How to Wear Stripes with Other Prints!

In my informal research on sewing with stripes, I’ve seen one concern pop up over & over again: people are nervous about how to style stripes. It’s easy enough to throw on a Breton stripe knit tee & a pair of jeans, but some people shy away from incorporating others kinds of stripes into other types of garments for fear of creating closet orphans.

Lucky for me, I have a five-year-old, & she fancies herself a bit of a style icon.


She told me recently, “Stripes go with everything, but they go especially well with other stripes.” That inspired me to create a full stripes-on-stripes outfit, & to also style the pieces with some other self-sewn garments in my closet, including other prints! Like a lot of sewing people, I gravitate toward prints when I am at the fabric store, but I also want to create a wardrobe full of me-mades that will get worn everyday. So I’ve had to nurture my inner preschooler to teach me how to be bold & stop falling back on my personal neutral: solid black from head to foot. There will be no solid black in this post!


I made McCall’s 7687 (view B, with the pleated sleeve detail) & the Lander shorts from True Bias Patterns. I chose a pink candy striped seersucker for the top, & heavy denim in a navy/gray-ish striped herringbone pattern for the shorts. & this leads to my first tip.


Stripe-mixing tip #1: Stripes can function as neutrals. I have three colors that I treat as neutrals in my wardrobe: black, gray, & pink. By choosing striped fabrics in my “neutral” colors, I’ve already taken one easy step into creating garments that can mix & match with the other items in my closet.

The scale of the stripes being used should also be considered. Both the stripe patterns I chose are pretty subtle. From afar, they could read as solids, or maybe solids with some texture.

Stripe-mixing tip #2: Consider scale!

Because my stripes are so narrow, they team nicely with medium- & large-scale prints, which means I can break out some of the really bold statement pieces I have sewn without having to fall back on solid black. The subtlety of the stripe design on the shorts pairs really nicely with the wild print on this Anderson blouse.


A more challenging pairing is the pink top worn with this asymmetrical skirt from the high summer 2017 issue of the Japanese pattern magazine “Mrs. Stylebook”. The much larger scale of the stripes on the skirt, & their asymmetrical placement, fight with the tinier stripes on the top, as well as the organic flow of the princess seams. Both garments are statement pieces in their own ways, & they fight for dominance.


Stripe-mixing tip #3: Color can make or break a pairing. Garments that may seem disharmonious or too disparate in silhouette, scale, texture, or print can be pulled together with like colors in fabric, embellishment, or accessories.

The color of the shorts, as well as their relatively tame design details, make them a little easier to pair. They can be worn with a simple print tee, like the unicorn print Blanc tee here, or combined with an otherwise dressier garment, like this Scroop Patterns Henrietta Maria top, for a pulled-together but casual warm weather outfit. The scale of the gingham on the Henrietta Maria top is an especially harmonious complement to the stripes on the shorts. The combination of prints makes both garments look more interesting than they would with a basic black corollary.

Stripe-mixing tip #4: Mix textures! Part of the reason the gingham/houndstooth stripe combo works so well is because of the competing textures of the garments. Pairing prints that are too similar in texture is a common mistake. My theory is that like textures create the expectation of like prints, & when the prints are different, they read as more mismatched & displeasing. Consider, for instance, the pink top with this heavily gathered pa’u skirt, drafted from directions in “Threads” magazine & sewn in a very lightweight qulting cotton (almost a lawn):


The pink ribbon detail on the skirt (color) & the bold, narrative border print (scale) make this look kind of work, but the similarity in texture is a bit of a problem, as is the competing design elements of pleated sleeve & gathered waistband. It’s a look that would probably benefit from a cardigan or some kind of jacket, to play down the sleeve & add more texture.


Conversely, the pink top here is teamed with heavyweight railroad striped Burnside Bibs from Sew House Seven. It works better than it really has any right to, given that it’s narrow vertical stripes on top of narrow vertical stripes. But the interplay of heavy denim & floaty seersucker create a harmony, which is heightened by the unexpectedly feminine sleeve worn with overalls.

Stripe-mixing tip #5: Don’t forget to think about silhouette & design elements! Part of what makes a classic Breton striped top so versatile is its simple silhouette. & part of what makes the pink top & shorts work together is the consideration given to silhouette. Look back at the outfits I’ve posted here & consider which combinations you feel work best, & why. Compare them to the less successful combinations. The shapes of the outfits probably have a lot to do with it–how organically the design lines work together, how much skin is showing & where. Design elements, like pleats, buttons, ruffles, etc, also play a big role. When the eye has too much to take in, when there is “too much design,” an outfit can feel like too much even if the prints & colors work well together. Design elements also play a huge role in whether an outfit is perceived as casual, dressed up, professional, etc.

I encourage everyone reading this to head over to their closet right now & take a hard look at what’s inside. Do you have striped/patterned garments that you feel don’t “go” with anything else? Have you ever thought about pairing that orphan top or skirt with a fellow print? Go ahead. Try it. Put aside any pre-conceived notions you may have about exclusively wearing prints with solids & experiment a little. Bring a closet orphan with you on your next trip to the fabric store & hold it up against prints in other scales, colors, & textures to discover what appeals to you. Dig through your haberdashery to see if you have any trims, ribbons, buttons, etc, that you can use to pull different garments together into full-fledged outfits. There’s no need for anyone to be afraid of stripes & other prints! & I guarantee, there is a stripe out there for everyone!

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