Alyson Walsh; That's Not My Age;
Photo: Dvora @Fashionistable

I like pattern and print when I see it on other things, like art gallery walls, soft furnishings and ceramics, but not so much on me. On a  scale of surface decoration (a pie chart of pattern?), I definitely gravitate towards the plain end; but I love a good Liberty print, a vintage paisley, a Josef Frank textile design from Svenskt Tenn. And bold pattern in fashion can look fantastic: I’m thinking Rosita Missoni, Iris Apfel, Stella Jean. But there’s just something about it that makes me feel quite self-conscious and a little bit frumpy.

The best way to avoid the frump factor, is to stay within your comfort zone. When I wore the kimono top and wide leg chinos, on a scorching hot day in London, I’d moved into an area of unease. Reverting to a pull-on-and-go top in a favourite colour combination with a pair of worn-out old jeans, I instantly feel more relaxed. More like me.

And, have you noticed that Warehouse is looking loads better? That’s because cool Brit designer Emma Cook (a former regular at London Fashion Week) is the new creative director and she’s doing interesting things with pattern, print and silhouette. I’ve included a few bits and pieces below:


The silver sculptural necklace I’m wearing is handmade by Claire Stratton who runs a small business in Stroud and holds two to three sales a year, locally and in London (where I bought mine). Contact: And the navy blue leather clogs are from Troenthorps in Sweden. More Scandinavian design.

Now, tell me, how do you wear print?


50 thoughts on “How to wear pattern and print without looking frumpy

  1. I agree with you, much as I love pattern, and I do in a general sense, I have never been able to wear it comfortably. I remember reading something by Celia Birtwell a few years ago suggesting that with a plain or simple outfit a touch of pattern could work well and sometimes it does but the choices have to be considered. What I have found more recently however, much to my delight, is that fabrics such as ikat add a suggestion of pattern to an outfit that will fit comfortably with a much more classic piece such as a simple white shirt and it works perfectly, if not beautifully, for me at least.

  2. I found myself regularly eyeing up the Max Mara agitare floral print dress in the sales. It was so not my style. And yet…. In the end I snapped it up at a great price. And I LOVE it! It has a dark background which helps, and a long just above ankle length. And it’s a pull on and go – so has a very relaxed vibe. This winter I will wear it with my high suede ankle boots, a skinny silk scarf and my biker jacket. It’s right on the edge for me style-wise – but that can be a good thing, right?!

  3. Generally, I don’t – except in scarves and sometimes shoes – oh and an occasional stripe. I’m always too worried that I’ll look like Hyacinth Bucket in anything flowery. Might experiment with geometrics though….

  4. I have had huge fun wearing gingham skirts the last two summers (okay, I am that generation) – worn with a very plain top, I think I got away with it… but I don’t care if I didn’t. I enjoyed it.

  5. only wear half an outfit in print otherwise you end up looking like a pair of curtains! I am small so a printed top …but plain bottoms!

  6. Yes, I agree with the other comments – pattern and print is a difficult look to carry off well. Maybe a patterned top is Ok but never a patterned blouse – shudders. I just love your jeans and the clogs but the top, not so sure. Love your hair, btw.

  7. Small ditsy prints (plus large florals) started to look silly (frumpy even) on me once I hit 40. However, I am a print girl at heart. 60s patterns work on me if combined with block colours and minimalistic no fuss cuts (as in 60s A-line patterned shifts). Prints , yes. Prints combined with anything complicated such as frills/ruffles/pussy bows/fringes is now a no go zone for me.

  8. Prints are just not my style. On the odd time that I have tried, when I look at myself it’s just not me looking back. Scarf and shoes yes and maybe a tweedy coat but that’s it. Having said that, your top looks fab with jeans and clogs. Attitude plus!

  9. I’m not keen on prints in clothing – for me, anyhow, though I’ll wear a patterned scarf or maybe a top that has stripes, checks or geometrics. Cut, cloth and solid colours are the main preoccupations for me. Flowers I like in my herbaceous border.

