Fur fashion can be considered one of the fundamental fashion styles owing to its old history predating the first written records. Although there is no considered concept of fashion yet when it started, fur was already used as a clothing item primarily for its superior insulation property and as bodily decoration as well.
Fur clothing (coats, hats, shawls, and other items) is derived from furry animal hides and is believed to have been used by the several species of hominids including Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis when they first expanded outside Africa.
As time went on, fur became a powerful symbol of social status to a point that there were specific types of fur for different social classes which varied every season. It was the “it” fashion item of luxury but today, many brands have retracted from endorsing any fur clothing in response to the demanded accountability with the issue of animal cruelty. Donning one in public will surely turn heads and safe to say that it’s not always for a good reason.
But before we answer whether fur is totally out of fashion and as all guides begin, let’s delve into the history 101 of fur fashion.
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History 101: A Brief Timeline of Fur Fashion
Fur clothing has a very rich history wherein early records started in the 11th century and continues to develop until now with the innovation of synthetic fur. Here, we note the important (and not-so-important) timestamps of fur in history.
The exact date when fur was used for clothing purposes is still under debate but as early as the 11th century, fur was worn both by men and women to symbolize their wealth and status rather than for its utilitarian purpose which is just a fancy alternative way of saying “warmth”.
Continuing on by the 1300s, Crown proclamations which were known as “sumptuary legislation” were then issued in England wherein wearing certain furs was only limited to higher social statuses.
📖 Sumptuary Legislation are laws that are created to regulate consumption. It is oftentimes expanded in definition as “laws made for the purpose of restraining luxury or extravagance, particularly against inordinate expenditures for apparel, food, furniture, etc. (Black Law)
In a historic context, these laws are designed to reinforce social hierarchies and morals, making it easy to identify social ranks and privileges which are used in social discrimination.
With these laws, different types of fur have been categorized into social classes. For the aristocrats, there are the marten, gray squirrel, and ermine.
On the other hand, individuals belonging to the middle-class wear fur from more common animals like the fox, hare, and beaver. Lastly, the lower classes are only allowed to wear fur made out of goat, wolf, or sheepskin.
Over time, the American beaver became one of the most popular and common sources of fur and was the favorite material for broad-brimmed hats used in the military. Design elements in fur such as heads, tails, and paws also became a trend.
By the Victorian era, the demand for fur increased and consequently popularized fur farms as well. Women wore fur as lining in the collars, wrists, and hems of their fur coat while men wore fur on the inside of their jackets with a different material on the front.
The start of the 1900s marked the flourishing of fur in the fashion industry with the rise of fur coats as fashionable items in West Europe. By the 1920s, there was an evident fur craze evidenced by films such as Ermine & Rhinestones (1925), Orchids & Ermine (1927), and The Lady in Ermine (1927). This hype went on until the 1930s that fur became a very common commodity in fashion that its price went up.
Although the hype of fur quickly fanned out from 1939 until 1945 which was the period of World War 2 as frugality and uniformity in clothing were encouraged due to war restrictions. But by the 1950s, the fur industry was rejuvenated and the 1920s fur craze happened all over again but this time, minks were the features.
The 1970s marked the establishment of Germany as the world’s largest market of authentic fur. The start of the downhill trend of fur was in 1975 when the International Fur Trade
Federation banned the farming of endangered fur species like silk monkey, ocelot, or small wild cat with a gorgeous dappled coat, leopard, tiger, and polar bears. And by the ‘80s, the fur industry faced accusations from many animal rights organizations which made animal skins more popular as an alternative.
Stepping into the 1990s, the fur industry suffered intense social ostracism. By 1999, fur farming was banned in Britain. And by the 21st century, instead of hunting down furry animals, they are now bred in captivity particularly foxes and minks. It is also during this period that Denmark became the host of the world’s largest fur auction named Kopenhagen Fur and alongside it, Holland and Finland also became the leaders in mink production.
From 2000 until 2010, there was an observed 70 percent increase in sales and by 2014 the fur trade was valued at more than $40 million but the resurgence of anti-fur activists has caused a decline. In 2015, the estimated value of fur trade at $40 million dropped to $33 million and Kopenhagen Fur also reported a significant 30 million drop in the number of mink pelts circulated.
Today, major luxury brands like Burberry, Chanel, Gucci, Versace, and Giorgio Armani have all pulled out from any connection with the fur industry though some still stand with the fight against animal rights organization.
Fur 101: Different Types of Fur
Now that we’re acquainted with the development of fur in the fashion industry, it’s time to know about the different types of fur and the clothing items.
Beavers were the 1700s favorite material for felt hats and considered one of the warmest and most durable fur which can last up to three decades of use. The color range of a single beaver fur is wide with dark brown usually at the back and shading to pale golden brown on the sides but its entire fur can also be silvery in color. The best beavers come from Alaska, Canada, and Northern US.
