A cursory Google search for the phrase “four pattern bingo” cites its first usage in 2014 by StyleForum user Sugarbutch, but he actually used it two years earlier, of all places in a thread devoted toward conservative business dress. Granted, he does hail from San Francisco, so there’s that.
The path of menswear usually starts with identifying and appreciating style, whether it be Ivy, Italian, English, from one era or another. The first item of focus is usually the suit, and once purchased, accessories need to be chosen, and this is generally when men begin to try their hand at mixing patterns. One pattern is easy, but once a second is added, the challenge begins, and increases exponentially in difficulty as patterns are added. When every visible fabric – suit, shirt, tie, and pocket square – is a pattern that plays well with the others, you have four-pattern bingo.
Rarely is this executed well. In fact, most pattern combinations are abominations. The worst offenders come from well-intentioned “consultants” who plague the internet with such acutely malfeasant “inspiration pics” that would be hilarious if they weren’t so painfully, wretchedly, cluelessly sad. Forgive me for throwing these sartorial daggers at your eyes, but if this is you, please stop bombarding our eyes with these aberrant atrocities. In many cases, the patterns themselves are terrible to begin with. Pairing it with another ugly pattern isn’t clever, it’s a disaster. These are patterns and fabrics to avoid:
Then there are patterns are fine but have no business in classic menswear. If you’re wearing a tie, that means no shirts in plaid, flower print, or awning stripes; save those for more casual outfits.
Most offensive, however, is the dizzying headache that happens when patterns of similar scale are next to each other, or when all the patterns are competing in boldness.
First off, let’s establish that you already understand the tried and true fabrics and patterns of classic menswear. Even so, the tenets of scale cannot be overemphasized. Think of patterns as instruments in an musical ensemble. When just one is playing, it takes center stage, but when all are playing at the same time, they must supportively harmonize or risk clashing in dissonant discord. Classic four-part harmony, for example, does this by keeping the instruments in different scales of soprano, alto, tenor, and bass.
Similarly, in four-pattern bingo, each element has to differ in scale to effectively harmonize. Here is an excerpt taken from the primer Mastering Complex Patterns:
If more than one pattern, the scale of each must harmonize via contrast. Think of it this way: The items that are closest to each other should be dissimilar in scale; your ensemble should not look too busy. If your jacket has a large pattern, the shirt’s pattern should be smaller. If the shirt’s pattern is small, the tie’s pattern should be large. If you decide to wear a pocket square, its scale should differ from the jacket.
Put simply, it is the size and density of the pattern. Much can be written and theorized (this is Ed’s thread with loads of commentary) but it’s easier to demonstrate with pictures. One particular Styleforum member that loves to experiment with patterns, often successfully, is @Braddock, AKA Benedikt Fries of Shibumi Firenze. Let’s look at some of his outfits:
Large scale low density windowpane jacket; medium scale, medium density paisley pocket square; large scale, high density plaid tie; small scale, high density check shirt
Large scale low density striped jacket; medium scale, medium density paisley pocket square; medium scale, medium density striped shirt; medium scale, medium density printed tie
Large scale plaid jacket; medium scale, low density pocket square; small scale striped shirt; large scale striped tie
Large scale plaid jacket; medium scale, low density pocket square; small scale, high density striped shirt; medium scale, medium density printed tie
Large scale low density windowpane jacket; medium scale, medium density paisley pocket square; small scale, high density striped shirt; medium scale, medium density printed tie
Braddock is not the only user who understands how to mix patterns successfully, but the others who do follow the same guidelines. Also, most of the colors are muted, or there is only one that stands out. When you have more than one bold item or color you run the risk of looking like a Dick Tracy extra. Like this guy:
The checks are too defined, the colors too saturated, everything is glaringly pronounced. When choosing fabrics, chose fuzzy windowpanes, muted ties, shirts with light coloreds stripes. The otherwise harmonizing patterns are destroyed by competition for attention.
Four-pattern bingo is a game wrought with difficulty, but it can be won. Keep the patterns classic, make sure their size and density harmonize well, and don’t forget the basics of subdued color coordination. Have fun, don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but don’t be so blockheaded as to brush aside aesthetics. You want people to notice you, not your clothes.
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Peter works in construction, but has an extensive collection of custom suits which he gets so that he can wear suits on the weekend. Even though he lives in San Francisco, he has never used the word "impact" as a verb. He writes about classic menswear and is one fedora away from being a complete dork.
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