  10. I love pattern and print so much, and have to force myself not to buy clothing covered in it. I have just returned a DVF dress in a fantastic print that made me look completely deranged.What on earth was I thinking? Scarves are good, though…

  11. Being small, and short-waisted, anything more than a stripe or a dot print isn’t particularly flattering on me, so I stick to monochromatic clothing with spots of color and print in my accessories. My Dad once commented when I was young that an elderly heavyset aunt wearing a flowered dress looked like a chintz loveseat and I never forgot. I’m not heavy, nor as old as my aunt was, but some of those word stick with you for years.

  12. I too struggled to wear pattern of any kind as was always envious of my friends whom carried this look effortlessly.
    However my daughter recently wed and as I was giving her away I wanted to look my best but not necessarily too mother of the bride.
    I opted for a dress out of my comfort zone (silly thing to do really on such a special day ) but the marimeko dress flattered and stood out without out shinning my daughter big bold red and navy print not bad for someone who lives in black and cos

  13. I like this blog a lot. However, I’ve noticed that you’re now in almost every fashion post. I understand why, but perhaps not every post/picture. Also, in the photo above, you are lost in the color of the back drop – even your hair – something that perhaps unconsciously argues against the use of pattern? Just a friendly suggestion.

    1. My goodness, your comment surprised me, Noelle! It just goes to show we are all so different in our likes and dislikes. I particularly enjoy the posts that include a photo of Alyson wearing whatever it is she’s talking about because to me, she is a “real” person as opposed to a model who has been styled and made up and lit and photoshopped to look absolutely nothing like most of us will look in the clothes. And for me more specifically, because Alyson is a similar age, height, weight and coloring to me and has very similar taste (avowed gentlewoman here), there’s a good chance that if it looks good on her, it will look good on me too. I know she’s commented before that she doesn’t like having her picture taken, so I find her willingness to show up in posts rather brave.

  14. Love prints. Just bought the Warehouse tile print shirt as been looking at if for a while and now on sale. I was so tempted by the trousers but returns are too hard from overseas with Warehouse (this is not a complaint). I am also deciding on the J Crew Drake tiger print shirt as love the shirt and finally saw the silk (its a light twill) at the Drake London store in New York on one of the shop assistants.

  15. Interesting how we perceive ourselves, you felt out of your comfort zone in the kimono top and wide leg pants and I found that outfit on you absolutely smashing! The jeans and floral top are great. The clogs…..I have at least 6 pairs (one I designed myself) and am the only person I know that wears them since the 70’s and 80’s..LOL. Lastly, while I, personally, abhor coveralls and bib overalls, I think your style is terrific and love seeing you in the photos.

    1. Thanks Lynda! Thinking about it, the reason I felt quite self-conscious and out of my comfort zone was probably because I haven’t worn those two items for ages and I’ve never worn them together. I’m sure if I did it again, I wouldn’t feel as uneasy – and as I’m always saying, it’s good to experiment.

  16. I’m loving plaid this year – I bought two scarves, one in a blue plaid and one in red and they are in constant rotation now that its fall here. Other that that, its solids for me. I absolutely love your look above – CLOGS! I too wear some very similar to yours and they are the best. Keep showing up in the pictures please. Its so refreshing to see a beautiful, non model, over 50 woman who still looks so cool.

  17. I never wear a print in a dress or blouse, but will in a tee. I guess that is because I wear them with jeans or chinos, so it is a very relaxed look. I like the abstract printts as they feel more modern. Love, love the tee you’re wearing.

  18. I am quite short and I love prints. Now I’ve turned 50 I try to be more monochromatic but it’s not working and I’ve started going back to prints. Have to be small prints though and subtle cos of my height.i love the Liberty dress, leather jacket and boots look – I wore it in my 20’sand I think it is my natural home. Having said that on my last trip to Europe I discovered cos and fell in love.

