The Evolution Of Leopard Print Over The Years

The prevalence of this print in fashion

via BBC / Instagram

Leopard print has lived many lives. From the back of the literal leopard to coats, handbags, shoes and furnishings, we’ve appropriated it into as many style items as we could. Strangely, though, the fashion world has fluctuated wildly on their leopard print stance – is it tacky or trendy? Glamorous or gaudy? Every couple of years we seem to change our minds. 


Before the 1970s, leopard and other animal prints were generally seen as a symbol of wealth and status (only the upper classes would have had access to animal skin). ‘Well to do’ women like Jackie Kennedy wore it with pride. But then came the rapid mass production of clothing; and leopard print as a pattern was reproduced to the point that it lost its once-regal connotations. 


By the early 80s, leopard print had firmly fallen from grace. It was seen as ‘common’, and unsophisticated, used in the media to depict women who were of ‘poor’ taste and brash, loud natures. Think Pat Butcher from Eastenders!

via BBC


Thanks to icons like Debbie Harry enjoying the provocative nature of the print, by the early 90s it was elevated once again. It had been adopted into punk rock scenes in a somewhat ironic fashion, and designers started pairing it with leather and furs for grungy, glam ensembles. Everyone from Kurt Cobain to Kate Moss stepped out in leopard print, and it found itself back on top through statement pieces. 


Of course, as the cyclical nature of fashion goes, the late 90s and early 2000s once again saw leopard print slipping into distaste. Those who wore it were seen as ‘trashy’ and anything but chic. Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton had style critics cringing with leopard print jumpsuits and co-ords. Janice from FRIENDS made us balk by pairing leopard print with bright red and gold hoops! 

However, others clawed back big cat style, and simultaneously fashion icons like Alexa Chung ignored mainstream opinion by stepping out in leopard print pieces, giving it the ‘cool girl’ stamp of approval. 

via Instagram

2010s – 2020s

This disparity continued into the 2010s; a consistent flip flopping of stances on the pattern. So where does the world stand now? Latest opinion would tell you that leopard print is actually, believe it or not, a neutral. A neutral! Style gurus everywhere have been pointing out that it goes with just about everything, and is versatile enough to work with lots of different personal styles. 

In recent months along the Mob Wife trend has completely taken over. Think big faux fur coat and leopard print on just about any item of clothing you can think of. The rapid rise in this trend reminds us of just how quickly a style can come back around. 

Of course, the love for leopard print will only last so long, as history has taught us. But when there is an inevitable lull, don’t go chucking out your garish (or gorgeous?) garments with haste – it’ll be back before you know it! 

This article first appeared in the March/April issue of STELLAR