Is leopard print terrible or terrific?

Leopard Print

Leave Planet Fashion and The Real World to fight it out over leopard print: as long as you're not a fascist, who cares what you wear?

I've always thought that leopardskin-print clothes of all sorts are terrible, and any female wearing them isn't going to like my liberal, vegetarian ways. However, a male friend from Derby says, contrary to my thesis, leopardskin is good news. Who's right?

Peter, by email

Here we have a classic example of a divide between The Real World and Planet Fashion. On Planet Fashion, leopard print is so beloved, and has been for so long, that it's "now a neutral", as this paper's fashion editor (and leopard-print lover) Jess Cartner-Morley so wisely once said. On Planet Fashion, leopard print is a staple, and has been proffered by labels one would never associate with film noir vamps or Coronation Street bartenders. You know, sweet little British labels such as Mulberry, Betty Jackson, Whistles – labels that pretty much bellow, "Nothing to fear her! We clothe polite and style-conscious ladies, some of whom might even be liberal vegetarians. Rest assured!" Indeed, for leopard print to shock the vaguely fashion-aware, a person would have to wear a real leopard – ideally a live one.

But out in The Real World, leopard print still has ridiculous connotations, such as the ones I mentioned above: Bet Lynch, untrustworthy temptresses, blah blah blah. But this is just nonsense. Objectively, leopard print is a lovely pattern. It is especially lovely on leopards and, when reprinted on fake fur and cotton, very nice on humans, too (obviously, this liberal, vegetarian, dog-loving page has absolutely no truck with wearing real fur, which is an unforgivable sin). But the associations continue, and I think the reason for this has a lot more to do with human nature than leopard print.

It takes time to meet people. And meeting people can be intimidating. Far better, then, to have a set of random rules in your head that allows you to make snap judgments about people before actually talking to them, as well as reasons to rule them out before they get a chance to reject you – right, Peter? And what could be easier, or quicker to spot, than rules about fashion?

Believe me, I get it. I lasted one week on an online dating website, and I don't think it would be too great an exaggeration to describe it as the worst week of my life. We don't need to get into all that; suffice to say I found myself looking at photos of prospective swains and thinking, "Nah, rubbish sunglasses – next!" or, "Oh, God, you can't trust a man in a duffle coat, forget it", and so on. Are these real reasons to rule out someone? No, they're not.

I do give some credence to Bridget Jones, who, as Helen Fielding wrote in the original book (yes, I know I quoted from it last week, but it's as inexhaustibly brilliant now as when it was first published), says, "It's amazing how much time and money can be saved in the world of dating by paying close attention to detail. A white sock here, a pair of red braces there, a grey slip-on shoe, a swastika, are often as not all one needs to tell you there's no point writing down phone numbers and forking out for expensive lunches because it's never going to be a runner." Now, I agree with Bridget that ruling out someone for wearing Nazi insignia is a good rule of thumb. But a white sock? A grey slip-on? I'm a fashion bitch, and even I think that's ridiculous.

Here are good fashion reasons for ruling out a future partner or friend:

1. They wear Nazi paraphernalia

2. They wear other fascist and/or offensive paraphernalia (including T-shirts proclaiming their devotion to Oasis)

3. Um

4. That's

5. It.

Regular readers of this column will know I have strong views when it comes to acceptable clothing. Jeans every day aren't acceptable, especially if they're unwashed. Dresses are great. Double denim is a mortal sin. But that doesn't mean I would refuse to date someone who fails to adhere to my style rules. There are so many great reasons to date someone, and an appreciation of their personal style is pretty low down my list, and it should be the same for you.

Maybe I feel like this because I worked in the fashion business, and therefore met quite a few guys who work in the industry who have amazing personal style but are sort of douchey (I should add at this point that I also met plenty of lovely chaps in fashion – some of my dearest friends, as it happens – but there were definitely some douchey ones along the way.) Ironically enough, it was the fashion business that taught me not to judge people by their clothes.

So, what I'm saying, Peter, is that it doesn't matter whether you or your friend is right – you can't make blanket assumptions about women based on what they wear. I know it's easier than actually talking to them, but you know what? Sometimes we've got to do what scares us the most.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Hadley Freeman, for The Guardian on Monday 18th August 2014 15.39 Europe/London

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