Just like everything else on Netflix’s docuseries Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, the style is unforgettable. It should come as no surprise that a show with exotic cats, guns, alleged murder plots, hard drugs, wacky country music videos and political campaigns would also have a unique, mishmash sense of fashion.
The seven-part documentary gives viewers a look into the lives and interpersonal dramas of private zoo owners in the United States. We’re shown, in particular, the intense rivalry between Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, also known as “Joe Exotic,” who runs the G.W. Zoo in Wynnewood, Okla., and Carole Baskin, the CEO of the Tampa-based Big Cat Rescue.
The show’s wide range of fashion statements look a bit like if a costume designer’s walk-in closet exploded: sequins, camo, tiger print, cowboy hats, neon colors. And it’s all a pretty apt visual palette for the chaos that unfolds in the lives of the subjects who wear them.
The lasting impression of Tiger King’s style is yet to be seen. But the endless supply of articles on how to recreate the cast’s attire for Halloween, hunting down Joe Exotic’s eyeliner and orchestrating Tiger King-themed family dinners—combined with the fact that this show might be one of the most widely consumed pieces of visual culture in the country right now—all suggest that come summer, we might see more animal print than usual. And though street style doesn’t exactly exist during this moment of social isolation, social-media-newsfeed style certainly does. Jared Leto dressed up as Joe Exotic and shared his look on Twitter, wowing fans and inspiring others to do the same.
Below, see a breakdown of some of the show’s most memorable fashion moments.
The Live Animal as Accessory
It’s no secret that the cast’s fashion item of choice is often a live, exotic animal. And the show makes clear that visitors to the zoos featured in the series highly value the chance to post a picture with a lion or a tiger to their social media feeds. As Joe Exotic himself sums it up, “Does it feel good to stand on my stage with 500-pound tigers and everybody envy you? Absolutely.”
Though it is exploitative to try and elevate one’s status using a live animal as an accessory, it’s not exactly new. For centuries before they became more widely available, the flat-faced Pekingese dog was considered an aristocratic luxury in China, owned and enjoyed only by the royal family. Being in possession of a parrot was once considered a symbol of wealth in Europe, and ancient Greeks and Romans displayed theirs in ornate cages made of ivory and tortoiseshell.
Beyond the world of private zoo owners, this craze has made its way onto runway shows as well. In 2013, the Moncler Gamme Rouge show featured live huskies walked down the runway by models, who were dressed head-to-toe in fur to match. Full-body, human-size polar bear suits were part of the finale. Moncler storefronts in Russia would also have life-size polar bear figures hovering behind mannequins.
Even Carole Baskin, who speaks out against this kind of exploitation, makes sure to kneel just so in one particular scene so that the lion behind her is fully in the frame. “You want me to get down, so you’ve got this cat?” she asks the cameraman.
From Tom Ford’s sequined and color-twisted leopard-print suits to Supreme x Everlast hooded boxing robes to Jennifer Lopez’s tiger-striped hair in the music video for “Medicine,” you probably thought you’d seen it all when it comes to animal print. But Carole Baskin ventures even deeper into the sartorial jungle. Throughout the entirety of the show, there is hardly a moment when Baskin isn’t wearing at least one item with an animal print. As we’re guided through her house, we see the ultimate vision of the cat-print aesthetic: furniture, dishes, curtains, luggage and just about every type of article of clothing. Anything on her property that isn’t an animal is made to look like one by being covered in the print.
“It’s almost a uniform. When I go in to talk with a legislator, if I go in there dressed head to toe in cat prints, people remember ‘oh, that’s the person that’s gonna be all over my case about why cats need to be protected,’” Baskin says, standing draped in cat print inside what appears to be a government building.
Animal print is a stalwart of our consumer wardrobes at this point. Almost every other fall, we’re told it’s the hot new trend. Somehow, it still stands out and gives the wearer an air of boldness and confidence, which Baskin certainly displays through her apparel as well as her actions, taking on legal battles with Joe and constantly tracking his every move.
Some of Baskin’s choices, which take animal print to extremes—furry scarves, hats with cat ears and headpieces with other animal features—have a strong parallel to Stella McCartney’s last Paris Fashion Week show, where models wore full-body animal costumes in an effort to stress the brand’s commitment to animal rights.
The image of the cowboy conjures up quintessential feelings of Americana. It’s no wonder that Joe Exotic takes inspiration from the Western look and the strength, courage and American heroism it embodies. Belt buckles, cowboy hats and fringe jackets are among his staples.
But Joe Exotic gives Western wear his own twist. Featuring sequined animal-print button-downs, neon blue eyeliner and a hot pink double-pocket shirt, which he wore to match his two fiancés on their wedding day, Joe’s style is more than just cowboy—it’s cowboy drag.
In his run for president shown in Episode 5 (“Make America Exotic Again”), we see just how committed he is to this look and his own identity. While wearing a suede tassel cowboy jacket, in a campaign video, Joe tells it like it is: “First thing is, I am not cutting my hair. I’m not changing the way I dress. I refuse to wear a suit. I am gay. I’ve had two boyfriends most of my life. I currently got legally married. Thank God. It’s finally legal in America. I’ve had some kinky sex. I have tried drugs through the younger years of my life. I am broke as sh-t.”
Joe’s cowboy drag comes on the heels of the Yeehaw Agenda, a movement pushed forward by artists like Lil Nas X and Megan Thee Stallion to increase the visibility of black cowboy style, asserting that Western style today is American in its truest sense. It’s not stuck in the past. It’s evolving and diversifying.
“Your whole audience will say, ‘Oh my god, that guy has a mullet!’” Joe Exotic says early in the series. And we might have, but we’d soon find out that his bleach blonde mullet was far from the wildest thing about him.
But could the mullet once again have a moment beyond the confines of this show? There’s a chance it just might. Many people online have drawn comparisons between Joe’s coiffure and Miley Cyrus’ current cut, and the mullet has also been sported recently by celebrities like Billie Eilish and Halsey.
Let’s not forget, there was a moment in time when it was the style to have. The “business up front and a party in the back” ‘do was the look of the ’80s, popular among celebrities of all kinds. Think Miley’s dad Billy Ray Cyrus, Patrick Swayze, Andre Agassi. The term was later coined by the Beastie Boys in their 1994 song “Mullet Head.”
Short and long at the same time, the mullet can also be a statement of gender fluidity and has served as a marker of queerness. Though he’s not exactly David Bowie in his mullet, Joe, who is openly gay and polyamorous, still makes his mark.
The Flower Crown
Today, we often associate this headpiece with young people attending music festivals and with brides on their wedding days. But with Coachella postponed to the fall, we still get our dose of flower crown imagery thanks to Baskin. She wears it atop her blonde hair and matches it with a flowy mixed-print blouse. She also wears one in her wedding photos, while her husband is dressed as a tiger tied to a leash held by Baskin.
The world of private zoo owners in Tiger King is largely male. Baskin is one of the few female subjects, and her choice to wear a flower crown certainly accentuates her femininity. While the men on the show sport baseball caps and cowboy hats, Baskin’s flower crown makes her stand out even more.
Is the flower crown an attempt to associate her animal rights persona with the peacekeeping nature of the hippies, who commonly wore the accessory? Shots of Baskin riding her bike around her property with a placid look on her face certainly suggest a kind of blissed-out vibe. But in the end, this image buts up against the notion that she’s nothing if not out for blood.