I have always said that prints are subjective. People often have a visceral reaction to a print and can decide in an instant if they like it or not. There are also two camps, print-people and non-print people. I am a non-print person and a print has to be outrageously stunning for me to like it. This is why, despite the absence of many prints in my wardrobe, I am obsessed with Etro, a brand known for the most stunning prints on the planet. I will never forget being in Milan Italy at an Etro store and a little girl running around to all the different prints screaming, “bellissima!” I couldn’t have agreed more with that kid.
Personal preferences on prints aside, there is an actual science to choosing the most flattering prints and today I am going to be break down this science and give you some examples of these components in action.
THE FIVE COMPONENTS OF A PRINT
There are five different components of a print that can be analyzed.
Every print can be analyzed based on these five points. Let’s break them down further.
Scale simply means the size of the print itself from small ditsy prints to prints that are larger in size. The movement of prints is how the print moves.
Movement means it is rounder or with more curves, angled and linear means prints that are more geometric or movement that isn’t fluid. A floral print would be rounder while a zig-zag would be linear. A print can have a combination of different movements.
Space means how much space if visible. More cluttered prints and patterns have less space or ground.
Clarity of edge is how soft or defined the edges of a print are. A washy pastel would have a soft clarity of edge as compared to a bold polka dot which has a defined clarity of edge.
Lastly, contrast level, which I have spoken about at length on this blog. Contrast level is the amount of contrast created between colors. A black and white color combination is high contrast and pink and white would be low contrast.
Analyzing The Components of Prints
To give you some examples, I am analyzing the five components of each print.
This print is medium in scale, the floral print is rounder and more organic looking. There is a medium amount of ground visible, a defined or strong clarity of edge and the colors combination is medium in contrast.
The print is larger in scale, the movement is organic and round, and the ground isn’t really visible. There is a low clarity of edge and the contrast is medium.
Because I’m zooming in on each print, it’s hard to identify the proper scale, but I am calling this one large. The movement is organic and round and the ground is very visible. Even though the contrast is low in this print, the clarity of edge is still very defined.
The scale of this print is round and organic, the ground is highly visible and clarity of edge is defined and the contrast is medium.
This is an easy one to categorize. Medium-scale, circles are always round or organic, there is a highly visible ground, the edge is defined and this is a textbook high contrast print. While a print like this would be quite popular, it is flattering for only a small percentage of people. More on that as we go along.
This large-scale print has a combination of movement. There are round and curved lines. While curves and roundness seem the same, you can see in this print that the curved lines move in a different fashion than the round parts. Remember, movement isn’t just about the shape of the print but how the print moves. There is no visible ground and not much clarity of edge. The contrast is medium-low.
Let’s call this print medium in size. Again it’s hard to properly analyze size when zooming in on prints. The movement is more organic the ground isn’t visible, there is some clarity of edge and other parts that aren’t visible at all, so I’ll split the difference and call it medium and the grey washiness cuts down on the contrast making it medium.
This print is medium large. The print moves in more of a linear fashion and because the amount of ground and amount of print is about the same, I am categorizing this as medium. There is a medium clarity of edge and the contrast is medium.
This is a small floral print that is rounder and the more cluttered nature of the print makes the ground less visible. The clarity of edge is defined and the contrast is low.
This medium-large print has a linear movement. Originally I had the ground of this print as medium, but changed it to medium-low, which shows that the analysis of a print isn’t always a perfect science. I wavered because the amount of ground and amount of print is about 50/50 but the high contrast nature and clearly defined clarity of edge of this print really makes the print pop.
This linear stripe is small in scale the movement is undoubtedly more linear there is no real ground and the clarity of edge is defined. The contrast level is medium-low.
This is a large-scale print with a combination of movement. You have linear geometric movement and rounder movement in the paisley. There is little ground visible, the clarity of edge is defined and the contrast is medium.
This cluttered print has little ground and moves in a combination of organic and linear. The clarity of edge is defined and the contrast level is medium.
This large-scale washy print move organically, had a low clarity of edge, low contrast and no ground visible.