Beavers are generally used (1) natural and (2) plucked and sheared which mainly differ on the style and texture.
The best natural beavers are the Southern beavers which are more inexpensive than Northern beavers. These are more rugged and masculine in appearance which makes it an ideal material for men’s coat. On the other hand, the sheared and plucked beaver has a more classy style with its velvety soft texture. Compared to the natural brown color, this is sometimes dyed beige or darker brown color. One thing to note about sheared beaver is that it may mat when wet and requires care and cleaning.
It’s the perfect material for winter or if you’re planning to go to a frigid cold country. You can purchase a beavery jacket for $2,000-$6,000.
Chinchilla fur is very glamorous and identified by its signature slate blue-gray color. This is one of the most expensive furs in the market which can get as high as $100,000 due to its complex structure (small size of the skin and fragility) making it hard to work with. Though the price is high, individuals covet owning one that it became extinct in 1914. A few breeding pairs were imported to the US ten years later and today, chinchilla is ranched.
Its fur is very soft and silky and ironically, it’s one of the most lightweight furs yet also has the highest density of 20,000 square per centimeter. What makes chinchilla one of the most fashionable fur is that it creates a flashy and classy look. And utility wise, we’re looking at a very warm piece of fur.
Additionally, an expensive fur also requires utmost care and proper cleaning to make sure it stays in tip-top shape.
Coyotes are predators native to North America and are often considered as pest animals as they attack domestic and farm animals. As conservation efforts were targeted at wolves, coyotes became the next best choice.
Its fur is long which is often pale gray with thick and paler underfur, durable, and warm. It’s a popular choice for a warm coat yet still looking aesthetically sporty. Coyote jackets are usually priced between $2,000 and $10,000.
Fox is one of the more affordable options for fur fashion and has the widest range of colors ranging from the most common red (featured above) which is also the most inexpensive to the most expensive white and platina colors. Aside from its distinctive coloring and affinity to be dyed, fox fur is also known for its long and silky guard hairs and a soft, dense underfur.
It is one of the best types of fur since its versatility allows it to be a perfect item to finish your look for any occasion. You can cop fox fur as accessory pieces like collars, cuffs, wraps, and stoles.
Here are some common fox:
Red Fox: This is the most common fox and is native to every continent except South America. The best red fox you can find thrives in the Northern climates and possesses strong and silky fur.
Cross Fox: As the name suggests, it has distinctive cruciform marks in the head and neck regions. It’s basically a red fox with yellow tints and a deeper red-black color for its cruciforms.
Blue Fox: This one is ranched extensively in Scandinavia and ranges from blue brown to blue or white with blue highlights.
Gray Fox: It’s gray with a slight tinge of red in color and is commonly American foxes. Best on the market of gray fox come from the northern states.
White Fox: This is your ultimate glamor fur fix which has an extremely thick underfur and slight blue tinge at the back of the pelt. The drawback of this type of fox fur is it may require bleaching to avoid it from yellowing.
Platina Fox: This is originally bred in Norway and comes with a light platinum color and whiteness that can be enhanced through bleaching.
Lamb has a very wide variety of curl, weight, texture, and price and can be purchased in different types.
Broadtail: This is usually used in the “fantasy fur” with its thin, soft leather and fine short hair. They come from the stillborn and unborn lambs of the karakul sheep (multipurpose breed native and raised in Central Asia since 1400 BC) and are one of the most perishable and most expensive types of lamb. Its most usual pattern is the flat moiré or watered-silk pattern.
Mongolian: These are your long, wavy, silky hair usually found in off-white or bleached colors. In terms of fur fashion, these have a very sporty appeal but will need special care during the wet weather because it can be very frizzy.
Persian: Like your broadtail lamb, this is derived from the karakul sheep but the main difference is the age because this a lamb between a day old to 10 days old. The further the age, the more the moiré pattern develops to a tight, close curl. The Persian lamb is mostly popular in Europe especially Germany and is available in natural browns, grays, and whites. In Russia, the best persian lamb is the Bukhara.
Shearling: Basically, this is natural sheepskin that has been sheared on one side while sueded (napped finish) on its leather side which makes it a reversible type of fur adding to its versatility. These are initially very heavy but the innovations in tanning methods had made it more lightweight and also more “in” the fashion scene.
Lynx is a very distinct type of fur with its light color and spotted, textured body hair and of the most expensive type of fur due to limited amount of production. The lynx is native to parts of northern and central Europe, Canada, and the US and has a specific marking native to its region.
In addition to its exceptional white color and distinct texture, the long hair of the lynx don’t shed and its belly usually has whiter and longer fur. Garments made out of the belly of the lynx have a higher price tag.
