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  • Writer's pictureginaelisebradbury

Leopard Print is Timeless

The history of leopard print as a fashion statement & its ongoing charm



As a child in the '90s I loved watching MTV. I was mesmerized by the creativity: the music, the sets, the choreography, and of course the outfits. An outfit that particularly stood out to me is the leopard print ensemble worn by Shania Twain in the 1998 music video for 'That Don't Impress me Much'. I think it was the first time I ever saw Shania Twain, and I assumed she was a natural redhead. Looking back, leopard print is definitely something that I associated with the Spice Girls but Shania made leopard print look mysterious and glamorous.


Shania Twain in her iconic leopard print outfit in the 1998 'That Don't Impress Me Much' music video. The hood, the gloves, the choker-like collar and the matching hat box style luggage make this so much more glamorous.
Shania Twain in her iconic leopard print outfit in the 1998 'That Don't Impress Me Much' music video. The hood, gloves, choker-like collar and matching hat box make this so much more glamorous. (goodmorningamerica.com)

The Spice Girls performing at the 1997 Brit Awards. I liked the Spice Girls, and Mel B looked amazing, but for me Shania Twain elevated leopard print.
The Spice Girls performing at the 1997 Brit Awards. I liked the Spice Girls, and Mel B looked amazing, but for me Shania Twain elevated leopard print. (costumerocket.com)

Shania Twain has repeatedly worn leopard print throughout the years. Here she is pictured wearing a leopard print coat at the 1999 Academy of Country Music Awards.
Shania Twain has repeatedly worn leopard print throughout the years. Here she is pictured wearing a leopard print coat at the 1999 Academy of Country Music Awards. (fashionista.com)

Shania Twain in leopard print at the 2022 People's Choice Awards.
Shania Twain in leopard print at the 2022 People's Choice Awards. (goodmorningamerica.com)


Another early leopard print memory for me is when I was given some hand-me-downs from an older girl who lived nearby. This would also have been in the late 1990s. The bag of treasures included a pair of leopard print ankle boots with a heel. They seemed daring and grown-up and I was thrilled about them.



Christian Dior referred to the daring nature of leopard print in his 1954 manual, 'The Little Dictionary of Fashion', when he stated, “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.” (stylist.co.uk, 2018) There is indeed a strength to leopard print as, in my opinion, it can look incredibly striking.


In 2018, it was referred to as "the new neutral" due to a high prevalence of leopard print designs on runways. (stylist.co.uk, 2018) However, regardless of whether or not leopard print has become mainstream, I believe it is the beauty of the natural pattern and the way in which it is styled that gives it its potency. Leopard print is more than just a print, the wearing of the material symbolises the strength and beauty of the animal whose natural spots have made it famous. Also, it is worth noting that leopard print first became mainstream, far before the 2010s, in the 20th century with the development of mass produced fabrics. Regardless of mass production, with its continuing associations and stereotypes, the print still carries its spark. Poppy Corry-Wright (writer for Culture Whisper) accurately described the complexities of its reputation, "From royalty to punk-rockers, realms of kitsch to sophistication, trash to high fashion, there are many different faces of leopard print." (culturewhisper.com, 2018)

Depending upon styling and opinion, views of leopard print lean to the extremes of 'tacky' or elegant. Leopard print's past as a status symbol juxtaposes with societal views of female strength and sexuality (female qualities that have often been wrongly condemned throughout history). Perhaps due to its association with the commercial music scene, there is also a strong association between leopard print and fun/rebellion. Ultimately, the wearing of leopard print requires a certain level of confidence, and this only adds to its allure.


Leopard print may have a strong 1990s association, but it was viewed as a striking fashion statement millennia before.


