Animal print fashion has been around since the early 1930s, but this was before it was “fashionable”. It was a sign of virtue. The ownership of animal print throughout the home represented high social status. With some hunters believing they could gain the power of the animal from the respective print.
Presenting the ideology that wearing cheetah skin could make your speed similar to a cheetah’s seems slightly ludicrous. Nowadays, the general consensus is that this is not true. But this has not stopped people wearing it and demand is still prevalent.
But does our choice of animal print fashion offer “powerful” and “sexy” connotations in the eyes of society? Or is it just symbolising these attributes?
Power-dressing with animal print fashion
To understand whether or not society has adopted animal print fashion as being powerful, it is important to break down this meaning – literally. Power can be defined as the ability or capacity to do something in a certain manner.
Animals are intrinsically powerful and they are unarguably strong. Some mammals acquire strength that even the strongest man could only dream about. When we choose to wear animal print we are, possibly subconsciously, attempting to mimic these characteristics.
When people wear animal print, they want to be recognised. So, maybe it does assert a message of confidence and independence. Paul Surridge, Roberto Cavalli’s creative director, believes “when you put it on it changes the way you feel”.
This empowerment through the print has a prevalent place in society today. Designers want to represent, through their collections, the power and place of women today.
Sexy: “If you are fair and sweet, don’t wear it”
Defining sexy should not be taken so literally, it needs to be contextualised. Sexy, in a dictionary sense, means to be suggestive or stimulating. Although, sex appeal is entirely subjective. It is hard to provide a concise definition, as it means something different to everyone.
Historically, leopard print (collective term for all large cat prints) has been expressed as the “sexy” print. One of the first history making collections, in 1957, was by Christian Dior. A collection created in honour of his friend – Mitzah Bricard – who wore something leopard print every day.
Dior stated “if you are fair and sweet, don’t wear it”. Leopard print for him denoted: maturity, power and sexual experience. It represented women who were comfortably aware of the danger and allure of their personal sexual appeal.
Just like animals are inherently powerful, big cats are warm-blooded and wild. Leopards are nocturnal mammals and the evening is also our leisure time when dates are more likely to occur. Thus, it is no surprise there is a connection between leopard print and eroticism.
Clothing as a personal reflection
Clothing is 100% a personal reflection, not only of who we are, but who we want to be. There is an entire sub section of psychology dedicated to dress. The book “You are what you wear”, by clinical psychologist Dr. Jennifer Baumgarter, reaffirms that the clothes we choose are an “accurate indicator of what you think of yourself and your life”.
Animal print depicts diversity. It can shift to fit so many different versions of womanhood. From royalty to middle-class to trashy to supermodel the print has been worn by all. Perhaps that is why society has deemed animal print to have powerful and sexy connotations.
With the vast societal reach that animal print has had, individuals wear it to encompass different personal reflections. It is so interesting that one print can offer such variation in who people want to be.
Literalism vs. Symbolism: Animal Print Fashion
I don’t think that animal print fashion literally represents power. However, in the context of seasons animal print has proved itself as a powerful non-mover. Animal prints are constantly being sent down the catwalk, and reappearing collection after collection.
I believe people feel a sense of empowerment when they wear it. It exerts confidence and sense belief. No one wears it who wants to sit in a corner all night.
Animal print fashion has also been defined as sexy. Partly because of the parallels between the mammal and human nature. Once again this needs to be taken more liberally. There is general belief that when leopard is worn, women can feel more body confident and feminine.
Society has socially defined animal print to have powerful and sexy connotations. Even so, it should be taken as a form of symbolism rather than quite so literally. Disregarding socially constructed definitions of animal print, there is no denying that leopard: is fashion’s most powerful print.