There’s a very easy way to sum up most of the trends in men’s fashion right now: ballsy. From pastel shades to ravewear, almost all are tricky to get right, but when you do, you’ll feel great, you’ll look great, and everyone around you will be impressed. Case in point: leopard print.
“For your average man, animal prints in general, are a no-go,” says David Hellqvist, fashion features editor of Port Magazine and founder of creative agency Document Studios. “It’s something you see more in womenswear, and often it can be in quite a garish context.”
But when done right, leopard can be a modern, versatile print that’s a little more interesting than your average camouflage or floral. Luckily for you, we’ve laid out exactly how it’s done. Gentlemen, welcome to the jungle.
5 Style Tips For Wearing Leopard Print
As a general rule, big sartorial statements are best reserved for your top half. Leopard print shirts, tees and jackets are an acceptable way to walk on the wild side, but trousers should be put on the long claw.
Of course, there is always an exception to the rule, and in this case it’s when there is less material on show such as shorts. “You could take a pair of cargo shorts and whack any kind of animal print on there, and you’re good to go,” says Hellqvist.
Choose Your Pieces Wisely
The key to wearing leopard print and not looking like Tony the Tiger’s long-lost cousin? Stick to one piece at a time. “Diffuse it with something simple and modern,” says Hellqvist. “If you’re wearing a pair of shorts, for example, stick on a white T-shirt.”
The same goes for tops and jackets, which should be toned down with plain, well-cut trousers or by slotting muted layers over the top.
Size Up Your Spots
Size matters, particularly when it comes to spots. “While ditsy all-over prints are easier to pull off, the trend at the moment is towards big statement patterns,” says ASOS head of menswear design James Lawrence.
If you are super-sizing, remember that darker, tonal or monochrome patterns will blow up far easier than the traditional colourway, which should be kept small in scale.
Avoid Pattern Clashing
As it turns out, a leopard can quite easily change its spots, from black-on-yellow to a whole spectrum of tones. “The usual graphics are being mixed with neon and colourful bases, which is great for holiday and festival season,” explains Lawrence.
Keep bright, high-contrast prints on high summer and resortwear pieces like short-sleeved shirts and swim shorts, which handle it better than jumpers jackets.
Consider Your Colours
Geometric patterns like stripes or checks are uniform and therefore easier on the eye, and as such can be clashed with wild abandon. But leopard print, being more chaotic to start with, is better off solo.
“At the moment anything goes when wearing prints, but leopard always looks great with black or dark tones,” says Lawrence.
5 Easy Ways To Wear Leopard Print
You don’t need to have spent much time applying Instagram filters to know that everything looks better in black and white. The same can be said of leopard print, which becomes much less scary when rendered in grayscale. “Monochrome prints give a more streetwear aesthetic,” says Lawrence, which is especially true when worn with denim or leather.
Draining colour from leopard print can also help to make it feel more grown-up. Stick to the darker side of the palette – grey and white on black rather than the reverse – and keep the rest of your outfit similarly pared-back.
Remember the rule of only wearing one piece of leopard print at a time? Well, much like the rule about never doing shots out of a stranger’s belly button, that goes out of the window as soon as you utter the word holiday.
“A leopard shirt worn with matching shorts would raise eyebrows in the office, but it makes complete sense for beach parties and festivals,” says style writer Miriam Bouteba. Keep things simple elsewhere with clean white sneakers and only the most essential accessories.
If you’re struggling to get your head around wearing leopard in a streetwear context, it can be useful to think of it as something else entirely.
“When I wear it, I wear it as camouflage,” says Hellqvist, who applied this method to a Stussy field jacket. “I wasn’t sure at first, but Stussy being a streetwear brand and a field jacket being a very masculine, military-inspired garment helped me make sense of it.”
There is a time and a place for a leopard print blazer, which is in 1974 and on Keith Richard’s back. Other than that, spotty tailoring should be given a wide berth, but that’s not to say that you can’t use a touch of print to liven up your formalwear.
“A leopard print shirt looks sharp with a black or navy suit – minus the tie,” suggests Lawrence. Keep to the rock ’n’ roll sensibility with slim, cropped trousers and Chelsea boots.
Your weekend wardrobe is always the best place to experiment with trends that you’re not too sure of, as the worst that can happen is a few sniggers as you arrive in the pub rather than a disciplinary.
Start by trying out a leopard print bomber jacket or hoodie – sporty pieces which have less strict boundaries than more formal ones. “Wear a leopard print tee or sweatshirt with black denim and chunky trainers,” suggests Lawrence.
5 Key Leopard Print Pieces
When it comes to any printed shirt, the main thing to consider is the fit of the garment. Whether it’s a slim short-sleeved Cuban collar or a boxy overshirt, it should look purposeful, as anything ill-fitting will veer into costume territory.
To temper the print, try wearing the shirt open over a plain T-shirt. Just whatever you do, avoid anything too formal, and only do up the top button if wearing it underneath a suit jacket.
The last man to attempt and succeed at pulling off a long-length leopard print coat was Kurt Cobain. And a rock star frontman you are not.
Short, utilitarian outerwear works best: think a simple chore jacket or a patterned puffer. Or if all-over leopard print is too much, try a jacket that limits print to its collar, which works in the same way as a simple accessory.
Maximalism has been having a moment in the sneaker world, so it makes sense that feline footwear would hit the spot.
Applied to low-profile tennis shoes, skate-inspired slip-ons or Converse high-tops, they can make a smart-casual outfit a little more interesting. Or, at the other end of the spectrum, big chunky runners and kicks with clashing patterns are bang on the more-is-more trend and work well with cargo pants or sportswear.
If ever there was a judge-free zone in which to trial leopard print, it’s with swim shorts while on holiday, when drinking margaritas from 11am is entirely acceptable.
Despite dressing with wild abandonment, some rules still apply. Crucially, that means opting for a thigh-skimming length, and remembering that big cats and budgie smugglers never mix.
The purrfect way to try out the leopard print trend in a risk-free way is to throw on a printed accessory. Not least because it can be easily removed if the rest of the pack start ribbing you.
Keep things casual with a leopard print cap, backpack or wallet, with the only passable formal touch being a pocket square. Stick to one piece at a time, preferably with an all-black ensemble.