Three Ways to Wear Leopard Print

1. Facing left





 2. Facing right



3. On a tree




If you are not a leopard, however, you are at an obvious disadvantage when it comes to this latest fashion craze.

I used to loathe all animal prints of this kind (zebra, giraffe, tiger, and snake are also typically mimicked). I would cringe and turn away. I knew they weren’t “real” hide—at least in the case of the zebra, giraffe, and tiger. I just found them incredibly ugly.

But after a few months of seeing leopard print everywhere, I changed. My aesthetic was changed, and I no longer cringed. I actually found myself browsing leopard print shoes last week.

Which brings me to this: I found that most leopard print shoes are made of pony hair or calf hair. We are dyeing one animal’s skin to mimic another (more valuable) species’ hide. (Because we cannot obtain the leopard skin. Because we would feel poorly about destroying the life of such a rare and beautiful animal as the leopard. Because cows look so happy about serving us their milk and their hides.)

I believe that when we look at a leopard print, we generally envision powerful adult creatures such as the ones pictured above–so we are dyeing one baby’s skin to mimic an adult one as well. Or, odder still, we might be pretending to dye one baby’s skin to mimic an adult one. (Apparently, we use cows and calves, but not ponies. It is completely acceptable to call a cow a pony in the fashion world.) 

I would have thought that most of us would be discomfited by knowing that we are wearing a baby’s skin. There are just so many viral Internet images of baby animals being, well, adorably baby. (Buzzfeed, I’m talking to you.) . 

We’ve long thought that human babies are essentially like the “lower” animals: it was at the heart of G. Stanley Hall’s recapitulation theory. We seem to find it easier to collapse distinctions between a human baby and a non-human animal baby. But when each of these babies grows up to an adult, we start recognizing and placing value on all their differences in order to justify the way we treat animals. Age—babyhood, to be specific—seems to transcend species bias. 

So why does the fashion industry find that consumers would rather buy “pony” and “calf” hair than boring old “cow” hair? Does the taboo on baby-killing actually raise the value of these incorrectly-labeled products?

To the extent that “luxury” means “extravagance,” yes. It is “extravagant” to kill several baby animals when it would be so much more “efficient” to kill one adult to make shoes, so it is somehow a luxury to be as shamelessly cruel as possible. 


Images from Cuvier, The Animal Kingdom Arranged in Conformity With its Organization, vol. 2 (London: Geo. B. Whittaker, 1827). Thanks, Googlebooks.

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