Picking Handsome Prints

Picking prints for our wardrobes provides nearly endless opportunity to find connection points.  And then the prints themselves become links to connect our solid garments into dynamite outfits.  But because prints are very engaging in a retail setting, we often react to them based on emotion rather than artistic insight.  The results can easily be a look that is totally disconnected from the wearer, and very little mix/match in her closet.

How can you tell if a print is optimal for you?  Ask yourelf this question:  “Does this print make people see ME more clearly, or does focus go predominantly to the print itself?”

Test yourself first with the pictures below – what looks best on this model and what is less pleasing?  What factors make you feel that way?

Here are some guidelines for evaluating your print choices:

  1. Look at the print from a distance to be sure its over-all temperature matches your own.  Just a touch of gold, orange or lime green can substantially warm an otherwise cool print.   Oddly, it doesn’t work in the reverse.  You can add cool touches to a warm print all you want, but the overall look stubbornly stays warm.  The far-left print above is too warm for the model, among other problems.
  2. Reds are especially critical; if a print includes shades of the red family that are not your best, you’ll be stuck for makeup when you wear the garment. You can either match your lipstick and blush to the print colors – which won’t flatter you – or wear your correct makeup shades and clash with your outfit.  In the far-right example, the bits of red are mid-cool and fairly deep, compatible with her coloring and in fact a close match to her flattering lipstick choice.
  3. Watch contrast levels carefully. If the light/dark contrast within the print is greater than the light/dark contrast in your face, then it’s too much. Yes, that means black-and-white prints don’t work well for most people. Softer people need comparably soft, blended prints.  The middle print above illustrates this problem perfectly; the bright white motifs make the fabric’s contrast too extreme even for this models strong coloring.  And the trio of celebrities below make the point even more strongly.
  4. Avoid whites that grab more than their share of attention. The “white” in a print often looks more intense than it really is because of the surrounding colors.
  5. Look for prints that include a touch of your hair color. If your hair is multi-colored, find prints that echo its variegated effect and you’ll create an immediate visual connection between the print and you.  That link is even stronger if the shapes in the print echo the textural aspect of your hair.
  6. The print above repeats the model’s hair color and texture, her eye color, her mid-temperture and medium contrast levels and her overall muted look – one of my all time favorite client + print match-ups.

Tell us about the best — and the worst — prints you found in your own closet (or your fabric collection, if you are one of my sewing enthusiast readers).  And join us next week for more insights on print selection.

About Nancy Nix Rice

I help other women feel confident about how they look every day - regardless of their age, budget, lifestyle or the size tag in their pants - so they put wardrobe concerns on the back burner and go share their gifts with the world.


  1. Sue P. on May 6, 2017 at 8:41 am

    Right as usual, Nancy, thanks! Now if we could just pick our favorite colors, print sizes and shapes, and order custom-printed fabric. What fun. Yes, there’s stenciling and stamping, but that’s time consuming.

    • Nancy Nix Rice on May 6, 2017 at 8:27 pm

      Even at wholesale, finding good prints has been very difficult. But at a recent buying show I discovered 2 new (to me) Canadian print lines that had some very wearable prints. Watch for them in an blog post and in our web store in a week or so.

  2. LC on May 6, 2017 at 8:47 am

    Oh Nancy, I have learned so much from you, especially about prints. You are so right when you say that designers and fabric stores have a lot of prints that look good on the rack or the bolt, but bad on me! We are drawn to the prints when looking, but should not wear them because eyes are drawn to them instead of us. The print wears us!
    You are awesome! You are saving me from a lot of bad purchases and unflattering days; I wish I had known these things my entire life!
    Thank you!

    • Nancy Nix Rice on May 6, 2017 at 8:29 pm

      So glad you’re finding the series beneficial. But I don’t want to give the impression that women shouldn’t ever wear prints. We just need to be careful about finding ones that showcase us instead of – as you say – “wearing us”. And the more we understand what the criteria are, the more likely we are to find those great-for-us prints.

  3. Sadie Bauer on May 6, 2017 at 10:06 am

    The third model in the first example seems to be showing off another no-no in use of prints with strong contrasts, i.e. the yellow flowers & what appears to be their placement on her breasts. Yellow always draws the eye to itself. Perhaps if she were standing this would not be the case?

    • Nancy Nix Rice on May 6, 2017 at 8:30 pm

      Wow, Sadie. You are getting ahead of me. Those very topics – contrast and print placement – are on tap for the next couple of weeks.

  4. Sherry on May 6, 2017 at 1:33 pm

    For some reason, I have observed that manufacturers seem to be pushing large prints, a no- no on my short , high waisted frame . I wish there was a store that offered something for all sizes, all levels of contrast and both warm and cool color based items !

    • Nancy Nix Rice on May 6, 2017 at 8:34 pm

      I believe thet the prevalence of large scale geometric prints is less about style trends and more about computer-aided design and the fact tht it is quicker, eaqsier and therefore cheaper to create that type of patterning. As I mentioned t Sue, I have just connected with two Canadial companies that are making much more well-designed, wearable prints on matte jersey (my favorite fabric for its ease of sewing and comfort in wearing) and we’ll have an assortment of them in our web store soon. i always try to buy things tht I know will work with common patterns of human coloring, especially those that are hard to find prints for. Hope you’ll like them.

  5. Ruthie Critchley on May 9, 2017 at 4:11 pm

    I’m a greying brunette with a muted and slightly warm colouring. I found a great print in a dress recently and just had to buy it. The print contains brown, grey, ivory and tan and the print is an abstract soft edged animal print design, it doesn’t have my eye colour (a soft blued green) but its otherwise spot on. I plan to wear it to all slightly dressy event, probably with matte metallic accessories.

    • Nancy Nix Rice on May 9, 2017 at 4:22 pm

      Sounnds like an excellent choice! Not every garment can have every one of our colors – I think multi-neutral mixes are so sophisticated.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.