Zebra’s killing leopard this season - the dazzling proof
Thanks to the dodgy 1980s many associate zebra print with lycra and perms, but its roots are far chicer
Think “animal print” in the context of fashion, and you’ll no doubt picture leopard spots. Bold, overstated and able to look luxurious in the right hands and cheap in the wrong, leopard dominates the fashion plain. But this year, designers have riffed on the rump of another wild animal that’s often overlooked: the zebra.
In the fashion world, this is another beast entirely. Thanks to the naturally monochromatic colour palette, zebra stripes are bold without being brassy. While leopard print is still ubiquitous this season, zebra stripes are somewhat rarer – so you’re unlikely to match half the restaurant of an evening.
Thanks to a dodgy patch in the 1980s many associate zebra print with lycra and perms, but its fashion roots are far chicer. Its exoticism made it an early symbol of wealth and standing, the preserve of those who could afford to wear the pelts of these beautiful wild animals, as they did then. Thankfully today we wear only homages rather than real skins. In the 1950s, risque beachgoers wore Tarzan and Jane inspired zebra swimwear; in the 1960s, the stripes covered everything from evening dresses to hats. Zebra coats have won fans of tastemakers from Brigitte Bardot to Anna Wintour, editor in chief of American Vogue.
The key to wearing this season’s zebra prints well is all in the mix – or rather, lack thereof. Attempting to clash these stripes against any other print will lead to sensory overload. Also best avoided are bright colours and certainly neons (lest you inadvertantly reference the 1980s). Instead, opt for black and white. If you already have zebra stripes in your wardrobe, it’s this restricted colour palette that will bring them bang up to date (and to remedy any faded patches of colour, try a black fabric dye pen).
For those who already stick to this palette most of the time, zebra will provide an impactful print hit that’s still in your comfort zone. A blouse layered under a sharp black trouser suit will liven up workwear – lose the jacket and pair just with black trousers for evening or weekend. A mid-calf dress is a good autumnal alternative to summer’s floral midis, and a skirt, paired with a fine knit black jumper or white shirt, will work equally well day or night. If you’re only looking to dip a toe in the waters, you couldn’t do better than Manolo Blahnik’s mules or a printed scarf with a classic black coat.
Of course, any print says something of its wearer. Though not the predatory big cat sensuality of leopard spots (see Anne Bancroft in The Graduate, Jayne Mansfield and Bettie Page) zebra stripes still say “wild” - so wear with caution.
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