There’s this one untitled shot by the photographer Gay Block from her photos of South Beach retirees, shot in the early 1980s, that some people might say has “incredible energy.” It’s of an older woman with multiple gold necklaces dripping around her neck, a leopard print pillbox hat on her head, and what looks like not one but two big cat print jackets, one on top of the other. Whenever I look at it, I can’t help but think the Miami bubbe looks very proto-A$AP Rocky, who’d look perfect in his own version of the outfit.
More than anything, it’s the print. She’s got a lot of leopard print. The pattern never really goes out of style; it’s in a constant state of coming and going. Every few years you’ll see Supreme drop something in it, from the brand’s iconic Kate Moss shot to North Face collabs to re-imagining the classic Barbour Bedale jacket. Gucci does a lot in the print; Comme des Garçons does as well; even Vans recently added an option to customize leopard print sneakers. It can be as simple as a pair of socks from Anonymous Ism, or a New Era fitted with the Yankees logo in the brown and yellow spots.
Growing up, I spent a lot of time in South Florida around swimming pools, public beaches and retirement homes from Boca Raton to Surfside, and so there’s a certain appeal I find in Gay’s picture. It’s almost comforting, like the click of a mahjong tile. Still, leopard print is a pattern I’m equally interested in and repulsed by for a number of reasons, the biggest being that I came of age during the rockabilly and swing revivals of the 1990s and so I often have nightmares of Vince Vaughn yelling “You’re money, baby.” (To say nothing of the mere existence of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies.) On the other hand, I’m interested in leopard and cheetah print because there’s something undeniably gaudy about it, and we could all use a little more gaudy in our lives.
But what, exactly, is gaudy? Gaudy is misunderstood. It’s often confused with camp, and connects back to words like “cheap” or “tasteless,” but it also could mean “flamboyant” or “glitzy.” It’s a little of the old razzle-dazzle, but it should also be measured on a case-by-case basis. Some people like a lot of pop; others just need a little.
Whatever your position on gaudy, there’s never been a better time to give it a try than right now. It feels like men’s style is trying to make up for its historical gaudy shortages, and how heritage brands, browns and blues, and the toughest selvage denim were often the name of the game. While old workboots or whatever Carhartt gear you copped to go drink natural wine looks great, it can all get a little rigid—a desperate grasp at the idea of masculinity.
But looking over a list like the finalists for last year’s Most Stylish Man bracket, the one thing that popped out was, well, everything that popped out. This is a good time for those that love to zhush it up: toss on some pearls or a charm necklace from Susan Alexandra like Pete Davidson, wear a velvet cranberry suit like Daniel Craig, or simply bask in the fact that Steve Harvey walks among us. None of these looks smack of cheap, given the fact that it’s celebrities we’re talking about, but there is a little tasteless fun. Eye-popping suits or a colorful necklace around your neck are flamboyant and glitzy. It’s razzle-dazzle, and it is fun as hell.