This large scale print move in an organic and linear manner, the ground is highly visible and the low contrast print has defined clarity of edge.
This last pattern is small, the movement is linear, the ground isn’t visible and clarity of edge is defined and the contrast is medium-high.
How to Choose Flattering Prints Once They Have Been Categorized
So now you can categorize the five components of prints and patterns. What’s that got to do with the price of tomatoes, right? What do you actually do with this information? Well, a lot, actually. You don’t think I would take you through all that for nothing, do you?
Prints should be face flattering and choosing and the best prints for you are the ones that work best with your facial characteristics. Unless your goal is to make some sort of fashion statement where you want what you are wearing to have the spotlight, working with your facial characteristics is crucial. One of the first things you learn when studying image consulting is that it’s all about putting the focus on the face. The face is what you want people to notice and remember. This is imperative in the workplace or anywhere you want to be heard and seen.
The goal when choosing prints is to have the characteristics of your face and the characteristics of your prints and patterns to be a match.
Using the Five Components of a Print and Using Them on the Face
We’re now going to use these five components and apply them to various faces to show you how this works.
When looking at scale, you look at the size of someone’s features. In this case, the features of this woman are small. Next, movement and if features move in a linear, curved or round movement. In the case of this woman, her features are more linear and the bridge of her nose is more visible than the tip. Given her smaller features, there is more space in her face, the clarity of edge is medium and her has a higher contrast.
Choosing between these two prints, this top’s mitered stripe is the better choice. It moves more linearly, the stripes are defined, and there is visible ground in the print. It’s a better choice over a washy, round, soft print in this top that has no defined edges.
This woman’s features read linearly with subtle roundness. Both the bridge and tip of her nose is defined, her eyes and eyebrows have linear qualities and her mouth has some soft roundness to it. Her features have some definition and her contrast is medium.
The larger print in this top that has both linear and some organic movement is perfect for this woman. The print also has medium contrast, a medium amount of ground and somewhat defined edges. The print top on the bottom is too organic and too washed out for her.
This woman’s features have curves but wouldn’t be considered round. Her features are on the large side and she has a medium amount of space in her face. Her clarity of edge is softer and her contrast is medium.
This print in this dress on top works better for her coloring. The ground of the print is medium and the prints moves in a curved fashion. The contrast and clarity of edge is a better match, The print in this dress on the bottom has too much ground, the clarity of edge is too strong and the movement is too organic in comparison to the dress on the top.
This woman’s low contrast and low clarity of edge in her features gives her a softer look. Her features are small and are curved vs. linear. Given her softer, smaller features the space of her face looks large.
This woman benefits from a print that is softer, moves in a curved fashion and has a visible ground, like in the dress on top. The dress on the bottom does have a lot of ground, but the clarity of edge is more defined and the print is too bold for her features.
This woman’s face is incredibly linear. Her eyebrows and eyes don’t curve much. The bridge of her nose is extremely defined and the fact that she isn’t smiling really emphasizes that even her mouth has a linear quality. He has a medium to low amount of space a medium amount of clarity of edge and is medium contrast level.
This is a woman who was born for stripes. This stripes in this dress practically mimics her coloring and movement of her features. The print in the dress on the bottom is too round and has too much ground to work as well as the striped one despite the contrast level being on point.
This woman has large features and a curved movement to her features and you can see the round tip of her nose is more defined than her bridge. Her clarity of edge in her features and her contrast level are both on the low side.
Where this top didn’t work for a woman earlier, it’s perfect for her. The contrast is low as is the clarity of edge. There is a medium amount of ground visible and the contrast level is a match. This bold print in this top is too bold, too angular looking and the scale is too small for her.
This woman’s features are linear in nature, small and while the tip of her nose is more visible, unlike the woman above, what you notice most strongly is the horizontal line of the tip. Her features are small. Her nose and mouth are larger but her eyes are small, making her features medium to small. This also gives her a lot more space in her face. Her contrast level is medium-high.
I would sooner put the pattern in this top on this woman because it works better for her features. The blouse on the bottom is too round and organic and the clarity of edge isn’t defined enough. The top print moves more linearly, has greater clarity of edge, more ground visible and the right amount of contrast.