The Egyptian goddess of wisdom, Seshat is often pictured wearing a leopard or cheetah hide. Perhaps inspired by the goddess, the above image of an Egyptian stele shows the ancient Egyptian princess Nefertiabet wearing a leopard gown.
The Egyptian goddess of wisdom, Seshat is often pictured wearing a leopard or cheetah hide. Perhaps inspired by the goddess, the above image of an Egyptian stele shows the ancient Egyptian princess Nefertiabet wearing a leopard gown. (edition.cnn.com)

Whilst now a no-go zone for many buyers for ethical reasons, from the 18th century to well into the 20th, real fur fashion items were seen as a luxury and associated with wealth and status. As early as the late 1800s, materials were made which mimicked the pattern of leopard fur (for both women and menswear). (darthkendraresearch.wordpress.com, 2015)



A painting of Marie Aurore de Saxe from 1777. She is wearing an animal print dress trimmed with pink ribbon.
A painting of Marie Aurore de Saxe from 1777. She is wearing an animal print dress trimmed with pink ribbon. (darthkendraresearch.wordpress.com)


Leopard print's associations with status and wealth are mirrored in early Hollywood snapshots of stars wearing the material. Leopard print allowed the female stars of vintage Hollywood to deepen their reputation as exotic, successful and alluring women.


Joan Crawford in 1928 in her flapper era wearing a dress trimmed with leopard print.
Joan Crawford in 1928 in her flapper era wearing a dress trimmed with leopard print. (harpersbazaar.com)

Purely posing in leopard print wasn't enough for many vintage starlets. A vintage Hollywood trend was to pose with an actual leopard while wearing the matching print. Stars who featured in such photoshoots include Josephine Baker, Joan Blondell, Acquanetta, Gene Tierney, Betty Page and Eartha Kitt.


Actress Acquanetta posing during a photoshoot for the 1946 movie 'Tarzan and the Leopard Woman'.
Actress Acquanetta posing during a photoshoot for the 1946 movie 'Tarzan and the Leopard Woman'. (thelastdrivein.com)

For style inspiration, I've shared more images below of women who have worn leopard print with style over the decades:


An image of a studio negative taken of Marilyn Monroe in a leopard print and  black outfit for the 1954 movie 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes'.
An image of a studio negative taken of Marilyn Monroe in a leopard print and black outfit for the 1954 movie 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes'. (entertainment.ha.com)

Elizabeth Taylor in 1962 wearing a leopard print coat and coordinating ballet pumps.
Elizabeth Taylor in 1962 wearing a leopard print coat and coordinating ballet pumps. (harpersbazaar.com)

The queen of classy dressing, Jackie Kennedy, photographed in the 1960's wearing a leopard print coat with a matching hat and black leather gloves.
The queen of classy dressing, Jackie Kennedy, photographed in the 1960s wearing a leopard print coat with a matching hat and black leather gloves. (glamourmagazine.co.uk)

Anne Bancroft wore leopard print when playing the part of Mrs Robinson in 1967's 'The Graduate'.
Anne Bancroft wore leopard print when playing the part of Mrs Robinson in 1967's 'The Graduate'. (glamour.com)

Debbie Harry wearing a leopard print dress in the late 1970's.
Debbie Harry wearing a leopard print dress in the late 1970s. (blameitonthebrioche.wordpress.com) A photograph from this session was used for the cover art of the 1978 UK release of 'Denis'.

Alexa Chung, another loyal wearer of leopard print, photographed wearing a leopard print coat in 2017.
Alexa Chung, a repeat wearer of leopard print, photographed wearing a leopard print coat in 2017. (china.com.cn)

Kate Moss, another loyal wearer of leopard print, photographed in Paris wearing a beautiful vintage metallic leopard print dress in 2019.
Kate Moss, another loyal wearer of leopard print, photographed in Paris wearing a beautiful vintage metallic leopard print dress in 2019. (vogue.co.uk)


Let me know what you think of leopard print in the comments: is it something you wear/would wear? and who do you think wears leopard print the best? Thank you for reading, Gina.




Writing Sources

Article by Anita Bhagwandas, Stylist, 2018.

Article by Marianna Cerini. CNN. 2018.

Article by Poppy Cory-Wright. Culture Whisper. 2018.


Non-Linked Image Sources




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