Style + Ask The Edit

A Serious Conversation about Summer Prints

When the warm weather arrives, the summer prints appear: seersucker, critter prints, madras and florals.  But sadly, some of you are wearing these prints in ways that are neither flattering or stylish.

For the men, pairing your anchor-printed critter pants with your seersucker blazer, your madras bow tie, your boat shoes and a pocket square looks more like a bad costume than work attire.  And when I see a woman in a pink seersucker skirt with embroidered pineapples on it (like I did last Tuesday), I wonder what made her think that that was a good idea.  The trick with these prints is to wade into the pool without drowning yourself in it.

Seersucker. As we’ll talk about in the afternoon post, seersucker looks best when worn sparingly.  A seersucker pencil skirt with a chambray shirt or chiffon blouse embraces the summer print without drowning in it.  Seersucker slacks with a tee and a cardigan or a seersucker blazer with navy and white separates would both be office appropriate.  But wearing seersucker both top and bottom is overwhelming on even the preppiest of people. 

Basically, if you’re wearing seersucker, you shouldn’t be wearing it top and bottom.  And you definitely shouldn’t be wearing a three-piece seersucker suit.

Critter Prints.  I deplore critter prints.  In fact, just last week, I was entering the building and visibly cringed when I saw a young woman in a dragonfly embroidered miniskirt walking beside a man with sailboats stitched onto his trousers.  They looked like they’d been shopping in the children’s section at J.CREW.

Once you graduate sixth grade, your clothes should be blissfully free of embroidered decorative print.  It’s not preppy, it’s juvenile.  And if I can’t stop you, I’d at least caution you to steer clear of the crabby critter pants.  I’d hate for your attire to lead to confusion about your STD status.  

Madras.  While I wouldn’t wear it myself, unlike critter pants, madras doesn’t make my retinas bleed.  Much. 

This brightly-colored plaid is purely casual, outdoor, non-office wear. It is best worn at the beach, the pool or the golf course.  I would also accept it’s presence at a backyard BBQ or casual outdoor event. 

You might even be able to wear a madras shirt with navy slacks on casual Friday, but beyond that, madras is not work attire.  So leave your patchwork plaid blazer at home, you’re scaring the tourists.

Florals. If you’re looking for a timeless, classic, summer print, then you’re in search of florals.  Whether you like a big print or a small print, a floral pattern will never go out of style.  However, you should use good judgement when purchasing florals.  

Daisies on a black field? No.  Large blooms on pleated ankle pants?  Also no.  As for floral-printed ties, most of them look like the curtains at my Grandmother’s house and should be avoided.

I find that it’s best to stick to florals in a green, blue, purple, red or pink print.  They look best on tan, navy, white or pastel fields.  Basically, if flowers don’t grow naturally in that color, skip it.  And when you try on the item, be sure to consider whether you are wearing the floral print or whether it is wearing you.

The Banned List.  There are many other summer prints besides the ones mentioned above: bamboo prints, palm leaves, basically anything by Tommy Bahama.  These garish monstrosities are permanently on the banned list.  As are Hawaiian prints and anything with birds, fish or any other of God’s creatures.

The summer is a time for vibrant colors and bold prints, however, there’s a fine, but distinct, line between bold and gawdy.  So unless you want your clothes screaming louder than a newborn with colic, I suggest you wear prints in moderation.  In other words, choose, but choose wisely.



  1. sara says:


    June 7, 2011/Reply
  2. AD says:

    Note to everyone: The J. Crew seersucker pencil skirt? Notice that they don't provide a back view of the skirt. The back features this weird exterior/exposed zipper with a pulltab looking thing instead of your typically hidden zipper. It was so horrendous, I returned it immediately. Way to take a classic and ruin it J. Crew.

    June 7, 2011/Reply
  3. near the hill says:

    Hi Belle! This seems like something no one should need to do, but could you write a post about what is/is not appropriate to wear to the White House/similar DC function? I lucked into a ticket to Angela Merkel's welcome ceremony today and could not believe how many women were dressed like this: Cute for the club, not so much the White House. Straighten them out please!

    June 7, 2011/Reply
  4. amy b.s. says:

    totally agree with you about the critter prints. i have a hard enough time getting myself into anything printed, so critter prints are just never going to happen. and shouldn't. but i love that seersucker jacket! but promise not to wear it with it's matching anything.

    June 7, 2011/Reply
  5. AS12 says:

    Belle, I'm a regular reader who never posts, but I had to chime in today just to compliment you on your writing voice. You never fail to make me smile with your words and perspective. And, you have great taste. Thanks for providing a much-needed reading break for me on these dreary days.

    June 7, 2011/Reply
  6. KAS says:

    Seersucker is a fabric not a print.

    June 7, 2011/Reply
  7. Belle says:

    True. But ask anyone on the street what they think of when you say “seersucker” and 90% of the time, they'll say stripe print.

    June 7, 2011/Reply
  8. MM says:

    Whenever I see guys in critter pants, I always think “He must have bought that himself, because no self-respecting woman would pick that out for him…but how could he have bought that himself?!” Especially the pink ones. I just don't understand what would be going though a man's mind when he decided to buy those pants.

    June 7, 2011/Reply
  9. Jessica says:

    Any opinions on wearing colored animal print? For example, I own a dark blue and black “large cheetah print” crew neck jersey sheath dress, hits about an inch above the knee cap.

    June 7, 2011/Reply
  10. KM says:

    I second “near the hill”s suggestion. i've volunteered at the White House for events and been absolutely stunned at what some people choose to wear. the last time I volunteered at an event (the Easter Egg Roll) I noticed a woman who wasn't wearing a bra! If someone can visibly see that you are not wearing an undergarment when you need one, you have a problem right there. Not to mention- who would go to the White House bra-less? I just do not understand some people. On the same point, I highly advise against wearing any kind of heels to the White House, as most events are held on the South Lawn and heels sink straight through. I always feel very sorry for the poor women who are tromping around the Lawn trying not to fall over.

    June 8, 2011/Reply
  11. Sonia says:

    I'm a recent reader of your blog, and I love your opinionated posts.

    I'm a university student from southern California, so it's interesting to read about how things are fashion-wise on the other side of the country. I must say, the “rules” are a lot more lax here regarding summery prints – I'm not saying a lot of them don't look tacky, but there seems to be a higher tolerance for tackiness here. Here, a professor can show up teaching his classes wearing a garish colorful printed shirt as long as he has decent pants and shoes to offset that, I kid you not.

    Though I personally find animal print clothing more aesthetically offensive than those sporting palm or bamboo leaves, as the majority of animal-print clothes in general I see are brightly colored and trashy, while the latter are just a bit unfashionable.

    June 8, 2011/Reply
  12. Sam says:

    So searsucker dresses – okay or the same issues as a searsucker suit?

    June 8, 2011/Reply
  13. Anonymous says:

    I have to disagree on the animal prints. Erin Fetherston did a collection of beautiful, tasteful bird-print dresses last season. The problem with all of these fabrics and prints seems to be in execution, not the print itself.

    June 8, 2011/Reply