Animal Print Identification: The Trend-Follower’s Field Guide

THIS is what leopard print looks like, people.

We live in the age of animal print, dear readers.  If you follow fashion, you can hardly have missed the explosion of animal and “tribal” prints that have been all over the stores for the last few years.  Leopard print remains insanely popular, but has also gotten a bad rap in horrifying 80s garments like leotards and leggings (that’s right, I hate leggings), so much so that designers have started manufacturing variations on the theme and labeling them with the name of whichever wild cat strikes their fancy.  The fact is, there are a lot of cats out there with rosettes or spots, but if you think a snow leopard’s coat looks like a serval’s, you have not been looking.

As a fashion-lover and amateur naturalist, I have to take a stand.  Here’s the truth: even if you think that “cheetah print” sounds sexier/trendier/more luxurious than “leopard print,” if your fabric has rosettes, it ain’t cheetah.  Observe the leopard at top.  Purty, isn’t he?  His so-coveted coat involves small, mostly uniform rosettes with no spots inside.  We’ve all seen the pattern a million times.  Taking that same pattern and labeling it cheetah does not make it so.  To illustrate:
Cheetah Print? I Think Not.
Rachel Roy cheetah print skirt, $116, and a cheetah, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Hey, it’s a cute skirt. But the discriminating biologist/trend watcher will no doubt notice that the actual cheetah has spots, not rosettes. Let’s be fair. If you’re going to exploit the cheetah for his exotic name, do justice to his also-gorgeous coat.  What’s wrong with spots, anyway?  The trend applies to the smaller cats as well:

Ocelot or Not?
Tracy Reese Belted Empire Maxi in “Ocelot”, $251, and a jaguar and an ocelot, courtesy of Wikipedia.

This one purports to be ocelot.  Actual ocelots have a sort of pseudo-stripe thing going on, very stylish.  This print?  Big, roughly circular rosettes with dark spots inside… looks more like jaguar to me.  And speaking of jaguar, there’s some reverse discrimination going on too.  Doesn’t this “leopard” dress look an awful lot like jaguar with its big rosettes?

Torn by Ronny Kobo Hilary Leopard Dress.

Hey, I am all for animal print diversity.  I would do bad, bad things for a faux snow-leopard shrug.  (Ahem.) But let’s respect wild cat pride (wild cat pride! ha!) and give credit where it’s due.  Leopards have hogged the spotlight too long.

Be Sociable, Share!
  1. So, my eight year old just walked in from school. We’ve been debating the look of jaguar versus leopard for ten minutes now. She scrolls up, she scrolls down, she imprints. I have stolen the keyboard long enough to comment, but I think I can safely expect some wild art later this evening in this house.

  2. Annabelle says:

    Oh, that’s awesome! I’m honored. And as my mother is a zoologist by training, I was totally that kid too — mini-naturalist.

  1. […] remember this? Behold Just Cavalli’s “Short Sleeve Tiger Print Dress” (emphasis added).  […]

Leave a Reply