The charge sheet for the printed shirt is substantial. For years this menswear misdeed has stood accused of being too loud, too obnoxious and too attention seeking. But this season, fortune favours the bold.
Pick the right shirt and wear it with the right companions and you’ll be giving even the biggest style icons a run for their money. Get it wrong with one erroneous decision, however, and you fast-track your look to 10 on the cringeometer.
To save you the potentially devastating consequences of being ‘that guy’ in the comedy clobber, here are five idiot-proof ways to nail wearing a printed shirt every single time, and where to find the best styles this season.
With Dark Denim
If you take no advice other than this, we’ll be satisfied. A printed shirt worn with denim can go well, or it can go horribly wrong. If your idea of a good weekend look is throwing on a pair of shapeless selvedge jeans and a checked ‘going out shirt’ you’re on the wrong path, son.
“Printed shirts are integral to the autumn/winter wardrobe, with muted tones and dark, intricate patterns making them appropriate for the colder months,” says Alice McColm, a stylist at the River Island Style Studio, who believes that getting dark, moody prints to work for you is all about keeping things unfussy. “Let the print take centre stage. 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. Opting for a cut that sits miles from the body is an unforgivable style sin. In almost all instances we’d recommend a slim-fit and long sleeves. Sidestep the obvious motifs too and instead consider vertical stripes, muted florals or a tonal pattern.
With Light Denim
We’re fully aware that wearing light denim with a printed shirt sounds a bit mid-2000s smart-casual dad. And on paper, it is. In practice though, it’s entirely possible to wear the heck out of it so it’s more David Gandy street style than Jeremy Clarkson street-side.
“My top tip, assuming you’re not wearing it open, would be to wear the shirt tucked or buttoned close to the neck,” says celebrity stylist Alex Longmore. It’s not just a matter of styling your shirt right either, here the cut and colour of your jeans can make or break your efforts. “Go for a preppy look which isn’t too boy band,” adds Longmore. “Make sure blue denim isn’t overly pale or tight for a more modern look.”
Don’t think that light denim is restricted to light blue, either. Stone and off-white denim forms a perfect neutral base to wear with a printed shirt. Try a darker print, white sneakers and a camel coat for winter-ready style that registers high on the cold-weather menswear maverick scale.
With A Suit
It’s no overstatement to say that there’s not a single piece of tailoring that can’t be levelled-up by a printed shirt. Which is excellent news for party season because it means (dress code permitting) you can stand out from the other 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. “A printed shirt under a suit can bring in a touch of modernity and individuality,” she says. “Keep prints interesting and detailed, 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.
In lieu of a tie, interesting accessories are welcome. “Have fun with added touches: a contrasting pocket square, interesting lapel pin or cufflinks, for instance, will draw the eye subtly to the shirt,” adds Street. If you are required to wear a tie (or an overcoat, for that matter), do so in a block shade of the shirt’s base colour so that it almost blends in seamlessly.
With A Knit
There are men who shudder at the mere mention of a printed shirt, and we get it. Even under a knit, pulling one off is a tricky business. Sure, there may be less of it on show, but trust us, kids’ TV presenter vibes will be rampant if you get it wrong.
If you’re not looking for a career as a manic grinner, learn to do the look the grown-up way. “Consider the occasion,” says Original Penguin design director Adam Weir. “For something more formal, keep the shirt pattern simple and pared-back with similar tones to the rest of your outfit.”
Once you’ve shaken off your menswear training wheels, use different types of knitwear to adjust how much of the shirt is on show. A crew neck gives maximum coverage, whereas a V-neck, followed by a cardigan, allows you to show off more of your newfound styling skills.
The easiest way to swerve the lads-night-out look is to do away with jeans altogether. Replace denim with the humble chino, and they’ll give your look a tailored feel without going full-throttle formal.
“Pairing a printed shirt with chinos will update a classic smart-casual look,” says Street. “Teamed with navy or stone below, a printed shirt can be used to add a splash of colour, texture or fun to a relatively safe trouser.”
The look’s greatest asset? Versatility. Tuck the shirt in for a more formal finish or leave it untucked for louche Parisian vibes. When it comes to outerwear, you can be just as flexible (biker jackets, bombers, overcoats all work well), but chill out with the interest to avoid clashing with the shirt and instead go for clean lines, low detail and neutral colours.
The Best Brands For Printed Shirts
The designers over at premium high-street chain Reiss certainly know their way around a printed shirt. The brand takes its characteristic flattering cuts and luxe materials and pairs them with eye-catching patterns that straddle the line between standout and subtle to masterful effect. Expect slim fits, dark florals and the occasional vibrant Cuban collar.
The speedy supply chain of Spanish fast-fashion giant Zara makes raises a few questions about sustainability. Still, if all you’re interested in is picking up a new printed shirt with design cues piping hot off the runway, there’s really no better place. Here you’ll find a mixture of up-to-the-minute trend-led styles shoulder to shoulder with classic stripes, florals and checks.
Topman has always been a Mecca for style-conscious teens, but why let them have all the fun? The retailer caters to all ages with a vast selection of clothing. Its printed shirts are no exception, with hundreds of styles to pick from. Don’t worry about breaking the bank either, because while Topman’s prices aren’t the cheapest on the high street, its value for money is undeniable.
AllSaints might be best known for its leather jackets and signature grungy look, but thankfully there’s still room in its stores for some of the most tasteful printed shirts on the market. Plenty of rock ‘n’ roll attitude translates into a moody colour palette and subdued motifs all in a classic fit.
If you’re looking for the most bang for your hard-earned buck and aren’t afraid of bold patterns, then River Island’s selection of eye-popping printed shirts will be right up your street. From bold, colourful stripes to bright and vivid florals and everything else in between, this British high street mainstay has got the lot.
Club Monaco is known and loved for its high-quality wardrobe basics and timeless designs with a contemporary touch. For a good example of the latter, look to the American label’s printed shirts, featuring timeless cuts and traditional styling, but brought right up to date with modern patterns and tasteful use of colour.
Say what you want about the French, there’s no denying those boys know good design. Case very stylish point is swanky Parisian label Sandro. Here you’ll find printed shirts done with all the refinement and attention to detail you’d expect from a top designer. Sure, that means it’s at the upper end of most people’s budgets, but if you’ve got it, why not spend it?
As the man responsible for the idea of classic meets quirky, British designer Paul Smith is something of a legend in menswear circles. Shirts are always a staple part of his collections, specifically printed shirts featuring premium fabrics with a hearty dose of the colourful and a smidgen of the absurd thrown in for good measure.