It’s all a bit patchy. As an evolution of color-blocking and the Versace pattern, patchwork print menswear might as well be considered highly organized, blatant chaos.
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It’s an understatement to say that menswear is knee-deep in prints. Designers have moved far beyond florals, have reworked plaid in countless ways, and are now bored with geometric and pop art patterns. The next step? Patchwork – of course.
Although the name brings up quilt-like imagery, patchwork at its core is an extension of the Versace-esque print.
The venerable fashion house revived its distinctively ‘90s mixed-media prints a few seasons ago. Now, brands from high end to High Street see nothing with blending animal skins with stripes, paisley, and golden-yellow chain details.
Right now, it’s almost provocative to stick with solid, neutral shades.
The patchwork print – a trend now stretching from womenswear to menswear – could also be considered a fusion pattern. While its everything-goes concept overlaps with the Versace mixed-media combination, there’s something more structured about it.
Strictly, it exists within a geometric framework – unlike with the Versace prints, very little feels fluid about it – but it’s also not intentionally planned out. Part of it resembles a grade-school art project, but another part adheres to a grid.
Overlapping – both literally and metaphorically – gives it that “make do with what we have on hand” impression.
As a third and equally key aspect, its return coincides with what’s being dubbed the psychedelic print.
Counterculture in implication but pulling liberally from rave fashion, the pattern feels at home at a ‘70s disco night without it looking like you raided your parents’ closet. It also takes a mature approach to the Second Summer of Love.
How to Pull Patchwork Off
As such, the result says that you don’t take yourself too seriously – but have still grown up from your acid house days.
Keeping these factors in mind, how should you approach men’s patchwork prints?
Start With a Patch or Two
In looking to the runway as a source of inspiration, a patch is just enough to get you started. Japanese brand Sacai, for instance, adds a couple of patterned patch accents to pieces with strong military influences.
The result, here, implies that you’ve taken a surplus item and altered it on your own terms.
Then, in line with this aesthetic, Junya Watanabe fuses patchwork and cut-and-sew designs. The results are somewhat piece-y, tonally color-blocked jackets that maintain that DIY quality without resembling a bedspread.
In terms of everyday wear, this approach is fairly straightforward. Seek out blazers and athletic jackets with contrasting elbow patches, and denim – both jeans and trucker jackets – with sewn-on patch accents.
In all cases, the patch should not just create a color contrast but further break up the texture and print. Think herringbone or houndstooth on run-of-the-mill blue jeans.
Don’t Settle for Anything Orderly
If you wanted a grid, you’d settle for windowpane. That type of precision isn’t necessary – or even wanted – with patchwork prints.
Whether an item is actually pieced together or resembles a traditional patchwork combination, stray away from anything that looks blocky or like a series of bricks.
Specifically, avoid strong, hard lines going in opposite, right-angled directions, and any alternating colorways. Remember, although the print might pull from certain colors or patterns, it shouldn’t seem planned and calculated.
Adding to that scrappy aesthetic are multiple textures. Much like an actual quilt, a true patchwork pattern pulls from more than one fabric type. Perhaps corduroy, silk, tweed, or jacquard – and accents these differences.
Although it sounds like an oxymoron, the monochrome patchwork puts colors and prints on the backburner. Instead, it highlights the fabric’s varied tactile aspects.
On an everyday level, seek out jackets that, through a paneled design, play one texture off another. A baseball jacket is one fairly common example. Shirt wise, the patchwork print rayon camp shirt presents a relatively versatile yet impactful example.
Look out for patterns that resemble a series of overlapping, multicolored fabrics or an assortment of bandanas tied together.
Go Big or Go Home – It’s a Maximalist Print
With most menswear prints in the present, there’s no reason to take the small, understated route.
We understand that you have to dip your toe into the water to get started, but after you’re acclimated, there’s little sense in staying tepid. Or to use a pool analogy, paddling around the shallow end.
You have greater depths – and more expansive tracts – to explore. In this regard, patchwork is a maximalist – or large scale, if you will – print, plain and simple.
To take it to its fullest, you’ve got to zero in on bold, bright shades and lots of contrasts – think of it as color-blocking 2.0. This advanced stage veers away from simple, easy-to-combine paneling, and tosses in several variables – smaller shapes, several patterns, and often blurred or less-distinct borders.
You can see this intentional haphazardness all the way from Vineyard Vines through Stussy and various runway collections.
On the subject of higher-end fashion, Stella McCartney’s “All Together Now” falls within the maximalist vein. It’s a collection of men’s and women’s pieces that pay tribute to, and use imagery from, the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine album.
Full-length jackets begin with a solid-color foundation, yet patches added over the surface – in no particular order – mimic the prideful, DIY fandom of a high school student going through his latest band obsession. Added to this, button-fronts incorporate graphic patches of variable size to reflect the movie’s trippy character.
As perhaps a contrast to all this, the Comme des Garçons shirt collection proves to be a master in monochromatic patchwork. Shirts appear pieced together from wavy, uneven shapes with raised, overlapping borders, and contrast stitching intentionally draws attention to their incongruousness. Yet, it’s not all so muted and obscure.
Going in the opposite direction, applique-like accents covering large portions of button-front shirts resemble colorful folk art and often feature internal, multicolored patchwork detailing.
Even with this mindset, though, you can definitely have too much of a good thing, and head-to-toe patchwork shows this. Rather, as with all statement prints, leave it to a single garment, and reserve the neutral and cool shades for the rest of your outfit.