It turns out that the animal prints are much older than many of us think. Fashion bloggers, journalists and stylists claim that this is one of the autumn-winter trends. We can see it on the catwalks and recall remarkable decades in the 20th century, when this fashion wave was topical.
While researching this topic, I came to the conclusion that skin ornamentation of some animals has been much more popular than others. In addition, the most expressive and finest animal prints have been interpreted most often. And it is not at all easy to distinguish skin/fur ornaments of such animals as leopard, cheetah or jaguar.
However, first of all, I will focus on the animal prints symbolism and its origin in the costume décor. Animal prints have been widely depicted in the fashion and style context. Basically, the garment is made to resemble the pattern of the skin and fur of an animal. The most used and interpreted animal prints are: leopard, cheetah, tiger, zebra, giraffe, monkey, chameleon, snake, cow, spotted hyena & striped hyena, African wild dog. Animal prints have been used not only to decorate clothes, but also for interior decoration, accessory design and for some types of jewelry. It is important to note that animal prints nowadays very often use fake fur instead of animal coat. And there is a major difference between animal prints and fur clothing. However, in the ancient times everything began with wearing of animal skins.
High-ranking priests in Ancient Egypt wore a special ceremonial dress. It consisted of leopard skin that was represented in mural paintings as a cape. They were Sem priests who wore such a clothing during mortuary rites.
The Opening of the Mouth (“wepet-er”) ceremony was the most important part of the burial ritual and was conducted by the Sem priest whilst dressed in leopard skin robes. Researchers have mentioned, that Sem priests even wore real or artificial animal skins when they officiated at funerals and by the High Priest of Ra at Heliopolis, whose title was ‘The Seer’.” [15.] Usually the Sem priest is recognizable by his leopard-skin robe and by his wig, which is worn in a distinctive side-lock. [15.]
Why did they wear leopard skins?
The leopard was considered a sacred animal, personification of the ancient sky-Goddess Mafdet. Perhaps the spots on the skin reminded the Ancient Egyptians of stars. A leopard skin was also seen connected to the beliefs of regeneration and rebirth in the afterlife, and with sun-God Ra. [13.] Artificial leopard cloths had star-shaped items on it for the spots. This proves that clothing with animal print was also known in Egypt.
The next phase of history is the second half of the 18th century, which already was clearly showing that animal prints are a fashion trend. Unique incorporation of animal prints was recorded through timeless paintings that capture the fashion of the 18th century. And there were not only animal prints in clothing items, but also real leopard skins that were depicted in allegorical paintings showing aristocracy with attributes of deities. It just seems that Europe was literally enthusiastic about the new discovery of wearing such exotics.
Animal prints and skins during that century were still widely believed to convey power to the wearer. Fabrics with patterns and colors imitating the skins of animals were considered fashionable. In addition it happened during the era when creators of elaborate silk designs paid an attention to exotic fur patterns inter-twining them with real pieces of fur into expensive laces to evoke a sense of luxury and wealth. [6.]
During the late 18th century leopard prints could be depicted on velvet, wool, or even on cotton and linen fabrics. Besides printing such patterns on a fabric, the outfits themselves were supplemented with some bits of real leopard skin. It could be a pattern so stylized that it was little more than an irregular dot, or a literal translation worthy of a big cat. Then, as now, animal-inspired prints added a touch of the exotic, hinting that the wearer might be a bit of the animal him (or her)self. [16.]
The lady in the French fashion plate dated with 1788 is wearing an entire outfit called robe a l'Anglaise printed with leopard spots. Her headdress is decorated with exotic feathers, trying to show the world that she is a perfect belle sauvage (wild beauty). [12.]
What happened next? In the 19th century there was no particular passion for the animal prints, but in the 20th century some interesting trends appeared ...
Return To The Urban Jungle
In the 20th century animal prints of all kinds were used in fashion. Particularly popular were leopard prints which are distinguished by their appealing pattern of rosettes. These prints were not substitutes for fur but appealed in their own right as eye-catching patterns. In nature pattern often has a different purpose, acting as camouflage to enable concealment. [11.] Thus, the animal prints can also be seen as an episode in the development of a camouflage patterns.
Animal prints were especially popular during fashion era of Art Deco. Particularly relevant they were in the 1930's and 1940's and 1950's.
And then came the revaluation. This happened at the end of the 1960's and 1970's, when animal prints were stylized to make them different from actual replicas of the animal skin. Red, blue or pink leopard prints were funny and created various interesting effects in fashionable clothing. Animal prints were also a part of Safari style clothing during the late 1960's and early 1970's.
