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  • Writer's pictureJoJo

Lulling Myself into Leopard Print

A lot of my clothing falls into one of two categories: plain black or busy patterns. I love tartan, stripes, geometric shapes, and paisley and generally pair them with blocks of plain black so they really stand out. However, one classic pattern that has always been absent from my wardrobe is leopard print.

There’s a lot of stigma surrounding leopard print. Obviously there’s the awful legacy of the fur industry, but aside from ‘cruelty’, the word I seem to associate with leopard print is ‘tacky’. Somewhat unconsciously, I’ve written leopard print off as something I simply don’t wear. Maybe it’s because of this subconscious association with cheapness or tackiness. Maybe it feels too garish for me. Maybe it’s simply because I don’t tend to wear similar shades of brown and yellow.

Whatever the reason, I recently decided to throw a tiny amount of caution to the wind and gently introduce some leopard print into my wardrobe. Here’s what I came up with.

Sticking very firmly in my fashion wheelhouse is this black jumper with a leopard print trim around the neckline, which I got on the secondhand clothing app Depop. I could rattle off a thousand words about my arduous quest for the perfect black jumper. But I’ve learned from the rolling eyes of my friends and Husband that nobody gives a shit about this very niche lifelong mission of mine. So let me simply extol the virtues of this particular item of clothing.

The sleeves are long enough to cover my wrists. As a creature made almost entirely of limbs, this is something I often struggle to find in garments that claim to have long sleeves. It’s fitted but not too fitted. As in, it’s tight enough to show the shape of my figure but not so tight that I can’t wear a shirt or t-shirt underneath it. It’s V-necked. There is no logic here, I just love a V-neck. This first attempt at bringing some cattiness into my clothing went well so I took another punt on some more secondhand magic.

I found this shirt on Vinted, another secondhand clothing app, after some experimentation with search terms. If you simply search for ‘leopard print’ you get everything from little bits of trim to full catsuits (not yet thanks) in any old cat print of any old colour. I ended up narrowing my search down to ‘black on black leopard print’ and ‘subtle leopard print’ leading me to several items that gently whispered leopard rather than loudly growling it.

Including this shirt.

I bought it knowing it would require some attention. At a size 12 it was already a touch too big for me. Add in the boxy style and it was more of a tent than a shirt. So I deployed the same quick fix I’ve used on many shirts and chopped several inches of fabric out of the side seams. This isn’t a sophisticated technique but it works for garments that are cut pretty square and aren’t designed to hug the figure. It maintains the boxy style but makes me feel like I'm wearing the garment rather than swimming in it.

Next, I decided to change the buttons. I didn’t like the brown buttons against the black print or that they were a different pattern to the fabric. I would have loved to replace them with leopard print buttons but I didn't have any in my stash and was too cheap and impatient to order any.

In the end, I chose plain white fisheye buttons. As I discussed in my post about things we made for our wedding, I’m a big fan of monochrome so it was an obvious choice. The slightly shiny and translucent material of the button also compliments the reflective surface of the fabric. And I have a real soft spot for fisheye buttons, which have a slash shape in the middle that the holes are sunk into. It’s a delightfully subtle little detail that makes a plain button slightly more entertaining to the eye without being overly fussy.

Finally, I shortened the sleeves a smidgen. Call me shallow if you wish, but since developing a decent pair of biceps, I’ve found myself making this alteration more frequently. What’s the point of putting all these hours in at the climbing gym if I’m not going to show off the muscular fruits of my labours? I ask you. I unpicked the original folds in the sleeves that formed a chunky cuff, chopped off the excess fabric and ironed and stitched in some new folds that are crisper, thinner, and leave the sleeve much shorter.

All the better to show off my guns my dear.

My next feline fabric project is this dress that I found at a vintage kilo sale. It took the gentle persuasion of a fellow shopper to convince me that buying this dress was in fact an excellent idea but now I’ve taken the plunge I’m more than happy with my decision. As with all of the garments I’ve mentioned, it’s close enough to my existing style (i.e. it's black) that it’s not too far out of my comfort zone but the little slashes of velvet leopard print make it feel new and exciting.

The only problem is that it’s too big. Luckily it fits in all the places that are difficult to alter (the shoulders and the armpit) but it’s a little roomy around the chest and the waist. When I’m feeling lazy, which I often am, I just throw a belt on over a dress to make it fit better at the waist. This doesn’t feel like a great option for this dress as I don’t want to disrupt the leopard print stripes.

So, I’ll have to put the effort into altering it. My plan is to experiment with popping a couple of darts down the back and/or nipping it in at the side seams. Thankfully, it’s only a little bit big so hopefully it won’t be too epic a job. I will report back once I’ve attacked it with my tailoring skills.

That’s all I’ve been brave enough to attempt in the world of leopard print so far. Maybe these subtle notes will be sufficient to satisfy my catty inclinations. Or perhaps they will be the gateway drug that has me craving even more feline fashion. Only time will tell.

If you’d like to learn more about styling leopard print and ways you can incorporate it into your own wardrobe, I’d recommend this video by the wonderful Leena Norms. If you’d like to explore the history of leopard print and discover why it is actually anything but tacky the book Fierce: The History of Leopard Print by Jo Weldon is an excellent and entertaining read with dozens of glorious examples of divine historical and contemporary leopard print clothing.

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