Q: Can you explain the basics of print mixing and how to blend patterns creatively? Can you mix paisley with stripes? How do you know what works and what doesn’t, specifically for a more formal work environment?

A: Wearing paisley with stripes 10 years ago would’ve gotten you some serious side eye, but today? Different story. Print and pattern mixing has been mainstream for several years and shows no signs of fading.

The trick to print mixing is to make sure your prints have at least one design element in opposition and one in common.

The oppositional element is typically print style: Most prints are geometrics (stripes, dots, plaids) or organics (paisleys, florals, abstracts). Although you can generally wear two or more geometrics together, you’ll create a more dynamic mix by pairing a geometric with an organic. Stripes and florals make a great duo, and work for nearly all styles, ages and sizes. Another oppositional element to consider is scale. Small prints mix well with large prints, and this differentiation keeps your mix from looking too busy and overwhelming.

The common element is often color. If your striped skirt is black and white, make sure your floral top has black and/or white in its print. You can also mix multiple versions of the same print: Large dots with small dots, or green dots with blue dots.

In a work environment, I recommend mixing smaller prints and geometrics with heavier, formal fabrics. Because print mixing is still a relatively new practice, balancing trendiness with tradition is a smart move.


Q: I’m invited to my cousin’s black-tie wedding in September. I just bought this really cute, short colorful floral fit-and-flare dress. Is it OK to wear it to her wedding?

A: Ah, dress codes: the bane of every wedding guest’s existence. We’re living in an era that views most etiquette as prehistoric, yet clings to a few vestiges when it comes to formal affairs. Maddening, isn’t it?

Traditionally, black-tie dress for women means full-length gowns, and they’re still the safest bet. However, shorter frocks have been acceptable at this formality level for many years, provided that they are appropriately dressy. A short dress for black tie should be no shorter than an inch above the kneecap, and should be as formal or more so than a cocktail dress.

This means slimmer silhouettes such as sheaths and shifts are preferred over fit-and-flare, and fancy fabrics such as satin, lace, chiffon and silk are better than cotton or rayon. Florals occasionally pass muster, but must be done up in dressy materials and grown-up styles.

So although shorter dresses can work for black tie, it sounds like your particular dress might be a bit too casual. Poke through your closet and see if you have something a little sleeker and dressier instead.


Q: How can I find bodycon clothing that is flattering and also doesn’t make it seem like I’m trying to look super young?

A: Bodycon (body-conscious) can work for women of all ages, so long as you know how to keep the look classy. Let’s start with fabrics: Thin, drapey materials with any sort of a sheen will read as younger than thicker opaque materials. So a bodycon sheath dress in slinky jersey might feel wrong, but the same dress in ponte knit might feel oh-so-right.

Consider your color palette, too. Dark, dusty colors generally look more sophisticated than light, bright ones. Watch your necklines and hemlines, since garments that are bodycon and revealing can read “mutton dressed as lamb.”

Finally, you can make your slim-fitting garments look more grown-up by wearing them in layered mixes. A form-fitting top or dress can be just as flattering and fun under a nipped-waist jacket as it is worn alone.


Sally McGraw is a Minneapolis-based personal stylist and creator of the Already Pretty (alreadypretty.com) blog. Her fashion advice appears on this page once a month. Send questions to tellus@startribune.com.