Apparently, the devil doesn’t wear Prada, it wears stripes. Well, at least according to the history of fashion. I will share with you story about the stripes, but not now. For this article, I wanted to see how my favorite print influenced the world of fashion. It’s a print you either love or hate, print that can be a complete disaster or to look like it’s straight from the red carpet. Yeah, I am talking about animal print.
So, once upon a time, there was a strong belief that by carrying animal prints, as well as the leather in general, you actually get a part of the power of the particular animal. If someone wears something with the print of a lion skin, part of his fearlessness and strength would be transferred to the one who wears it. Colors and patterns that imitate animals fur became popular in the 18th century. Silk dresses made in combination with the finest lace, whose design assembled fur and animal pattern, were a synonym for well wealth and social status. The dominant belief was that animal print also posses a certain erotic and seductive powers, which is why it was present on the most of the underwear of that time. Part of this belief was alive during the 20th century also. A good example are pin-up girls, especially Betty Page who wore animal print bikinis in many of her photos.
However, it also became very easy to cross the line of good taste because of the desire to be erotic, seductive, fearless and bravely dresses at the same time. Therefore, animal print slowly began to associate with more of a bad taste and people who only wanted to draw attention to themselves. From that moment on, a reputation of animal print, just like today, oscillated between a sophisticated, classic and timeless pattern, and cheap, trashy and kitsch. In order to direct people to the right path, early mainstream fashion articles advised their readers to wear it moderately, only in details and to not mix more animal patterns at once, in order to avoid sending suggestive messages.
In the thirties of the twentieth century, thanks to the movie Tarzan there was a sort of an animal print bloom. After the movie came out in 1932, the audience wished for themselves a piece of clothing like Jane and Tarzan wore. Many designers of that era, in spite of the socially dominant role for the woman, created animal print blouses, coats, and scarves to show the adventurous spirit and excitement of the jungle, as well as the independence of the spirit… All those things were in contrast to the femininity ideals and desirable female roles of the thirties.
Christian Dior is an important name to mention when we talk about the animal pattern. His 1947 spring collection had a lot of animal print details in it. He made two dresses, one midi length for everyday occasions, and another one long and from silk for special occasions, both in this print. Dior always felted that this print is not for everyone, and what he advice was that to wear a “leopard”, you must have a sophisticated type of femininity, and if you are simple and cute, you should avoid animal print. During the fifties, popular old Hollywood starts were in charge of promoting this pattern. When people saw Marylin Monroe in Japan, where she was on her honeymoon, how she wears an animal print scarf around her neck, for the next decade woman wear it just like that. It was a synonym for a good taste, elegance and simple for Marylin. At the beginning of the seventies, the fashion world was interested in exotic and distant cultures, often presented through the combination of animal patterns and safari style. But also, we shouldn’t forget the birth of the punk subculture which embodied this print as a crucial part of its visual identity, and thus, giving it a new, more alternative meaning. Since then, it was no longer only a symbol of luxury in high fashion, or cheap and trashy in popular, it became part of the street style.
An important part of the animal print story, that influenced on how people perceive and wear this pattern, is the interference if animal rights fighters in the fashion world. After the international law prohibited the trade of endangered species, what happened next is the rising awareness of how the animals were treated and killed to get the fur, as well as speculations of the morality of the act himself. Fake fur became more and more popular, which only contributed that animal print loses his status symbol because it became available to all layers of society.
Today, in order to satisfy’s everyone taste, animal print is represented in all colors and on various pieces of clothing and details. Maybe it did lose his former reputation, but a bit ironically, it became more popular and more represented in the fashion world than ever before. Perhaps animal print didn’t significantly change the stream of fashion, but the fashion world changes him for sure.
By Miss Psycho Cat