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Leopard: king of the animal prints

I am so obsessed with leopard prints, and hold so many and varied extremely strong opinions on them, that I sometimes think I could start a Tumblr on the topic and never run out of material. I can’t think of another print that can go so many directions depending on who’s wearing it and how. But one must exercise caution here: there is also no animal print that can skew quite so tacky.

My general rule is to avoid anything too tight, cleavage-baring or otherwise overtly sexpot: a fantastic straight skirt—like this one from Christopher Kane—would be my sole exception, and even then only if the rest of the outfit is comparatively subdued.

As for sweaters, I like a sloucher take—this Zara v-neck hits the exactly right  note.

And I’m so batty for this pre-styled-for-your-convenience piece (the flash of leopard at the hem is part of the sweater) that after I’m done with this post, I might reward myself by walking over to my neighborhood Rebecca Taylor store to try it on.

A good, clean-lined leopard jacket is always hard to find—and it almost never comes cheap. Too often, designers revert to a retro, 50s-ish shapes, or use cheap faux fur that can make you look a little bit like you’re wearing a plush doll. This By Malene Birger number gets it just right.

I was obsessed with this Elizabeth and James coat last winter, because the tailoring looks so dead-on, and those leather lapels are fantastic. Thrillingly, it recently turned up at Neiman Marcus Last Call, way-discounted.

Leopard print dresses are tricky business—they can come off so costume-y—and definitely require strategic styling. I’ve been thinking about this one since I saw it front and center in Anne Klein’s fall ad campaign. I’d definitely throw a cardigan on with it, though, to break it up a bit.

As a rule, I am not in favor of the leopard print shoe. No matter how fancy or fabulous the designer, they always look cheap to me. But I kind of love this Loeffler Randall pair: the red adds the right playful touch, and takes them to a delightfully new wave place.

I feel about tops in this category the way I feel about sweaters: the less seriously played, the better. This tee from Freshman is fantastic and my love for it would be complete were it now cropped just a pinch higher than I like my t-shirts to be.

And how cute is this? I can’t decide if it’s maybe too young for me, but I’m in love with the clever interplay of colors. The green just totally works with that red, which if so cool and unexpected.

My ass and I are a few years beyond the time when leopard jeans would be advisable, but that has not dampened my enthusiasm for  what Current-Elliott  has been doing with the print for the past few seasons. I like how subdued the wash always is, which keeps it from looking too 80s metal. So does the fact that this pair in particular is grey. And I like them with just a bit of give. Don’t be afraid to size up.

Leopard print scarves abound. I prefer ones that go colorful. How cute—but not cutesy-sweet—is this pink and red one?

And this is rather unexpected in the green, no?

As for bags: that’s a topic unto itself, and I shall address it another day. You can be certain.

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Posted on August 29th, 2012 18 Comments

18 Responses

  1. Shona says:

    What about the LK Bennett Wildeve dress in leopard print (
    Found it 2 years ago for a wedding, love it. The long sleeve, high neck and knee-length take away any potential over-the-top sexiness. Worn with pared down makeup and a killer pair of heels, it’s perfect. AND it doesn’t wrinkle! Be still my heart.

  2. Southern Comfortable says:

    What about real leopard? I have a vintage coat of Grandmama’s of black wool 3/4 with a full leopard collar. Am I risking PETA’s wrath? Poor taste? Do tell.

    • Cate says:

      Damage already done I say. Why not wear it, and to minimize guilt you can donate to the WWF to atone

  3. Audrey says:

    I just can’t do it. I grew up with too many stereotypical Jewish grandmothers and aunts wearing way too much eye makeup, cologne, hairspray and animal prints. I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t go there when I got older. At 42, I’m still resolute! Ten years from now, maybe less so. We’ll see…

    • Viajera says:

      Not that it’s my place to say, but your relatives sound totally awesome!!! I much prefer “too much” to not enough, if forced to choose.

  4. daisyj says:

    I didn’t think I was that into leopard, and then I saw this. Now I want about half of the items here. Dammit.

  5. mslewis says:

    I have a leopard-print sweater set that I got at Talbots in 2003. At first I wore them together, than separately and now together again. This print keeps going in and out so I plan to keep this set forever!! I do love that Rebecca Taylor “pre-styled” sweater and, if I were planning to purchase another leopard print, that would be the one. As it is, I think I’ll get one scarf and call it a season. I think blue or red would be nice.

  6. Leopard print is classic. It can be ladylike or trashy, and I love it all. Seriously – in leopard print you can be Audrey Hepburn or Debbie Harry and it just WORKS. True story.

  7. Carol White says:

    I love leopard. Have an big, comfy leopard ottoman in my living room – as well as various pieces in my wardrobe.

  8. Katie says:

    I almost dropped $10 on this leopard print wrap shirt, then backed out at the last minute. Sort of a navy-red-yellow combo? Still considering it.
    (you have to click on the far left color option)

  9. Cate says:

    Thank you for scouting the landscape! I’ll take one of each please

  10. Viajera says:

    I like the leopard concept. My favorites are always the brown tone ones though. And I think it is easier to go with a velveteen sort of fabric — because I do think a leopard print, if not in silk or similar, ought to have some texture — than to try to do a faux fur. But then again, I’ve probably never seen a good fake fur in person. And on the thiiiiird hand, well, I’m not that picky about fake fur, come to think of it. If it’s in a good print and color…

    I too really like that bit of leopard sticking out the bottom. And the dress, and the short coat. Life is short.

  11. Cate says:

    I just bought the snakeskin skirt from J.Crew you highlighted a while ago (on sale for $99 in the store!
    And they have a leopard scarf on sale too $52

  12. Lisa says:

    I never thought I’d wear leopard but am loving this post. LOVE the Elizabeth and James coat! I think I need it. I did buy leopard printed pony, desert boots earlier this month. There must be something in the air…..

  13. Well, Kimum, your ass was talking to my ass, and they both agree that it is totally fine for you to still wear leopard jeans.