Paisley is everywhere this spring, peppering socks and splashing across swim trunks. But even when it’s not on-trend, the iconic curly teardrop never disappears. The design stems back to ancient Iran, but arrived in Europe in the 17th century, making landfall in the Scottish town of Paisley, where it was used on wool shawls. It soon made its way onto cotton squares that became known as bandanas. It spiked in popularity in the 1960s when it was appropriated by hippies who liked its connection to Eastern cultures – Fender even made a paisley Telecaster guitar. In more recent years the motif shed the psychedelic connection and cozied up to the aging finance crowd.
“There is a surge in prints right now, so it’s having its place in the sun, but established print houses like Liberty of London have been using paisley not for seasons or years, but decades,” says Jon Patrick, style director at J. Hilburn. “Older British brands in particular consider paisley a touchstone in menswear.”
If you’re considering giving the print a spin, and you should, here are a few tricks to pulling it off.
Pay attention to white space
It may sound contradictory, but paisley patterns with fewer colors and lots of white space will appear bolder than those with more fill-in. If you don’t want to look like a gangster on vacation, look for garments with thin lines and less white space. From a distance, it will almost look solid.
Timid dressers should try tossed paisley
A quieter approach to traditional paisley, tossed paisley is an extraction of the pine motif that is then used as an isolated, scattered pattern. It’s perfect for men who want subtle embellishments to their wardrobe, but can’t stomach critter prints.
Experiment with accessories
For suit-and-tie types who appreciate paisley, but don’t want to commit to printed shirts or pants, paisley neckties and pocket squares present a middle path. “It’s a way to test out the pattern without having to step outside your comfort zone,” Patrick says.
Pick one color and build on it
“When in doubt, keep your look tonal,” Patrick says. “The higher you go up in the menswear food chain – think Brunello Cucinelli and Ralph Lauren – the best looks are varying shades of one rich color pieced together.” In other words, pair a gray suit with a white and gray paisley tie that will blend in smoothly.
Look for muted fabrics
Some paisleys incorporate too many swirling colors and begin to look overwhelming and flamboyant. Instead, look for muted or washed down colors that are more approachable. “If it has dusty, desert tones, it’s much less of a stress to wear day-to-day,” Patrick explains.