Style Stories

Is leopard print a trend? Here’s how to wear it

by Leandra Medine Cohen
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Leopard print is one of those trends, or style choices, really, that is more like a condition of clothing than it is a poignant reflection of the current moment, but I’ve been seeing it pop up more and more lately, or maybe I’ve just become more aware of it because I’ve been wearing more of it.

It’s like it’s everywhere, but nowhere, you know? I can’t pinpoint where I’ve seen it — maybe a store window? A product page online? The women I pass when I walk down the street? Its presence is not reflective of the kind of data one uses to inform whether a fashion trend is coming (the runway and street style evidence is flimsy and scattered), but it comes up enough to provoke my thinking: Is this a thing right now?

Example of the flimsy evidence, seen at shows that don’t typically dictate that the hypey trends we latch on to: Roberto Cavalli, Halpern (gorgeous, but more red carpet), Dolce (the Kim K kollektion)

One question I often return to, related to the way that one person’s interest could become a larger group of peoples’ interest is: who launches the domino effect we call trends? I used to drive a mini-coop and when I had one, I’d see so many more on the road but I think that’s just because I was paying more attention to them — because the presence of the car reflected a choice that I’d made. Maybe all trends work this way. As a sort of interest one takes and conveys, which another then latches on to, and on, and on until a big enough group has created a pattern with wings.

When I think about the characters who launch trends, I think they fall into a number of buckets stacked on top of each other that start at the highest and quietest, most esoteric tier, and graduate down to the loudest. They start with the makers, who are not necessarily the setters and go on from there. The unspoken cues that form within concentrated communities, like that of high fashion are a good example of how this works.

It’s like, Peter Mulier, for example, the designer of Alaia, could serve as the trend-maker with his new collections for Alaia, but then it is the members of the establishment, who go nuts for the collections and start to indulge (in this instance, mostly in the common denominators, which are most accessible, like shoes and bags), which then makes the trend spread to those who pay close attention to fashion and its establishment. Then it proliferates on from them to those who pay attention to those who pay attention and before you know it, rhinestone mary janes are everywhere.

If billions of trends are sparked, but only some latch on, or some stop at the fashion level and never make it to the mainstream, or start at the level some notch more mainstream than fashion, what is the common thread among those that spread? Is it function, utility, or the opposite: fantasy? Is it both?

The jury is still out on what leopard is — a trend or just a condition that I’m spinning into a trend in my head — but the way I’ve been thinking about it lately certainly captures the essence of utility and fantasy. I think a good euphemism for refined maximalism — the condition I wrote about a few weeks ago where you can’t, or don’t want to unsee the relieving simplicity of minimalism so it comes with you as you explore what new effusive style risks you’ll take, is practical glamour. And leopard print is an easy way to embody the basic principles of the concept.

Here are some demonstrated examples organized by tips that explain what I mean.

#1. Keep the silhouettes and the colors straightforward, but have fun with how you pair prints

Rixo coat, Maria McManus shirt, Doen shorts, The Row derbies

Calm is subjective, I guess. But the basic principle to glean from this look is that when you’re wearing a print that is so pervasive, such as leopard, pairing it with another pervasive print (stripes), or a bandana, or both, does this cool thing of canceling out the fact that you’re wearing clashing prints at all. If the leopard print you’re wearing is brown based as opposed to black, you’ll want to wear navy blue stripes instead. A red bandana pairs well with both, but a key ingredient here too is keeping the silhouettes relatively streamlined/crisp. The coat is a pretty classic swing with a single breast button function while the shirt may as well be workwear. Then maybe within the pairing, you can call the velvet shorts a wildcard, but then the knee-highs and coat kind of conceal them bc of how much skin they cover so you’re left with an assembly of tasteful risks.

Sometimes when I’m writing outfit descriptions, I feel like the person who writes wall text for art exhibits to the extent that all the words sound nice together but like, what do they mean?