  19. I’ll take texture over print, any day. Scarves are the exception, but even then I am very picky. Every few years I try a print again for fear my solids are too boring. This year I bought a printed pullover-type top and wore it once. Just didn’t feel right the whole day. Then I saw a picture of me taken that day and knew I would never wear the top again. Your top above, however, is a much better print and makes me hopeful I’ll find a print that works. And though you were out of your comfort zone, the kimono top outfit was amazing. Please do keep showing up in the pictures here – I agree with Kathy Dodd! Thanks for inspiring me.

  20. I seem to buy a plaid shirt every winter that I never wear, although I used to be a huge Burberry fan. I do love a little camo if it’s kind of vague & dark. Love Liberty prints, especially on dresses for my granddaughter. I guess the last time I wore alot of prints was very early Laura Ashley days, when she had the shop in South Ken! Now only scarves & perhaps Nikes, never florals. Currently trying unsuccessfully to wear something other than all black; I call my closet “The Temple of Doom”…
    Love seeing you in your posts!

  21. Dots, stripes and tartan scarves. Also eight coloured and patterned bangles. I am quite taken with the clogs. I haven’t owned a pair since being a teenager in the 70’s.

  22. I rarely wear pattern… bold colours or sparkle, DEFINITELY, but not a proper print. I hate florals and lace, so those are out too. I like mixing things like sequins and camouflage, leopard and anything, or sequins and a sweatshirt (lately) but I tire of a proper print so so quickly. I’d want to never see it again after one wear. Its the reason I’d never get a tattoo… it is basically a permanent print, right?! I adore prints on other people, but not so much on me.

  23. I must respond to Noelle’s comment. I love the fact that you wear what you preach. On another blog that I follow, fashions are discussed but she never shows how to wear them. I want to see a 50+ women wearing these pieces, not a young model.

  24. You are definitely not frumpy! I love the top you’re wearing here. The colours are flattering and the pattern isn’t overwhelming at all.

    I often wear a patterned top with plain colour pants. I prefer subtle prints, animal prints and small stripes. Scarves are also a great way to introduce pattern into an outfit without overdoing it.

  25. I am surprised at the cautious or negative response to wearing pattern and print. I find that a well chosen pattern is an important addition to a wardrobe – and incredibly forgiving on the figure, helping to disguise lumps and bumps unlike single solid colours at times. I do not do lace or traditional florals preferring trousers and knitwear/shirts/jackets but some abstract patterns and liberty type prints are wonderful to wear and quite empowering.
    Thank you for your musings Alyson. I am the same age as you and you articulate our interest in fashion etc with honesty and verve.

  26. I wear lots of prints : polka dots, stripes, leopard prints, plaids but with plain bottoms. For example a patterned or floral t-shirt or sweatshirt with jeans or plain coloured trousers. This past summer I wore regularly Uniqlo Liberty floral t-shirts with linen trousers. It became an easy, throw on first thing uniform for me. These shirts are keepers and classic enough and were inexpensive. I got several abroad in summer sale. Prints have to be attractive and not too too large in scale. I’m very fond of scarves, shawls, to add colour and interest to a plainish outfit including jeans and tshirt or sports clothes, leggings, sweatshirt outfits. They add warmth as well as personalising the look of an outfit. I’m especially fond of Etro paisley print scarves in chiffon and wool silk mixtures. They are my signature look. I buy them on sale at Libertys or when travelling abroad. They wash well by hand despite labels to the contrary using Brora cashmere wash in cool water.

  27. I agree, very glad to see an older woman, who is not a model, looking so cool and comfortable. You look great and your blog is one of my favourites. . Please keep posting photos of yourself showing the rest of us how to do it!