And again designers returned to the imitation of nature, which could be seen during the 1980's and 1990's. As a result, many ethical issues were raised on the return of animal prints. Many of these issues are particularly topical in today's situation.Political questions concerning the use of real leather and animal fur have affected the wearing of animal prints. International law prohibits the trade in endangered species. By raising the awareness of the treatment of animals that are killed for the use of their skins, animal rights activists and organizations have promoted wearing clothing made of fabric printed with animal motifs rather than actual pelts. [6.] And animal prints are again in the top and they are making some important trends. Fashion designers, stylists and journalists are once again calling on us to return to the urban jungle. That's why it's worth taking a look at some of the interesting examples of animal prints once again.
From tiger stripes to cheetah spots, the patterns of the world's big cats have been constants in the fashion world. The leopard print historically has been a favorite. But is it easy to recognize and distinguish it? The leopard’s spots are more of a rosette – a lighter color surrounded by an irregular ring of darker color.
Leopards are graceful and powerful hunters and as such they suggest "feminine" cunning and instinct. The movie Tarzan the Apeman was a huge success when it was released by MGM in 1932. [6.] The revealing, leopard-patterned clothing of stars Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan and Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane, created a sensation for leopard and cheetah prints during the 1930's. [6.] Blouses, coats, and scarves were some of the popular items made in animal prints during that time. These clothing items represented the excitement and adventure of the jungle and an independence of spirit especially unusual for depictions of women during that time. [6.]
During the 1940's appeared a new a phenomenon - the pin-up girl as a new American icon. One of the most iconic and popular pin-up girls of that era was Bettie Page. She was a model known for wearing leopard prints. Some of her best known images were the Jungle Bettie photographs in which she posed with cheetahs in a Tarzan-like leopard mini-dress. The idea of women as sexual predators was a dominant of the 40's pin-ups. Bettie Page featured in her leopard lingerie was an incarnation of feminine power, that was a sign of the growing emancipation of women. Image of her inspired many women to wear animal prints. [7.]
1950's fashion celebrated the glamour side of the animal prints. Christian Dior was one of the most notable lovers of animal prints. Dior's obsession with leopard prints came from his muse, Mitzah Bricard. [7.] Thanks to her love of leopard, and particularly - leopard prints, inspired Dior to produce accessories, dresses, and advertising campaigns featuring the animal prints. It was comprehensive during 50's fashion scene as it came with Dior's interpretation of leopard. The result was chic and refined contrasting with with provocations highlighted by other decades. [7.]
The punks brought a trashy vibe to 1970's fashion, and often chose to wear animal print lingerie and stockings under their ripped and torn clothing. [7.] This direction was further developed during the 80's and 90's turning leopard prints into the most iconic symbol of provocation.
And how about tiger prints? Also it is one of the most popular provocative animal print as it suggests characteristics associated with a particular animal, such as the fierceness of a tiger. Visually it can be transferred to the wearer through animal-patterned clothing. Many animal motifs are also widely regarded as erotic and thus tend to be utilized on clothing designed to attract others. For example, leopard and tiger prints have a constant presence in overtly sexual lingerie. A person wearing an animal print makes a statement about confidence and expresses a desire to be noticed. These head-turning prints catch the viewer's attention with their multicolored patterns and irregular designs. Their reputation ranges from classic and sophisticated in high fashion to cheap and trashy in popular fashion. Mainstream fashion articles have suggested that wearers limit animal prints to accents to avoid sending an overly suggestive message.[6.]
Since 1970's tiger prints have been often represented in various, seemingly unnatural colors, such as wild purple stripes against yellow to create a nu-rave look, or red stripes against white for a sporty look. Tiger prints are very popular because the pattern is more easily identifiable than the cheetah or leopard. [2.]
Cheetah and Jaguar
The skin patterns of these two big cats are sometimes easily confused with a leopard print. However, there are differences. The cheetah’s spots are separate, distinct, and rather round. It can be seen that they are not perfect circles, but are rather solid black shapes. And at that moment, as a fabric designer takes a step further by adding small dark spots to the middle of each rosette, it is already the jaguar pattern, and not the leopard! And yet, if you look at the head of one of these big cats, you could easily be confused, just because those spots that are closest to the face on a leopard and a jaguar can be more solid and resemble cheetah spots.
And when were these articles popular? Already ancient Mayan civilization used jaguar skin patterns and also the skin itself, indicating the special status of the king. It was in the 20th century when the Western fashion world showed the provocative side of this ornament.