Milly Leopard-print Faux Fur Coat
$584 USD

#2. Or go even more basic than that and just wear the print on your feet

Khaite t-shirt, Soeur pants (I like these from J. Crew too), Khaite boots; here are some adjacent alternatives to capture the spirit of this look (1, 2, 3)

J. Crew
Stevie Ankle Boots In Calf Hair
$190 USD
Saint Laurent
Niki Leopard-print Suede Boots
$1,550 USD
Silent D
Kitten-heel Slouch Boots
$190 USD
French Sole
Amelie Leopard Hair Leather
$184 USD
Leopard-print Low-top Sneakers
$90 USD
Stubbs And Wootton
Jane True Needlepoint Cheetah Slippers
$575 USD

A plain t-shirt and khakis might make you feel like an elementary school gym teacher on their day off but what happens if you add a pair of leopard print shoes on the one hand —

Hermes scarf (still a big fan of Le Scarf as an alternative maker), Oliver Peoples x The Row sunglasses, which you can apparently get on Amazon

A silk scarf, black sunglasses and red lipstick on the other. What you’re left with instead is a good quality pass at how to make the best of boring clothes. And the combo of red lipstick and animal print, me thinks, connotes a sense of fffffffffffffffffffffun that misaligns with the khakis and t-shirt, you know? Like I think I would trust someone who wears a sensible outfit but gets freaky with their accessories more than anyone else. It seems like the right balance to live a good thing.

Be practical, but also weird.

#3. But then again, if the shoe is simple and slight, the clothes don’t have to be

Rachel Comey top (love this one from Poshmark, some good options on TRR too; e.g...), La Veste skirt, Dior flats (these from French Sole will not work with this look, but would be nice with a pair of straight jeans, and these will work and remind me of when The Row showed them on their runway in like, 2013)

A mid-length straight skirt is more matronly than anything else, which when paired with this style of shoe — a slingback ballet flat — reads pretty conservative. The silhouette pairing then makes room for a bit more flexibility as far as flair, enter the leopard print and that tassel fringe.

I originally thought to wear a light blue button-down but was then like, you know what? Go big or go home mothafucka. Here, btw, are some other ways to go big or go home.

#4. You can also lean into one among the various implications for leopard print

Alma suede jacket, Saint Laurent skirt (there are many good (great) (dead ringer) options to play with, and need I remind you of Realisation Par’s slip?), Chanel denim flats, which I found on a website called “Ann’s Fabulous Finds”

By, for example, wearing what may as well be lingerie in the form of a sheer slip skirt. If you’re going down this road, I recommend big contrast. Last week I did that with a giant-ass sweater, this week I’m recommending the vaguely preppy, possibly nerdy combination of white knee highs with denim ballet flats/any flat shoe that is uniquely unsexy and for top, there are tons of directions in which you can go: Suede jacket like the above (orange is a good bright color to pair with leopard print), or a blue button-down shirt or a boxy t-shirt that you don’t tuck in.

St. John
Leopard Knit Skirt
$597 USD
Saint Laurent
High-rise Leopard-print Silk Midi Skirt
$1,550 USD
Rotate Birger Christensen
Tasha Leopard-print Midi Skirt
$105 USD
Leopard-print Layered Midi Skirt
$609 USD
Leopard-print Cotton Maxi Skirt
$255 USD
The Attico
Leopard-print Denim Miniskirt
$413 USD
Leopard-print Velvet Midi Skirt
$537 USD
Sierra Leopard-print Cotton-twill Midi Skirt
$221 USD

#5. How to wear leopard to work

Bobkova single breast jacket, Ines white button down (fine enough to easily layer under a sweater), Kallmeyer tie, St. John skirt, Gucci shoes

It’s a perfect day to give a presentation!!! I’ve been wanting to wear a tie with a crew neck and a blazer since I saw that one male model on the Bottega runway last month and a longline pencil skirt seemed like a perfect foil for the look. Somehow, leopard print registers more neutral in this instance than even a solid would. Like the solid would almost read more harsh or something. There’s no real method to the footwear — not my own at least. They’re styled with a midi-skirt all over the internet!

Another good skirt option is this one, but I like the Etro one most.

In sum, anything can be a trend if you do enough research to substantiate your supposition.

If you’re going to try to wear it, I recommend:

  1. Picking a piece in a basic silhouette. (Straight/pencil skirt, button-down shirt [ideally poplin, as opposed to silk], straightforward coat)
  2. Streamlining the shapes around it, forgoing the addition of too many layers so that the overall outfit remains relatively simple.
  3. Consider mixing in other prints, but only those that are pervasive enough to feel like fellow neutrals against the sum of your leopard print, which I did once say is a neutral unto itself.
  4. A vibrant color such as orange or red can add a welcome surprise, but I refer back to points 1 and 2 on how to style around it.
  5. Challenge the print with an unsexy shoe. Or this hat.

Andddddd thanks for tuning in! I’m signing off yours,