  28. The older I get, the less I wear pattern (stripes and scarves excepted). It’s not an aversion to them, but more a case of where I’m buying clothes I’d like to keep until they fall apart decades from now, and so I don’t want anything that could be dated too quickly. I do have my Lilly shorts but wear those mostly around the house or in my small town, and not “out”. I think that the women who like and fearlessly wear prints are possibly the ones who respond unfavorably to gentlewoman styling as well – just a guess.

  29. Please keep posting photos of yourself! I like the pieces focussing on other people, but I really enjoy reading about your take on how to feel stylish and current when you’re in your 50s but can’t quite believe it. I don’t want to look 30 but equally I want to find interesting and up-to-date ways of dressing that I can enjoy. Thank you for sharing your insights and expertise and keep on keeping on.

  30. I agree with Lynda; you looked wonderful in the kimono top and flared trousers. I was wishing I could pull the look off myself! And yes, please, do keep posting photos of yourself. It is refreshing to see honest photos of real people!

  31. I get what you mean about pattern – I prefer less of it too. I have all these ideas in my head but when I put pattern on I don’t feel how I how I imagined I would. You have put the problem into words – you could be a wardrobe psychotherapist! One small thing though, when I click the Warehouse link, I am directed to the clog site.

  32. I used to love prints – Orla Kiely/Zara/Seasalt – the lot. But as I have got older I feel older and frumpier and less ‘pulled together’ in prints and so avoid them like the plague. I don’t think I want to go back to them now – Orla et al. have had their day for me! PS I love you ‘modelling’ the outfits – as my kids would say, you “Keep it real”!!!!!!

  33. I thought you looked lovely in your kimino and wide legged chinos but, as you say, if you don’t feel right nothing anyone else says will change your mind. I also thought it was plain rude of the

  34. I thought you looked lovely in your kimino and wide legged chinos but, as you say, if you don’t feel right in an outfit then nothing anyone else says will ever change your mind. Another thought: Noelle’s criticism was unnecessary and borderline rude. Fair comment is acceptable but not this. Apropos of that, your latest outfit may not be my most favourite but I still think you scrub up nicely!

  35. I recently bought a leopard cardigan which I love. It breaks up my almost totally black and grey wardrobe. Other than that bold move I do wears stripes. Flowers look too Granny on me.

  36. Oh, I’m so happy to read this blog – I thought I was the only person so boring that she always picks plain! However, unlike all your other contributors I find the best way to wear pattern is in a skirt – far enough away from my face that I feel comfortable with all that business. So have just bought a great leopard print pleated skirt from Zara that will look fabulous with boots and a camel top in a few weeks time, plus Whistles have done some lovely prints recently. If I do wear pattern in a top it’s only ever stripes – just opened my wardrobe and it’s a sea of plain plus the odd Breton stripe!

  37. I wear and have always worn lots of prints. I think there are a few reasons, I have curly hair and I think this makes it easier to carry a print ( Do others find this?). I live in the subtropics where prints are in their natural element. I don’t wear black or grey so I need colour, print or texture to enliven neutrals like navy and beige.

  38. For many years I’ve loved colour, pattern and print (lots of Jigsaw) but in the past couple of years (I’m 54) I’ve moved to minimal/one plain colour/Cos. Patterns can feel frumpy now, but I think style and cut has a lot to do with it. Patterned wrap dresses and T-shirt dresses – no, too middle-aged-lady (they’ve all gone to the charity shop). But I have one tea dress, with a small floral print, that gets a compliment every time I wear it,, which is as much to do with the cut as it’s very flattering and skims the menopause-acquired bumps!
    I read once that as we age our clothes and colours should get simpler as our face gets ‘busier’ (less smooth and more lines, uneven skin tone, and especially if we have ‘busy’ wavy or curly hair). I have found that to be true!

  39. Re Noelle’s comment — Alyson, even though I have a different style to you, I like posts where you include a pic of you wearing the look you’re talking about. It would be great if you could include friends of yours (those willing to be photographed!) who have different builds and facial types to you and who suit different styles. I think it would help to give readers inspiration for putting together looks that might suit them.

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