Bagheera is fine, uncut pile velvet. It was originally made of silk, but after the introduction of cellulose fabrics it could be made of rayon. It was popular in the 1930s & 40s.
A 1933 fashion column describes it as ‘a crepe velvet with a matte surface’. The ‘matte surface’ refers to the rough, uncut pile which absorbs rather than reflecting light.
The crepe makes it crush-resistant, and gives it a lovely drape, making it very popular for evening wear. Heavier bagheeras are also used in furnishing, because the crush-resistant quality makes it suitable for chairs and other items that get heavy wear.
Bagheera is first used as a term for the particular type of velvet in the early 30s, and mentions in the early ’30s sometimes use quotation marks, indicating it was a novel term. It was used for evening dresses and skirts, glamourous house-robes (the replacement for the tea gown), as an alternative to fur for wraps and jackets, and in millinery.
Bagheera remained popular into the early ’40s, but was another textile that disappeared with the social changes of WWII.
It’s not evident if bagheera the velvet has any link to Kipling’s Bagheera, the panther in the Jungle Book. The books almost certainly predate the use of the term for a velvet, and it may be that the fabric was named after the books, either to evoke a sense of exoticism (hmmm…never seen that before!) or because the rough pile of the velvet reminded someone of a panthers coat.
Unfortunately, while I can find mentions of bagheera, and definitions of the fabric, I’ve been unable to find a reasonable image of the fabric itself! If you have one, or another period image featuring bagheera, or (the holy grail) an image of a period garment made of bagheera, please share!
And a bit of bonus terminology:
What is uncut velvet? An uncut velvet is a velvet where the pile threads are left as loops (like toweling and terrycloth) rather than being trimmed into discreet strands). It is sometimes called terry velvet.
O’Hara, Georgina, The Encyclopedia of Fashion: From 1840 to the 1980s. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd. 1986
Datta, R.K., The Global Silk Industry: A Complete Source Book. Delhi: APH Publishing. 2007