cotton jeans – Eileen Fisher

But woman does not live by solids alone (well, most women), so I also have in my wardrobe a wide range of printed and patterned garments - none of these that I'm showing, but things that are similar, and which will work in a similar way with my solid core.

A really clever person, with a long attention span for shopping, would try to coordinate at least a few of these pieces. A 3-piece suit with matching tweed or plaid jacket, trousers and skirt would give you a lot of additional possibilities for wearing 2 printed pieces together. Or a blouse and skirt in the same fabric, that look like a dress when worn together... (I just found out that the plaid tee shirt HAS a matching skirt...) These are the kinds of attention to detail that make it possible to live with fewer, better quality, pieces of clothing.

Long cardigan – M Missoni; short cardigan – Comme des Garcons;  
 bomber jacket – Off-White; plaid tee – Vitorino Campos; long sleeve 
striped tee  – J. Crew; stars shirt – Equipment; tweed skirt – L.K. Bennett
tweed pants – Stella McCartney; geometric print pants – Etro

Here's where the fun starts! Take the original solid-colored Slot Machine, rip out one row of solid pieces and substitute in the prints and patterns. When I was talking about a signature look, I considered a solid black core or column, with accent pieces on top. That's exactly what this is:

So now, with the addition of 3 new pieces of clothing, you've added 27 more possible combinations to your teeny little 12-piece wardrobe.

Showing 27 different combinations is sort of gratuitous, but I wanted to convey visually just how MANY more options this really is. You wouldn't set out to dress like this for the next almost 4 weeks, but depending on the weather and the plans you have for the day, your are probably able to dress appropriately without too much trouble.

This is kind of "same song, different verse"; if you like the look of a black "suit", but want to change up the blouses and shirts, you've added another 27 possible combinations...

And if you prefer the visual interest to be on the bottom of your ensemble (maybe you're a bit top-heavy, or you like your jewelry/scarves to have a simple background), you can choose this option and add yet another 27 outfits!

While this could be mind-numbingly monochromatic for some people, it does show the number of possibilities inherent in 18 very carefully selected items. So I think, in order to liven the world up a bit, I'm going to revisit this exercise with some brighter garments!




  1. Good morning, we are travelling and I find myself first in commenting. This is very helpful and inspiring. Black and white are not my thing but the concept is great. It does demand careful planning and discipline but with a big payoff. I am looking forward to a combination of the warm fall variety, fingers crossed.
    Deb from Vancouver in Madrid

  2. It's very interesting to see how much variety can be achieved without adding any colour! The last option would suit me best, for both the reasons you mention

  3. Any chance of a black, denim, & purple (red purple not blue purple) combo? Everything from darkest black to pastel black(gray) & plum to orchid would be greatly appreciated.

  4. Monochromatic makes my heart sing! This type of planning and organization makes me want to dump my entire wardrobe and start over. Having a plan stops impulse buying which creates orphans and seldom used items.

    Janice, you are the best! More, more, please with lighter, warmer colors.

    A faithful fan,

  5. Janice,
    Thanks to your sharing your thought process, as well as your incredibly helpful template illustrations, I have learned to think in terms of either an inner column of a core neutral color or the suit look of a given core color, which , in my case, is a value of brown, as I am warm colored. For interest, I use 2-3 tops in my core brown and off-white in various patterns, and then often 3 accent colors in a solid with some textural or structural interest. Perhaps one patterned top incorporating one or more of my accent colors. I always like the balance of light and dark, warm and cool colors in the mix of the pieces. I am a visual learner, and your posts have become my daily morning addiction ! Your information just never gets old, even though you may have provided it in another previous post. I am a slow learner, so please continue to inform. The concepts are so simple and yet the results are so amazingly multiple !

    1. Shrebee has said just what I was thinking but has expressed it much, much better. Hear hear!

  6. I would love to use this in creating a work wardrobe. How easy it would be to get dressed each morning with just adding some accessories. I have been working on purging my wardrobe and making more thoughtful purchases. I would love to see this with a different neutral other than black, I am trying to move away from black. My problem is the patterned bottoms. I have brown tweed pants and love warm, fall colors, but what other patterns could you use, especially in the bottoms? I would love to see what you could come up with for this for a business casual wardrobe.

  7. This is my wardrobe, pretty much, except in navy and ivory. There's a lot of freedom in cutting down to two colors. Of course, I wear pattern WITH pattern ....

  8. I really like this visual of just how many options there are with these pieces. Makes it so obvious WHY and HOW it works.

    I wear my patterns on the bottom generally, because I have an ample chest and a lot going on hair-wise, so complex on top can easily read eccentric tourist, art-teacher, or bohemian (which are looks I love on others, but not for me). Solids on the top and pattern on the bottom balances my proportions visually. Few fashion bloggers consider this option at all - column dressing is wonderful on most women, but on me the suit or column tends to make me look like a giant hair/bosom/face blob balanced on a Popsicle stick. thanks for giving it equal time today. : )

    1. Yes, I'm the same - bigger on top. Pattern and colour in the top half can make me look very unbalanced (I like 'popsicle'!) ad agree that other style blogs don't often seem to consider this proportion. Thanks, Janice!

  9. Oh - and eager to see how colour plays out in this slot machine! Good idea.

  10. I could live in this particular wardrobe forever. Thank you!

  11. I am currently working on doing this with dark brown. It's actually working out quite well. I have some self sewn pieces as well as RTW. Wool tailored jacket, faux suede jacket, leather jacket, ponte Cardigan, jeans skirt, pencil skirt, leggings, trousers, turtle neck, scoop neck, wool sweater, wool trousers. It's maybe heavy on bottoms but light on tops. I mix in a brown Tweed suit and various print tops. Suede bag, short and tall leather boots. Works great in Autumn particularly.

  12. From Margie in Toronto - my first comment - just wanted to say thank you - all your hard work has been so helpful. I've lost a lot of weight in the past year so I am pretty much starting from scratch this Fall. I don't want to buy a huge number of items as I still have about another 30 pounds to lose so my size will change again.
    Following the two basics (black & grey), neutral - white - and then my 2 accent colours of pink and red, I've been able to pull together an office wardrobe that will get me through these next few transition months with far less pieces than I thought I would need.

    I've always been hesitant about prints - a few stripes was about it - although I did break out with a few polka dot tops this past summer - but I am trying to make a point of looking for at least a few print tops - and I have bought a pair of very subtle plaid pants so you are giving me a bit more confidence. I'll be a faithful reader from here on.

  13. Another great post Janice! So many outfits out of just 18 pieces! Inspiring indeed! Can't wait for the next installment!