Animal Print: From Trashy to Classy


Animals die, their prints don’t.

By Megan Shelton

I love a good animal print. The neutral-colored pattern makes it easy to pair with just about anything. Animal print was featured all of Autumn/Winter 2018 and is once again all the rage. But, its controversial reputation is undeniable. In her book Fierce: The History of Leopard Print, burlesque performer and personality Jo Weldon explores the history and role of animal print. Let’s take a look at how far the staple pattern has come.

The beginnings of fashion’s current infatuation can be traced back to the 1920s. The fascination with the actual animals (from which the prints are of course derived) was showcased in the 1938 film Bringing Up Baby, starring Hollywood icons Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn.

Cary Grant & Katharine Hepburn, Bringing Up Baby (1938)

By the 1950s, animal print was the highest symbol of sophistication. Dressed in head-to-toe the print, singer and actress Eartha Kitt exemplified confidence and control, holding the leash of a cheetah calmly. Meanwhile, perceived lower members of pop culture tried to emulate her tasteful image in what the 50’s would consider not so tasteful. American model Bettie Page, the Queen of Pinup, known for her scantily-clad Jungle Bettie photos, sexually posed alongside leopards in leopard skin.

Eartha Kitt

Bettie Page

First Lady Jackie Kennedy stepped out of the White House wearing a leopard print coat in 1962. The timeless fashion icon showcased class and refinement. The late 1960s displayed outfits mixing natural textures. The popular German model Veruschka was shot in Kenya with Salvador Dali and photographer Peter Beard.  


Eventually, animal rights activists gained societal momentum. This once-posh print was suddenly considered low-class and racy. But, with the power popularity of rock n’ roll, the print was as apropos as ever.

Mark Bolan of the rock band T-Rex (1977)

Ever since, opinions on animal print have fluctuated from tacky and trashy to feminine and classy. If done right, it is tasteful. If not, it is tasteless. Fictional characters from the 1980s and 90s such as Alexis Colby from Dynasty and Peg Bundy from Married… with Children demonstrated this. In trying to keep up with runway styles, a number of popular fast-fashion brands created knockoff animal print items, tarnishing the print’s image.

With contemporary reality television shows like Jersey Shore, cast members were constantly wearing the print in zany, neon colors, promoting it as cheap.

Peg Bundy, Married with Children

Snooki & JWoww of Jersey Shore

This summer, countless social media influencers posted in The Naomi skirt by Realisation Par, a silky animal-print slip skirt. The Internet went crazy for it – the skirt has sold out multiple times.

The Naomi Skirt by Realisation Par

On the Fall/Winter 2018 runways, animal print was everywhere. Cardi B walked into the Dolce Gabbana Spring/Summer 2018 show in a full leopard look. Though D&G is an interesting choice (because they’re problematic), we are here for it. So much so in fact, that we took the liberty of exploring the runways from the season and found some pieces that will be significant for decades.

Cardi B attends the Dolce & Gabbana SSW18 show

The Dress

This dress from KITRI is giving us major Carolina Herrera (Look 6) vibes at a more practical price point. This is the perfect transitional dress. For a daytime look, wear it with high boots and minimal accessories for the ideal business casual outfit. Then, amp up the lipstick and eye makeup for the night.

The Jacket

This Victoria Beckham trench coat was arguably one of the most interesting pieces of her AW18 collection. The middle clasp and the oversized collar are statements in themselves, and animal print goes with everything. Walter Baker’s version is a great alternative.

The Bag

Crossbody bags are a necessity in every wardrobe, and this structured tote is no exception. A trend this fall is matching the prints from your bag with the rest of your outfits.. Plus, the bag is  gives just enough a statement to every outfit with being too much.

Cover Image by Taylore Ratsep