The History of Leopard Print in Retro Fashion

history of leopard print in fashion

Animal skins were among the first materials ever used for human clothing. Big cats are fierce creatures with beautiful coats, and so their skins were among the most valuable. Images as early as those from ancient Egypt show powerful women rocking leopard spots. In modern fashion, leopard print is still assured to be an attention getting detail. It has connotations of luxury, power, and animal sexuality.

The actress Marion Nixon turned heads and started trends in the 1920s by walking her pet leopard down Hollywood streets while wearing a matching coat of her own. Christian Dior is credited with creating the first leopard print fabrics for his 1947 collection, the two dresses that featured it called "Jungle" and "Afrique." In his Little Dictionary of Fashion Christian Dior cautioned: “But to wear leopard you must have a kind of femininity which is a little bit sophisticated. If you are fair and sweet, don’t wear it...”

From Marilyn Monroe's accessories to pin up Bettie Page's swimsuit, mid century celebrities helped to cement the association of leopard print with glamour and sexuality. Truffaut's amourus 1964 film "The Soft Skin" contained the memorable line "Leopard skin. Women who wear them like making love." In 1976's The Graduate, seductive Mrs. Robinson wears leopard and other animal prints. It remained a popular pattern through the 1960s, now popping up on powerful female characters on Mad Men.

Joan Mad Men leopard print blouse


By the 1970s and 1980s, leopard print was considered tacky - worn by drag queens, prostitutes, and those who had not updated their style since the 1950s. Punk rock style seized on the transgressive idea of  celebrating tackiness, as well as the association of leopard with strong sexuality. This association with punk, and a visit to the original 1950s source material is where the prominence of leopard print in rockabilly style originates.

Today, leopard print has become a staple, with designers ranging from Betsey Johnson to Dolce and Gabbana employing it constantly. Retro or modern, leopard print is a strong style statement that loves. For a little leopard at the office, a la Joan on Mad men, try our Ella Top in Hip Kitty, a leopard cardigan, or an A Line skirt. Stand out in a sea of floral sundresses with our Swettie Dress in Hip Kitty. Don't forget to pick up some our perfect solid staples to combine with your animal accessories. Our Trixie Top,  Super Spy dresses, and the sophisticated Stefanie Dress are perfect companions to your leopard print shoes, belts and scarves.

If you are a lover of the actual big cats that these looks are inspired by, check out Big Cat Rescue. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram for wonderful photos and information. They do a lot of great work to help these gorgeous animals!

Marilyn Monroe wearing leopard print
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