Basic Fashion For The Non-Basic: A Beginners Guide To Wearing Leopard Print

Most people don’t just up and buy a leopard print coat one day. I had to work up to that.
Publish date:
February 3, 2014
fashion, leopard print

I used to think that leopard print was tacky. Then one day I used my employee discount to buy a pair of leopard print flats from Gap and then before I knew it, I was taking this shameless selfie in the middle of a crowded Zara.

Of course, it’s not a transformation that happened overnight. It cracks me up to imagine myself waking up one morning to find myself decked head to toe in leopard print with satin leopard print sheets, but alas, that did not happen. Rather, it was such a gradual occurrence (over the span of four years or so) that I was surprised to realize I had accrued this much leopard print in my closet.

If you, too, want to explore the exciting world of leopard print but you’re nervous about taking the first step, let me be your guide.

Start with accessories.

Most people don’t just up and buy a leopard print coat one day. I had to work up to that, and -- as we all know -- accessories are the gateway drug to full-blown obsessions.

Accessories are a low-risk way to try out a trend you’re unsure of. I have a pair of leopard print socks from Target that cost $2. I like to wear them with black patent loafers and ankle-cropped cigarette pants to add a little pizazz to my otherwise boring work outfit. They also look cool peeking out of my black ankle boots.

Socks are too crazy for you? Get a skinny leopard print belt. It’ll add a nice touch to a white shift dress or basic work pants. I bought an ugly pair of grey wool trousers from Forever 21 simply because it came with the perfect leopard print belt. This one from J. Crew is nice but if, like me, you refuse to spend more than $20 on a belt then this one from Target is just as good.

Finally, if you’re the noncommittal type, try a scarf. You can take it off as soon as you get inside but you’ll probably discover that you won’t want to.

Get yourself a pair of leopard print shoes.

Yes, shoes are technically an accessory but leopard print shoes are in a whole other ballpark. They will transform your entire outfit, whether it’s skinny jeans or a LBD, and make you stand out (in a good way, I think, but you’re free to your own opinion). I have the aforementioned ballet flats from Gap, and since they have a black captoe, they look adorable with black tights.

I definitely suggest sticking to the classic ballet flat silhouette (I’m not a fan of leopard print loafers or oxfords) without any crazy colors or embellishments. Okay, fine, I’d make an exception for these Charlotte Olympia Kitty Cat shoes. The little ears slay me.

Once you’re ready to advance to the next step, it’s time to find the perfect pair of leopard print pumps. I personally think they look best with -- again -- muted colors, and nothing super shiny or with a huge platform. This pair has just a pop of leopard print and would be great for going out (when it’s a bit warmer, that is). For work, this pointy-toed pair will make you seem impossibly chic and intimidating, and for blowing that annoying $1,000 sitting in your pocket, this Valentino pair is perfect.

Cardigans are next because they’re easy to take off if you wimp out.

I have two leopard print cardigans. One is my work cardigan and the other is my casual cardigan. I can’t explain how I make the distinction; I just do. I’ll let you guess in the comments which is which.

The point is that a sweater is a pretty easy way to test the waters because if someone makes a Mrs. Robinson joke you can just take it off and pretend you got hot. (For the record: I personally am completely in favor of being compared to Mrs. Robinson.)

Finally, you’re ready to cover your body in leopard print.

This could mean a coat, a dress, or even pants. I have a pair of corduroy leopard print pants because why not?

I also own a leopard print coat that I can’t wear or sell because it’s missing a massive button in the middle. At least it came in handy for dressing up as Edie Sedgwick on Halloween.

I don’t own a leopard print dress, simply because it’s hard to find one that’s not skin-tight or hot pink or screaming “sexy cavewoman.” If you’re in the same boat, I suggest starting out with a dress that isn’t entirely leopard print like this 3.1 Philip Lim dress or one in a subdued color and a subtle, almost abstract print that doesn’t immediately register as leopard print.

So there’s your instructions. Work your way through this list, starting small, over a course of weeks or months or years, and watch "The Graduate" on repeat. Don’t ask me how to wear zebra print, though. You’re on your own for that one.

Follow Kelly’s epic quest for the perfect leopard print coat on Twitter: @picturesqueliar.