So much of this woman’s face is round. Her features are round and soft. She has big eyes, a rounder nose and even her mouth is bow-like. Despite having large features, she has a lot of space in her face. Her clarity of edge is low as and she has a lower contrast level.
This soft round print in this blouse on top is perfect for this woman. The print is rounder, has a softer clarity of edge and the contrast is just right. The mitered strip of the shirt on the bottom is too linear, has too much contrast and the edges are too clearly defined.
There is no denying that this woman has large features and unlike the woman just above, the space or ground of her face is much smaller. At first glance, this woman’s face looks very linear but after closer examination, I categorized her as combination because this is some subtle roundness in the tip of her nose and mouth.
If it is a choice between these two tops, I would choose this long sleeve t-shirt on top despite the this woman having combination movement in her features. The linear qualities of her face far outweigh the rounder ones and the stripes in the top also have the right amount of clarity of edge, contrast and ground. The top on the bottom is higher in contrast and has clearer edges in the print. What does work about this print on the bottom is the scale.
This woman’s features are very round. She has a medium amount of space in her face, a slightly softer clarity of edge and her coloring is medium contrast.
The round, medium contrast, large scale, medium clarity of edge in print in this dress on top is perfect for this woman. The print in this print of the blouse on the bottom is too small in scale, has a clearer defined edges and lacks a softness that the dress on top has.
This woman has a combination of linear and curved features. She has large-scale features with little space in her face. She has a high clarity of edge and her contrast is medium-high.
The print in the dress on top is quite perfect for this woman. There is same contrast level and clarity of edge and the movement of the print is a great match. The scale of the print being large scale works well on her. The blouse on the bottom is too washy and organic looking despite the scale being right. The ground, however, isn’t as visible and the print is too cluttered for her despite the scale being right.
There is likely no question what you see when you look at this woman. Everything about her look linear and angled. There is little roundness and her features have a sharp quality. Looking at her features on a whole, I put them in a medium category with a low amount of visible space. Her contrast is medium-low.
Has there ever been a woman more suited to zig-zags than her? The pattern on the sweater is perfect for her in scale, contrast level and movement. The flowery print in this dress on the bottom is too organic, there is too much ground.
If You Take Anything From this Post It’s This
If this post has created confusion or made you feel like you need to reassess all your prints, I want to set a few things for the record. The first is that the chances that you will be able to find a print that hits all the components of your features perfectly is unlikely so don’t pressure yourself to get it completely accurate. If you noticed in the print selections for the women featured, very few were exact. Don’t be like the client of mine who measured every earring against her eye socket when I told her that a good rule of thumb is to choose earrings no larger than your eye socket when picking size. My advice was meant as a guide, not gospel. The tips in here are guideposts that are meant to help you on your journey. Most women know when a print looks good or it doesn’t. The problem is they don’t know why a print works or doesn’t and therefore can’t repeat successes or avoid failures. It’s the why of fashion that often eludes women and makes it hard to figure out how to fix the problem.
If you hit a few of the components that work for you in a print, consider it a success. Don’t drive yourself crazy.
Second, these tips are meant to help you make informed decisions. Does this post mean you can never wear diagonal stripes again because you have very round features? No, not at all. However, isn’t it more empowering when you consciously choose to wear something with complete knowledge vs. just throwing something on hoping it works? These tips are designed to help you dress more intentionally.
Third, all of this is subjective. This isn’t science and it’s all open to interpretation. Even I, who has skill in selecting prints, wavered when categorizing prints and facial features. What you want to look for is a feeling of harmony between what you are wearing and your face.
Lastly, back to the first point at the beginning of the post, people have emotional reactions to prints. However, interestingly, just like most women often unconsciously gravitate towards their best colors, they also often gravitate towards their best prints without even realizing it. So there is a good chance you have been wearing the right prints and you just didn’t know it. Now not only do you know it but you know why.
Has this helped you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments and if you really feel empowered after reading this post, consider supporting me by buying me a cup of coffee.