Density of Pattern


Before you decide anything in the morning about what you’re going to wear, consider density of pattern.

Ok, maybe select your suit first. But then, before reaching for the shirt, look at the pattern of your suit and consider it. Is there a pattern? What is its density? How might that density harmonise with, clash with or simply stay a good distance away from other patterns in your outfit?

Ok (another backtrack) maybe you wouldn’t obsess quite like this. But you should think about how a suit, shirt and tie relate in terms of density of pattern before you consider anything else – colour, knot vs. collar size, blade width vs. lapel width.

Having patterns that are too similar next to each other is the biggest way men go wrong with their morning dressing.

It’s simple. If patterns are next to each other, make sure they are of different sizes. If you are going to wear a striped suit, make sure you don’t pick a striped shirt. Or if you do, make sure the stripes are at opposite ends of the size spectrum – a wide chalk striped suit, say, with a fine hairline striped shirt.

It would be safest to go for a plain tie at this stage, but if you insist on going for stripes again, make sure they are wide also, to differentiate them from the shirt – a club stripe say.

This still isn’t ideal, as the stripes of tie and suit will still be next to each other where the jacket closes. This could be ameliorated by trying to find a third, intermediate width for one item, or (better) by making sure one stripe is rather pale (probably the suit).

Right. Now, one way to differ patterns further is to swap stripes for spots. Pin stripes that are, for example, a half-inch apart, could work fine with spots that are the same distance apart. Obviously, the more different they are in size the safer.

Other patterns provide similar relief – a large paisley, for example, against a stripe (probably tie on shirt). Or checks. Ideally a checked shirt should be matched against a striped suit of different density, but the very fact they are different types of patterns provides the minimal difference.

The image illustrates this well. The checked shirt works against the striped suit because, thought they are similar densities, they are different patterns themselves. The spotted tie is then clear on two fronts – because it is a different pattern itself and because it is a different density to its neighbours.

I’m sure the pocket handkerchief in wide blue paisley is just off-screen.

And that’s how to mix patterns.


Simon Crompton is a journalist and a style enthusiast living in London, who blogs at He has too many suits.


  1. dysfunctor says:

    Thank you, Simon. That’s just the kind of advice a style-ignoramus like myself needs.

  2. Hi Simon,

    Thanks – have you seen this site?

    It expounds many of the same principles you espouse, & is a useful reference for pattern matching.