The Secret Wild Psychology of Animal Print Clothing

Mandy Harrison European Fashions

IN A FEARLESS CASE OF SURVIVAL of the fittest, animal print is a trend that never seems to go out of style. Animal prints are known as one of the longest standing patterns in fashion, representing an enduring trend that continues to get reinterpreted and presented on runways every season.

Animal print adds a wild, exotic, and untamed element to any season, giving the wearer a boost of confidence and air of sophistication. Synonymous with luxury and wealth, animal print pieces and accessories are considered timeless fashion investments and the prized wardrobe possessions of the chic.

Regularly spotted on fashion runways, Hollywood stars and celebrities, animal prints offer mainstream fashion a cutting-edge, designer appeal. Animal prints allow even the most conservative person the ability to show their wild side, bringing instant attention to any fashion statement. And most importantly, people love prints. Animal prints are pleasing to the eye, very versatile and with so many different prints to choose from, there is a perfect print for every occasion and every outfit.

But there is a hidden psychological undertone. Essentially what animal print does is leverage our subconscious human instincts to fear the natural patterns of human predators. Whenever a human (any human) sees the pattern of a human predator, eg: leopard spots, there is a significant amount of subconscious instinctual fear activated in the centre of the brain: specifically, inside the amygdala.

It’s an instantaneous piece of software stored (and triggered off faster than any conscious reaction could ever occur) in the prehistoric part of our hard-drive. It’s left over in our mind as part of the human within us that’s several hundreds of thousands of years old. Put simply, a man’s “inner caveman” feels fear for a split second when he sees “Lady Leopard”, due to a lingering age-old instinct designed to help avoid being eaten. We see animal print, we are instantly automatically subconsciously primed with a version of the classic “fight or flight” response. Whether we think it’s true or not, it happens to each and every one of us.

So an instinctual fear is primed in the centre of the brain, and that subconscious fear increases arousal which is explained to the conscious mind as being attributable to the attractiveness of the object being looked at. Note also that the subconscious fear response causes increased looking time (an instinctual “keep an eye on that predator” response), which can in turn give rise to the mere exposure effect which increases perceived attractiveness in Lady Leopard’s favour.

In the mind of most males seeing females in animal print, the “attack response” is not translated literally to a conscious threat label because females don’t represent a physical threat. The centre of a male’s brain does however compel them to keep an eye on animal print, and they are likely to attribute this also as being due to increased attractiveness.

In fact, the arousal instincts discussed above also increases the looking time of other females when Lady Leopard’s around, which males could also pick up on and attribute as being due to the heightened attractiveness or status of Lady Leopard in the eyes of her fellow lady rivals.

There’s always been serious chemistry between fashion and animal prints. I’ve spent a good amount of time learning to understand this daring trend, from leopard spots to zebra stripes. It’s a look I embrace every season whilst others seek out this years “new black”. To me, leopard print is a neutral that works every day and any time. Big-cat prints are timelessly chic.

Be brave, take a walk on the wild side and release your inner animal!

by Mandy Harrison

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