Leopard print is back in style but should it remain a largely feminine print, or can men rock it too? Paul McLauchlan finds out
Leopard print for men. For men? Really? Leopard print has officially re-entered the men’s fashion canon in 2019.
Whether you like it or not designers have offered various permutations on the print and with high street retailers catching up, the animalia trend could be here to stay.
From 2009, when Kanye West sported a leopard print bomber jacket, to 2019, when every other high street retailer stocks at least a t-shirt or accessory with the graphic — feline imagery has been persistent in terms of our clothing consciousness.
Most men, as you can see from most streets, steer clear of the print, favouring, well, anything but leopard print.
For women, leopard has been a dominant motif for centuries drawing support from the likes of Egyptian goddesses to Jacqueline Kennedy and Beyoncé.
Most women could count having an item of the statement-making print somewhere in their sartorial arsenal.
In 2018, Jo Weldon published a book called Fierce: The History of Leopard Print.
In an interview with CNN promoting the book, she stated: “Leopards have long been seen as fierce, very resilient animals. I think people feel a primordial connection with them. During the 18th and 19th centuries, leopard fur and clothes came to signify wealth and status. Then you enter the 20th century and the start of mass-produced fabrics and garments. The print entered the mainstream, and began having modern significance.
If it evokes empowerment, dominance, and sexuality, for women, how does it figure for men?
Weldon examined the print from a female perspective but the history of the print on men, too, predates the internet. It is said that Napoleon’s troops trimmed their helmets in leopard skin.
Circus strongmen wore skimpy loincloths. For a more modern example, one could date it back to 1971 when Rod Stewart was performing on stage with The Faces, sporting a matching leopard print suit.
Of course, a performer like Stewart is no stranger to ostentatious outfits. In 1979, he wore a leopard print blouse with a bejewelled belt and leopard print tights. Then and now, it was considered bold and brave.
Some are quick to shy away from anything that could be seen as effeminate, overly extravagant, or indulging in anything commonly associated with women.
Others, however, rise to the challenge, say “so what” to gender constructs and wear leopard like a badge of honour. Earlier this year, The Guardian challenged an editor to wear leopard print for a day in the office.
Men’s fashion bible GQ has published copious style guides on how to incorporate it into your wardrobe.
The parameters of men’s fashion are shifting.
At the Academy Awards in February, actor Billy Porter glided down the red carpet in a Christian Siriano tuxedo gown which burst into a full skirt with a sweeping train.
It's a gown and a tux! 👗🤵
Broadway star Billy Porter is making a statement in this black velvet dress on the #Oscars red carpet
See More pic.twitter.com/87aFFiNRpu— BBC Entertainment (@BBCNewsEnts) February 24, 2019
Earlier during award season, Timothée Chalamet cast the traditional suit aside for an embroidered Louis Vuitton bib.
These actors and arbiters of style prove that men’s fashion can be expressed through more than trousers and shirts. This is before one accounts for the rise of unisex brands. The above shifts are surely much more radical than some leopard print on men?
Take for example the cases made during the men’s autumn/winter 2019 runway shows which took place in January. On one day of Milan Fashion Week, this writer counted five sightings of leopard print on runways.
It first appeared at Marcelo Burlon, County of Milan, a prominent brand on the Italian streetwear scene. Giuseppe Zanotti offered trainers with the print. Similarly, they showed up at Neil Barrett in the form of faux-fur waistcoats and jackets.
At Marni, they came in the form of pyjama-style trousers and overcoats.
Donatella Versace amped up the leopard game with a fur coat on a model sporting a matching hairdo.
It certainly boasted exuberant energy but did it convince men they should experiment with the animal print?
While full leopard looks, hairstyle and all, is ill-advised, best reserved for Halloween parties — a flash of leopard wouldn’t go amiss.
The trend was crystallised, if not explained, at Paris Fashion Week when Hedi Slimane, the recently-installed artistic director at Celine, bracketed a coterie of leopard print coats with a collection that spoke to the 1970s resurgence.
There was a blend of street-wise smart tailoring for a city slicker.
His leopard print mackintosh, styled with a wool sweater and ankle-length leather trousers, smart shoes, looking utterly convincing.
With a scarf thrown around his neck and aviator sunglasses, the styling breathed a modern sensibility into an outfit which resembled something from 1970s London.
I polled some members of different age groups, the results varied.
A twenty-year-old man shared, “My main problem with leopard print is what it represents. That is, that the fur of animals is something that is desirable for us in modern society. Even the fake print is still telling us that the real stuff is what we want to wear.”
They continued expressing concern for the environment, “in a world where we know the damage we’ve done to the environment, why do we continue to promote the idea that wearing the skin of an animal is a good thing?”
Another twenty-year-old said, “leopard isn’t the first print I’d gravitate toward but I would consider it an option. Would I spend a lot of money on it? Probably not, it would be difficult to get value for money out of such a statement piece. Ìf I found the right piece, at an affordable price, that matched my personal style and the pieces already in my wardrobe. If it can go with three different outfits then it’s fair game.”
A 19-year-old girl added, “I think leopard should have no limits in regards to gender. I’ve scarcely seen leopard in men’s fashion but I like the idea of it being brought in. It’s fun in small doses and the print can be made to look classy, smart, and chic. I think it’s the hardest print to style so it’s impressive when you see somebody rocking it with simple confidence. It takes talent.”
Another agreed, “I think you should be able to wear what you like, no matter your gender, no matter the colour, print or size. You’re going to be judged either way so you might as well go hard or go home.”
A middle-aged man said, “leopard print isn’t for me. How would I wear it? As a button-down shirt with a gold chain? It’s impractical at my age.”
How to incorporate leopard in your wardrobe?
The antithesis of minimalism, the loud print is likely best served in small doses.
For the fainthearted, or the stylistically experimental but discreet, it is ideally set as the backdrop to a look.
River Island offers a short-sleeve shirt suitable for the balmy summer months and Topshop offers beanies and scarves with the detail. Perhaps try Converse All Star high top trainers.
For a high fashion alternative, Gucci offers skinny jeans in pink, blue and black.
It remains to be seen whether leopard print will become the next big thing in men’s fashion but as centuries have proven, no matter its popularity, leopard is eternal.