Micro prints hit the men’s fashion scene in a big way back around 2014. I, along with a crapzillion hipster millenials, couldn’t even and had to get my hands on some. Primarily, this trend manifested itself in casual, button-up, collared shirts, but it also has found its way onto t-shirts, shorts, trousers, socks, shoes, neckwear, and an assortment of other items… and is still going strong.

assorted micro print

Now, the O.G. of micro prints – polka dots – has seen its share of rises and falls in popularity many times throughout the history of fashion, and it definitely has a presence here. A nice micro polka dot shirt or pin dot necktie can be a real classy and stylish way to say, “I have always been and will always be cool,” but micro prints have become so much more these days.

micro polka dot

Micro prints range from simple geometric shapes to more complex (but still miniature) medallions and design elements to teeny tiny drawings or silhouettes of animals or any manner of other objects and symbols. As a general guideline, I personally stay away from anything too literal. This is largely a matter of taste, but I tend to follow this rule in most aspects of style 99% of the time. This is certainly not a hard and fast rule, though.

micro print close-ups

While I generally am more selective with prints involving recognizable shapes or symbols (e.x., anchors, sharks, stars, leaves, skulls, palm trees, hipster mustaches, etc.), there are some that are more subtle and tastefully done. I have to confess I did buy an awesome pair of dark blue pajama pants at Target with tiny red crabs printed all over them. I felt my life was incomplete without a comfy pair of crabby pants to have on hand when occasion calls for it. I regret nothing. You only #YOLO once, after all.

literal micro print

Microfloral

Typically, I have tended to steer away from floral prints, in general, (summon the tribunal; we’re revoking his bohemian membership card!) but this increasingly popular microfloral offshoot of the micro print trend can be interesting, if done right. Many florals are a little visually overwhelming since there can be a tendency toward too many colors combined with lack of any clear, visual structure. This trend toward micro, however, is certainly a step in the right direction, in my opinion, for anyone with any inclination to look like a walking botany study. The key, though, is simplicity. Reach for microflorals with a limited color palette and limited variation of scale and shape in their floral elements – there should be some relative visual consistency throughout. Additionally, pairing your microflorals with rugged, edgy, or structured pieces like a blazer, some denim, or even some leather can add some masculinity as well as interesting visual contrast.

assorted micro print

General Rules of Thumb

  1. Order and organization – with the exception of microfloral prints, the print should adhere to a consistent, invisible grid, usually a diagonal, diamond, or offset (like bricks) grid. It should not appear random and scattered but should maintain a solid sense of visual rhythm.
  2. Organic shapes – favor prints that are not overly rectangular and have curves, roundness, or even a variety of angles to them so as to offset the rigidness of the structure mentioned in rule #1. This means, for the most part, avoid anything akin to checkers, gingham, windowpane, or similar patterns as much as possible. Those are too structured and don’t tend to feel relaxed.
  3. Breathing room – the print should be composed of stand-alone elements that don’t touch one another. They should lay isolated and independent on a field of color and not overlap, feel too claustrophobically clustered, or appear imprisoned by the structure that contains them. There is some range in the allowable looseness of the composition, but it should possess an overall sense of freedom.
  4. Simplicity – generally, you want to keep the visual noise to a minimum. This means be careful of overly complex shapes and excessive use of color. When you step back from the print, it should operate, essentially, like a 2-dimensional texture.
  5. Scale – being that we’re talking micro prints, I suppose it might go without saying, but stick to small scale prints. Something as tiny as pin dots is perfectly acceptable. As complexity increases, scale is likely to increase as well. You can get away with slightly larger scale prints if there is added detail needing to be accommodated or if the element is particularly airy, but you’re not going to want simple polka dots at the larger scale an intricate medallion might be, for example. For the most part, micro print elements shouldn’t be larger than your thumbnail. I guess you could call this my rule of thumbnail.

These are just a few basics I follow, but, of course, none of these rules can’t be broken if that’s what you need to do to follow your bliss. I certainly wouldn’t want to get in the way of that.

men's micro print fashion

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