Experimenting with the World of Prints…7 Deadly Mistakes and a Three-Phased Approach

Blog reader and Fabuliss friend, Emily, asked about how to brave the world of prints.

It can be scary, especially when you’re used to solids and dressing in monochrome palettes.

So first, let’s review 7 deadly mistakes to avoid.


  1. This dress is only appropriate if you’re 8 years old.  It’s too short, the pattern doesn’t do the body any justice and I dislike the harsh contrast of the black top and bright skirt.
  2. There is way too much happening, from the pattern to the uneven hem.  Only wear this if you want people to remember the skirt and not you.
  3. I don’t know if someone still has inventory from the 1990s or if they think this look is coming back.  Whatever the case, it’s a dated look.
  4. This skirt has nothing going for it.  The print is too big and swooshy.  The cut is too roomy.  The length is extremely unflattering.  And I strongly dislike that it’s paired with a white t-shirt and shoes that cut off any chance of lengthening the leg.
  5. I kind of like the print pattern but this dress makes the model look like she is 2/3 rectangle – from the squared off neck line to the shapeless cut of the dress.
  6. The tiers on this skirt are likely meant to be “interesting” but instead make this already busy print even more chaotic.  And unless you’re tall and lean, this length will likely not work for you.
  7. The print, the neck/belt details, the fabric and the cut of this dress are frumpy and emphasize low budget.  You can do MUCH better.

With those deadly mistakes out of the way, I recommend a three-phased approach for experimenting with the world of prints.

See below for ideas, including pieces for regular and plus sizes and featuring one of my favorite basics from Land’s End – the fine gauge ruffle cardigan.  A variety of colors are offered in petite, regular and plus sizes.

STEP 1: Beginner Patterns and Colors

Simple, Light Contrast PatternsIf you’re new to prints, start out with a small, simple pattern or a print with a light contrast.  I personally like basic, geometric prints that aren’t consumed with fussy details.

  • The structured and fitted Anne Klein sheath dress on the left is officially an animal print, but it’s a quiet take on an animal print.
  • On the right, the abstract pattern on The Limited’s dart waistband pencil skirt provides a hint of color and pattern without screaming PATTERN.

Pair either of these pieces with a jacket from Lane Bryant (left) or The Limited (right) for work or events.  The pretty Land’s End cardigan adds a splash of color while muting the pattern.

STEP 2: Turn Up the Volume

Step 2: A bolder take

Once you’re comfortable wearing a simple print, try something with a bolder color or pattern.  Again, keep the details on the prints to a minimum.

  • In general, I like the rule that a pattern/print element should not be larger than one’s fist.  In the case of the dress on the left, this black and white sundress from JCPenney works because the large print is sparse.
  • The bolder color of the a-line skirt on the right from Nordstrom is offset with a flirty, summery pattern.  This skirt can easily go from work to happy hour.

Pair the dress or skirt with a jacket from Nordstrom (left) or Ann Taylor LOFT (right) for a dressy day.  Swap either of these jackets out with a white denim jacket and jewels for date night or go bold with a yellow cardigan.

STEP 3: Stop Traffic

Stop trafficWhen you’ve successfully completed steps 1 and 2 without incident and you’re craving more, it’s time to go for traffic-stopping bold colors and prints.

  • This watercolor patterned skirt on the left from Macy’s might be a little on the fussy side.  But it’s contemporary because of the bold colors and it’s classic pencil shape.
  • The sheath dress on the right, available from Kohl’s, is a great example of a less expensive dress.  It’s a classic cut with an a-line skirt, a contemporary pattern and a pop of color for the waist.

Pair the skirt with a fitted denim jacket (left) and the dress with a linen jacket from Kohl’s (right).  And of course, both items would go great with a cherry-colored cardigan.

In general, I agree with the shoe selections each skirt/dress is pictured  with, which are heels to add shape to the legs.  Go with a wedge if a plain heel is too uncomfortable and bring a pair of cute flats if you want to give you feet a break.

If you want personalized help picking out prints and pairing them with different layers and accessories, Fabuliss can help!  Contact me at hello@fabuliss.com to get started.


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2 Responses to “Experimenting with the World of Prints…7 Deadly Mistakes and a Three-Phased Approach”

  1. Emily Schroeder Orvik Says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    I’m so excited to try this out! Love the A-line skirt in step 2! There have been a few classes on them at Sewtropolis. I had just been feeling to self-conscious to try, but now I’m going to!

    I love the sheath in step 3 also. And sheaths are so easy for summer! Low fuss dressing for sure!

  2. fabuliss Says:

    You’re so very welcome, Emily! Hope to see you in a fabulous print soon :)

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