Monday, February 23, 2009

Spots On

Clothing, as we all know, sends messages, some less subtle than others. Take, as an example, animal prints, especially the feline variety worn by tigers, leopards, and cheetahs.

Decades ago, owning an authentic big-cat coat was a sign that in fashion terms, you had arrived. Check out Edie Sedgwick in this YouTube clip. Though clearly seeing triple at the time, she delights in putting on "the most beautiful coat in the world."

Bob Dylan, a lover of Sedgwick's, was less enamoured of the fur, and of the girl who wore it, when he wrote these lyrics:

Well, I see you got a new boyfriend
You know, I never seen him before
Well, I saw him
Makin' love to you
You forgot to close the garage door
You might think he loves you for your money
But I know what he really loves you for
It's your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat

Couturier Christian Dior, in his classic The Little Dictionary of Fashion, hinted ever-so-discreetly at the trouble wearing the fur could cause: "to wear leopard you must have a kind of femininity which is a little bit sophisticated. If you are fair and sweet don't wear it."

Today wearing the actual skins is a no-no due to issues of endangerment and anti-cruelty. Faux versions are the default, at prices that make them an option for most everyone. Still, a certain kind of woman tends to wear animal print. Fashion writer Hadley Freeman gets her claws out and rips: "Animal print clothing is even more grating because the message is so embarrassingly obvious and so cringingly stupid. Yeah, we get it, babe -- you're just wild, you are. In the sack, yes, yes. Like on Discovery Channel -- we got it!"

Well, she's got a teeny point here. All the ladies I know who frequently sport jungle spots and stripes do like a prowl and are big into toying with their prey. But so what? They're also great company, and a helluva a lot more fun to hang out with than their more tasteful counterparts in a pastel twin-set and pearls.

And not every woman wears feline print solely to catch some game of her own. One of my heroines is Georgie White, an adventuress who became the first person to run white-water rafting in the Grand Canyon as a commercial business. Her style signature was a leopard-skin swimsuit--not because she was looking to get lucky on the river (which, considering, she probably had to beat them off with a paddle), but because the spots "disguised the oil stains" from the boat! Great company, for sure.

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