Despite the fact that they’re very, very easy to get wrong, a sizeable portion of men have a Trumpian confidence when it comes to wearing a printed shirt. You know who we’re talking about, it gets to Saturday night and suddenly every town and city across the country is awash with prints that should never have been designed, let alone unleashed on the general public. Appeals to logic, taste and decency are redundant. Bad taste? Fake news.
For those men who shudder at the mere mention of printed shirts (for fear of being lumped in with the above) we get it. Printed shirts can swiftly fast-track you to 10 on the cringeometer in one erroneous decision. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater though. Pick the right shirt and wear it with the right companions and you’ll be giving Tinie Tempah a run for his money in the insanely-stylish-print-wearer stakes.
To save you the potential devastating consequences of being ‘that guy’ in the comedy clobber, here are our idiot-proof ways to nail wearing a printed shirt, every single time.
With Dark Denim
If you take no other advice on the printed shirt than this, we’ll be satisfied. A printed shirt worn with denim can go well, or it can go horribly. If you’re thinking shapeless selvedge denim and a checked ‘going out shirt’ you’re on the wrong path, son.
River Island Style Studio’s Alice McColm says: “Printed shirts are integral to the autumn/winter wardrobe with muted tones and dark, intricate patterns making them winter appropriate.” Getting these dark and moody prints to work for you is all about keeping things unfussy. “Let your print take centre stage this season. Pair your shirt with dark denim and a biker jacket for classic rock ‘n’ roll style that feels understated.”
Cracking this combo has everything to do with fit as well as print. Short sleeves that look like shoe boxes and cuts that sit miles from the body are unforgivable style sins. In almost all instances we’d recommend a slim-fit and long sleeves when wearing a printed shirt with dark denim. Sidestep the obvious motifs too (put the micro check down) and instead consider horizontal stripes, dark florals or a tonal pattern.
With Light Denim
Bear with us on this one. We’re aware that light denim and printed shirts sounds a bit mid-2000s smart-casual dad. And on paper, it is. In practice though, you can 2017 the heck out of it so it’s more Oliver Cheshire street style than Jeremy Clarkson street-side. Unlike dark denim, lighter shades are undoubtedly trickier to pull off with a printed shirt, so you’ll need to prick up your ears if you want to master this boss-level move.
“I love a printed shirt worn with light denim,” says celebrity stylist Alex Longmore, who has worked with the likes of Gary Barlow. “My top tip [assuming you’re not wearing it open] would be to wear the shirt tucked [or] buttoned close to the neck.” It’s not just a matter of styling your shirt right either, here the cut and colour of your jeans has the ability to make or break your efforts. “Go for a preppy look which isn’t too boy band,” says Longmore. “Make sure blue denim isn’t overly pale or tight for a more modern look.”
Don’t think that pale denim is restricted to light blue, either. Stone denim forms the perfect neutral base to wear with a printed shirt. Try a darker print with stone jeans, white sneakers and a camel coat for winter-ready style that registers high on the cold-weather menswear maverick scale.
With A Suit
The charge sheet for the printed shirt is substantial, but the most common menswear misdeed it stands accused of is that it’s too loud, obnoxious and attention seeking. So, do what you should always do if you’re appearing in court: wear a suit.
Practically any printed shirt imaginable looks better worn with a suit. Which is excellent news for party season because it means (dress code permitting) you can break rank with shapeless suits and anaemic styling moves.
The key to getting the printed shirt and suit combo right is about balance, according to men’s stylist Suzie Street, whose clients include Tinie Tempah. She says: “A printed shirt under a suit can bring in a touch of modernity and individuality. Keep prints interesting and detailed, but bigger prints can sometimes get lost in the suit and ruin the line of the jacket.”
Remember not to go crazy. It’s not fashion week and you’re not Jared Leto, so chuck on a navy or black two-piece to keep things under control. In lieu of a tie, interesting accessories are welcome, Street says. “Have fun with added touches: a contrasting pocket square, interesting lapel pin or cufflinks for instance will draw the eye subtly to the shirt.” If you are wearing a tie (or an overcoat, for that matter) make sure the colours chime with the print, too.
How to not be boring at a semi-formal event, done. You’re welcome.
With A Knit
Layering a printed shirt under a knit is a tricky business. Kids’ TV presenter vibes are rampant if you get it wrong, so if you’re not looking for a career as a manic grinner, learn to layer a printed shirt the grown-up way.
Whereas you can afford to get jazzy when wearing your printed shirt solo, if it’s going anywhere near knitwear, you need to rein in the fun factor. Original Penguin’s VP of Design, Adam Weir, says: “Consider the occasion. For something more formal keep the patterns simple and pared-back with similar tones and colours to keep the look refined.”
If you’re feeling more confident (or brave) try experimenting with the pattern. “For an event like the office Christmas party, go for something more adventurous,” Weir says. “Try matching a simple ditsy pattern with a stripe or Fair Isle to create a mix and match look.”
Remember though, if you’re going to try this at home, keep the rest of your look simple, which usually means black, black and more black.
The easiest way to swerve the lads-night-out combo of printed shirt and jeans is to do away with jeans altogether. Replace them with the humble chino and they’ll give your look a tailored feel without going full-throttle formal.
And there are a lot of reasons to wear chinos with your print. Street says: “Pairing a printed shirt with chinos will update a classic smart-casual look. Teamed with a classic navy or stone chino a printed shirt can be used to add a splash of colour, texture or fun to a relatively safe trouser.”
What you’re doing with neutral chinos is essentially minimising the chances of your printed shirt looking wanky, so if you’re after the safest ground, this is it. Caveats exist though, Street says. “When paired with a chino, avoid tucking the printed shirt in for a more relaxed look. Try a polka dot style with your chinos to channel the Parisian vibe from brands such as Ami and Saint Laurent.”
When it comes to your outerwear, you can get pretty flexible with shapes (biker jackets, bombers, overcoats all work well) but again, chill out with the interest and instead go for clean lines, low detail and neutral colours (read: black, grey, navy).