Cow print is the unexpected trend of 2019
"Bitch, I’m a cow!"
Right: Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images Left: Photo by Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
“Moo, moo, moo, moo, moo, moo, moo, moo,” sings rapper Doja Cat, wearing a matching cow print shirt and skirt while sipping a milkshake against a cow print backdrop in her 2018 “Mooo!” music video. Who knew that when the now viral video released it would mark the beginning of a cow print resurgence. Now, almost a year and a half later, “Bitch, I’m a cow!” has become an iconic catchphrase while the black and white (or sometimes brown and white) pattern is something both fashion designers and fashion fans are still seriously responding to.
Today, there’s an influx of cow print everything. Think bucket hats, slides, loafers, shirts, pants, corsets, dresses, sleeveless turtlenecks, textured knits, earrings, boots, and head-to-toe outfits. There’s also cardigans with abstract cows on them and earrings with literal cow figurines while even high fashion brands like Burberry have gone big on cow print with t-shirts, flats, and mini-skirts. The trend has officially gone mainstream, almost reaching fever pitch (currently, the term “cow print” has over 150,000,000 hits on Google search). It is even considered a “neutral” by some, like Emma Zack, who frequently sells out of cow printed items through her vintage store Berriez. “It’s a print that makes you reminisce about your past and not take yourself too seriously,” she says. “It makes you feel joyful.”
Ty McBride, designer of footwear brand Intentionally Blank, says its five footwear styles that employ cow print speak to the fact that, “People are currently wanting fun!” While accessories designer Poppy Lissiman, who makes cow print sunglasses, believes the pattern is easy to wear and matches a lot of outfits while it still packs a bit of punch. “I just thought of [cow print] as a passion project because I loved it and who wants to look like a cow anyway?” reflects designer Alexia Elkaim, mastermind behind cult clothing brand Miaou, who has been making cow print corsets and clothes ever since a California farm trip. “It was to my surprise that our cow became our best selling print to date.” In early December, Miaou will drop a new “cow-ish” capsule as part of its holiday collection.
“Exotic prints have always been a marker of luxury, dating back to the 18th century,” says fashion historian Roberta Gorin-Paracka. While leopard, snake, and cheetah have traditionally been the skins we automatically think of when we speak about animal print in fashion, Gorin-Paracka says there’s been a recent cultural fascination with unexpected animal prints, too. In her practice, cow print is seen more of an irreverent choice, and a visual marker for an American Western aesthetic than any other animal prints have been, historically. “It's a playful take, and one that enables wearers to have a bit more fun than a basic leopard print, for example.”
Though more traditional animal prints are visually coded to elicit sex appeal, elusiveness, and a fetishization of the exotic, the fashion historian sees cow print as something that’s more tongue-in-cheek and a “ubiquitous marker of pastoral simplicity.” Just take a drive through rural America, where the cows are aplenty. While the wearing of cow print is on one hand quirky and fun, it could also speak to our desire for a more simple lifestyle. Moreover, the playfulness cow print emits is distinctly tied to the yeehaw agenda, including things like Lil Nas X's collaborative track with Billy Ray Cyrus, “Old Town Road” — something Gorin-Paracka says is a modern day reclamation of Western aesthetics that reflects current debates around blackness, representation and identity as well as the sociocultural climate in America.
“For black artists from Southern US states, reclaiming the style celebrates their southern roots and breaks traditional stereotypes – and cowhide is part of that story,” says Isabel Wharton, Senior Editor of Prints & Graphics at trend forecaster WGSN. Wharton believes that black communities from the south are re-framing what cowboys mean today. And this is happening through music and style.
“We want to remember the pioneering spirit [of America] while distancing from aligned stereotypes as buried communities and a forgotten Americana are pushing into the spotlight to put forth a future preservation and reclaim the concept of a real country,” says Rachael Gentner, a print and graphics trend editor at Fashion Snoops. And beyond this, cow print is also a nod to the resurrection of the style of the noughties, in which cowgirl and cowboy style was put on display by pop-culture giants like Mary J Blige, Destiny’s Child and Nelly.
Dana Pich, who runs a small label out of San Francisco named Gr8dane World, says her interest in making cow print bags, can be attributed to things like: “the upswing of western wear & the little hoe on the prairie vibe, resurgence of the 90s, and the desire to wear something different than the leopard/zebra/tiger prints that have dominated fashion for years.” Moving forward, she plans to continue using the print, injecting more color and boldness with neon grounded prints and multi-colored spots.
Susan Korn, the artist and designer behind magical accessories brand Susan Alexandra, first became inspired to use the “charming” print after Margaret Austin, the womenswear buyer at Opening Ceremony, suggested it. Korn admits that at that time she didn’t know that there was such a “cult of cow print” but that her cow print bag soon became the brand’s best seller. “I love that cow print is at once sweet and cheeky. It's like the un-sexy cousin of leopard print,” she says. But more than this, Korn appreciates the humor of the print, expressing that, “No one has ever worn cow print lingerie, it's antithetical to seduction.”
In her mind, cow print is a declaration of independent thinking and not feeling like you need to fit into the box of being what’s traditionally considered "pretty.” The designer recently announced a related collaboration with Lil Miquela on a cow print purse that switches out the typical black spots for pastel colored ones. While Gabriela Pelletier, assistant buyer for Lisa Says Gah, says the brand’s customers have responded to the brand’s various items in the print in an overwhelmingly positive way, and that they plan to continue using it because it’s so “versatile”. According to her, “It’s bold, not overdone, easy to transition the print from fall to holiday and even summer…[and it] looks great on everything.”
Still, it’s impossible to talk about cow print without talking about, well, actual living cows. This is considering that nearly 39 million cattle and calves are killed for food in the United States according to A Well Fed World. While veganism and anxiety around climate change are rising, Gorin-Paracka believes this trend is likely not tied to environmentalism in diet and fashion as she says, “Unfortunately a lot of cow print I've seen in the market is still done using pony hair/calf hair/haircalf.” This means, regrettably, that animals are still being harvested for their fur with some designers using real cow fur in their designs.
Still, as the print continues to make its way into mass-market retailers, oversaturation could destroy its vitality, or unapologetic, irreverent nature — something Cape Town-based designer Trotse Tert of BLÜNKE summarizes perfectly: “I'm a cow and I'm not apologizing for it. This is me and these are my creations, love it or hate it, I'm not in the least bothered.” At least for now, the adoration for cow print continues and among other animal prints, it’s most definitely no longer the underdog.