The 1960’s saw a whole new revolution spawned by the Hippie Movement as a new place for exotic animal patterns, which were emulated on printed patterns for popular women’s apparel in different rebellious colors. The concept was to be wild and free like an “Easy Rider”. [1.]
The dangerous side of animal print appeared in the late 1970’s. The Punk Rock movement highlighted leopard prints, as torn cheetah print stockings. Rebellious music paired with the wild equals was really chic and dangerous. The 1970’s also brought about nightgowns infused with animal prints, underwear and many other wardrobe and drawer items. Leopard print jumpsuits, bell bottoms, and even platform shoes with animal prints. The emergence of street art and hip hop music were propelled by "Blondie" and it was a notable moment in the history of fashion and music. [1.]
Straight stripes. Smooth lines. Tightly packed together. These are the main characteristics of a real zebra print. Zoology science reports on lots of interesting facts that tell us the story not only about zebras, but also their distinctive skin pattern that serve different protective purposes.
It was long time believed that zebras were white animals with black stripes, since some zebras have white underbellies. Embryological evidence, however, shows that the animal's background color is black and the white stripes and bellies are additions. [9.] The most likely that the stripes are caused by a combination of factors. The stripes are typically vertical on the head, neck, forequarters, and main body, with horizontal stripes at the rear and on the legs of the animal. Zebra's skin pattern is one of the greatest camouflages created by nature. [9.]
The vertical striping may help the zebra hide in the grass. In addition, even at moderate distances, the striking stripes are merging into grey. Yes, it's worth keeping in mind if you are a lover of zebra print!
Zebra stripes may help to confuse predators by motion dazzle when a group of zebras are standing or moving close together... In such cases they may appear as one large mass of flickering stripes, making it more difficult for a predator to pick out a target. [9.]
Sources tell that zebras, when moving, the stripes may confuse observers, such as predators and insects, by two visual illusions. The first one is the wagon-wheel effect, where the perceived motion is inverted. The second one is the barberpole illusion, where the perceived motion is in a wrong direction. [9.] So, the zebra pattern is not only a natural camouflage, it is also the creator of the optical effect.
Science say that stripes may serve as visual cues and identification. Although the striping pattern is unique to each individual, it is not known whether zebras can recognize one another by their stripes. However, they are natures created sign of individuality.
And there's something else in this zebra's story! Stripes may be used to cool the zebra. Air may move more quickly over black light-absorbing stripes while moving more slowly over white stripes. This would create convection currents around the zebra that would cool it. One study analyzes that zebras have more stripes in hotter habitats. [9.]
How had the tricks of this zebra skin pattern used 20th-century fashion designers?
The provocative fashion designer Rudi Gernreich produced a collection of animal-patterned dresses with matching tights and underwear in 1968, documented in the movie Basic Black (1968) by the photographer William Claxton and the model Peggy Moffitt. [6.] The works of Gernreich during the 1960's are characterized by the use of a zebra prints which made him a famous for an Opart effects.
These Animal prints became also very popular for dresses, leggings, and accessories in the 1970's and 1980's. They fit the free-spirited independence and heightened interest in world cultures in the 1970's. Animal motifs were perfectly suited to the combination of extravagance, bold patterns, and color in the 1980's. The fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, known as Dolce & Gabbana, have made animal prints their signature. [6.]
And, finally, in this survey appears the giraffe skin pattern which is seemingly underrated, but not less decorative. Although this distinctive skin pattern also serves important purposes.
You can recognize a giraffe print by noting the use of similarly sized rectangular shapes clustered tight on a tan background. In clothing, it is more reminiscent of polygonal or even peculiar diamonds, which are arranged in a very peculiar ornament depending on the apparel cut.
In nature giraffe's coat has dark blotches or patches, which can be orange, chestnut, brown, or nearly black in color. The patches are separated by white or cream color lines. The coat pattern has been claimed to serve as camouflage in the light and shade patterns of savanah woodlands. [10.].
Everyone wearing this animal print should remember that in the giraffe costume you can easily become invisible ... At the same time, you will be able to well monitor the surrounding area. The same thing is obviously true of the function of a large cat skin pattern.
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My name is Edīte Parute and I am a fashion historian and researcher from Latvia, association member at "The Association of Dress Historians" (UK) and author of the book "Stila un modes enciklopēdija"/"Encyclopedia of Style and Fashion" (2010) as well as author of many publications.
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