Thoughts on Leopard skins and prints have been wide spread since the early 20th century. It has either been a highly valued, luxurious and sophisticated item among the upper class or a rather trashy sign. It has been worn by president’s wives, royalty, and even rock stars.
Leopard skin coats and other clothing and accessory items became especially popular in the 1920s after movie stars like Joan Crawford strutted through Hollywood movies in the skin. One fashion designer of the time, Christian Dior, kept the trend going for the most glamorous of women. He was quoted, ” If you are fair and sweet, don’t wear it.” In the 1950s and 60s, this gave way to the idea that a woman who wore leopard was a trophy wife. In other words, the print represented a rather “undomesticated” woman.
The print that was once seen as sophisticated now became a trashy symbol. It made itself into a racy Hollywood catalog, Fredericks of Hollywood. When the 1970s and 80s rolled around, it evolved even further into a must have piece for rock and roll performers and fans everywhere, however as a print and not a skin. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 kept leopards from being slaughtered for their skin.
As time went on, leopard print became popular among women for representing not only their feminine sexuality, but also a more powerful symbol for them not so much being a predator, but them not being a prey in society. The leopard stood for independence, power, and courage, making an ideal symbol.
The Historic Clothing and Textiles collection is home to many clothing items such as hats, coats, bags, and shoes that have the leopard print or skin, as well a snow leopard long sleeve coat for women dating back to 1965-1975.