Safari Chic: The History of Camouflage & Animal Prints in Fashion

Posted on March 18 2022

Safari Chic: The History of Camouflage & Animal Prints in Fashion

Spring fashion welcomes some fresh takes on many of our favorite prints, fabrics, textures and colors that naturally exist each year as we begin our rebirth into warmer weather.  Some of our newest arrivals feature updated interpretations of camouflage prints, warm and rich earth hues that are both desert and jungle inspired, alongside a subtle nod to a Safari theme shown in updates to favorite patterns of animal prints. 

We often get asked after buying trips “What is in fashion for the upcoming Season?”  After decades of working in the fashion industry and watching trends come and go, it can be easy to stop being curious about what drives these trends. Then there are the trends that transcend a season and become expected, which then moves them into the category of a tried-and-true wardrobe staple. These staples and statement pieces have become varied prints of camouflage and animal spots and stripes. While these trends have their peaks in different seasons of fashion they have, in the modern age, become as essential to our wardrobes as classic black. 

Pondering this left us with many questions about the history of these prints in fashion. So, we took to the internet to research and learn more about these beloved fashions that we all treasure today.  Here’s what we’ve discovered…

 

Camouflage

We can thank France for creating the pattern that we call camouflage. During WWI, armies had much bigger and therefore more noticeable equipment such as tanks that needed to be hidden from aerial photography. The French hired painters known as Camofleurs to create the first designs. Our research found that a team of thirty painters created the first camouflage patterns. This pattern was applied to nets, cloths, tarps and uniforms. It is said that by the end of the war, there was over three thousand artists who were part of the camofleur team. Since it was determined how useful the camouflage pattern was, other nations including America began building their own teams of painters. 

Camouflage first showed up as Civilian wear during the Vietnam war as a statement in protest of the war.  In 1971, Vogue Magazine wrote its first article on the camouflage print saying that it is a “functional, practical, good-looking print and just as wearable as the everyday blue jean”. Fast forward 50 years to the present day and boy, were they spot on! 

Famed artist, Andy Warhol, is noted as being one of the trend leaders in bringing camo into fashion.  His colorful Camouflage art prints were said to have influenced runway designers such as John Galliano, John Paul Gaultier and Yves Saint Laurent who all reimagined this pattern into their collections in the latter part of the 1980’s. We can attribute the street credibility that became associated with camo prints, in the early 80’s, to rappers, hip-hop artists and skaters who shopped army/navy surplus stores sourcing these iconic vintage pieces.  It is due to their personal style of incorporating camo statement pieces into their daily wardrobe that made this pattern an emblem of streetwear thus bringing it into the mainstream.

One thing we are certain of is that camo is here to stay.  It always gets reinvented and reimagined leaving us knowing that there will continue to be a new look to add to our military inspired, staple wardrobe pieces now and well into the future. 

   Popular patterns of camouflage in contemporary fashion

 

Animal Prints

The first thing that comes to mind with our obsession over animal prints, namely jungle cat prints, is the television show, Tarzan.  How many Sunday mornings were spent watching Tarzan and Jane swing from tree to tree adorning their sexy and skivvy animal print costumes?  Well, it turns out that the animal print trend, which began in the 1930’s, is solely due to the influence of this iconic show! Apparently, audiences took note of this look noting its air of adventure and excitement. It didn’t take long for fashion designers to jump on the bandwagon and begin replicating these big cat prints onto everything from scarves, blouses, dresses and the likes. 

In the 1940’s, at the early stages of the women’s movement these prints were seen for their power and strength. Famous pin up model, Bettie Page, was featured in Jungle Bettie wearing a leopard print mini dress that is said too have created an “uproar” in the fashion world.  The 1950’s shifted the energy of animal prints from risqué looks to a more demure, sophisticated and chic sensibility. Christian Dior created an entire collection of animal prints with his main obsession being leopard print. Dior’s muse, Madame Bricard, is said to have been the influencer for a whole new era of animal prints in fashion.

Moving into the 1960’s, during the hippie movement, animal prints became exotic and “out there”. Influences of psychedelic drugs and the energy of “free love” introduced new colors to these timeless and classic prints.  As we headed into the 1970’s, punk rock influenced the animal print looks and took them back to more classical patterns of the 1930’s. Designers reinvented them in iconic 70’s silhouettes such as jumpsuits, shoes, bell bottoms and undergarments. The 1980’s trend went all out and expanded from prints of leopard and cheetah and added snakeskin, giraffe and zebra to the growing mix of animal influenced patterns. Today, fashion maintains a solid stance with keeping animal prints in the regular mix.  Present day stylings are well-rounded and play off of all of these past eras. .                   Popular animal print patterns in contemporary fashion

 

Bibliography

Newark, Tim, Quentin Newark, and J. F. Borsarello. Brassey's Book of Camouflage. London: Brassey's (U.K.) Ltd., 1996.

A Brief History of Camo by Ashiana Pradhan at Thread.com

The History of Camouflage in Warfare and Fashion by Kiera Coffee at Shutterstock.com

A Short History of Camo Print in Streetwear by Acclaim.com

Ohio State University Blog: The History Behind Animal Prints by thibault.21

 

 

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