The US lynx is more commonly called the cat lynx and have very lightweight and trendy fur. On the other hand, the Canadian lynx have displayed in creamy white tones with its signature darker markings and one of the most desired furs. The rarest lynx is the Russian white lynx which is the whitest and softest of the three “varieties” of lynx and have more subtle beige-colored markings. This is also the most expensive type of lynx.
Mink is the queen of fur coats for most women and is the highest-selling fur worldwide due to its lightweight, the soft and lush texture of the underfur, the unique sheen of its guard hairs, long life and add to that its extreme versatility in style. Mink fur can be dyed in any color and shade and can be casual to dressy to sporty.
Most mink are recognized in the rich, chocolaty shade of dark brown, and its price range from $1,000 to $50,000 but quality mink garment usually steps in the five-figure price. Before mink were worn by the majority of women but today a growing number of men are also getting into the “mink craze”.
Mink are a member of the weasel family found mostly in the wild but the majority of mink are now ranched and produce superior quality and color fur. The finest mink fur in the world is the American mink fur thanks to the power of scientific breeding and rearing.
Mink is a multipurpose breed and every part of it can be worked in many ways.
Sable is a species of Marten and considered one of the finest, luxurious, rarest and most expensive types of fur. The best sable, undeniably, are the Russian sable from the Barguzin Valley and are very dense and silky and come in brown color with a silver cast. The Barguzin sable is known as the crown or imperial sable reserved for the czar and his family.
The Canadian sable comes in a golden color with amber tones and is less expensive than your Russian sable which starts at a hefty $15,000 price.
Sable is found in the wild and protected in many natural reserves but some are now ranched. Russia takes on the monopoly on sable and holds fur auctions every January, July, and October.
Sable fur coat is one of the most coveted fur clothing revered for its silky pelt and smooth texture that it can easily shoot to six-figure price starting at $150,000.
Fur 101: Clothing Items
First, we have the FUR VEST. A fur vest is a big 2020 trend and can work perfectly with the ‘70s inspired look. It’s a very versatile piece that can make your casual, dressed down look more stylish even when you’re just out for a simple lunch date or grocery-shopping (if you’re that extra). You can layer it over your leather jacket or just a simple graphic tee paired with black jeans. It also works as a perfect accent to finish your modern and fabulous outfit like a sexy dress on the evening.
Second of course is the staple fur clothing item on every men and women’s closet: THE FUR COAT. Fur coats are especially fashionable as a winter garment. You can choose from the many varieties of fur coats from the fur linings to a full down fur coat. Nothing adds more drama and aesthetic to your outfit than a classic fur coat.
Depending on your style, like the fur vest, it can both be casual and fabulous.
Third is the fur stole. This is a large scarf or can also be a wrap or capelet made of fur designed to fashion your shoulders. Fur stoles from the 1920s through the ‘70s are characterized by three layers namely the exterior fur, interior shaping layer, and satiny lining. The most common rule of thumb when styling fur stole is to pick a contrasting color from your hair to make it stand out and not just an extension of your crowning glory.
And last but not least are your fur boots and shoes. You can try a full-blown fur boot for your fancy outfit or a more subtle one with fur linings that give accent and texture to your shoe or boot.
Fur 101: How To Maintain + Some Tips
The mortal enemy of the fur, no matter what type, is the humidity so in order to protect its shelf life and probably extend or maximize it in tiptop shape, store it in a cool and dry area of the house. Ideally, if you’re spending so much on one, then a practical investment that comes with it is professional fur storage so that you’ll make out the most of every dollar you spent.
Fur does not appreciate in value over time and if you are looking to resell it over time, make sure to maintain them properly. You can also opt to put it under insurance policies especially when you have a collection of big-name labels.
If you’re buying your fur from a reseller (not directly on a shop of a luxury brand), make sure to research them well and aim for coats made in Europe or Northern America which have assure better quality. You can also try buying from consignments or vintage clothing store markets through the real-estate route. Or you can opt for secondary markets which are beneficial since there are a lot of fashionable fur clothing items that need a new home.
Anti-Fur Campaign: Is real fur out of fashion?
PETA or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has been at the forefront of the anti-fur campaign which employed protests outside of runway fashion shows, throwing of fake blood at designers, and running the motto, “rather go naked than wear fur”. They are throwing accountability towards brands that continue to profit from animal cruelty.
These extreme measures or protests have actually forced brands to withdraw from any fur clothing and associations just like Calvin Klein in 1994. Recently, the driving change to the fur-free fashion industry has been credited to the positive dialogues from the Animal rights organization Humane Society International (HSI) with big luxury brands.
So yes, real fur is being kicked out of fashion and innovations with faux fur are now being promoted. Although there are certain contentions that are very valid to take note of. One of these is the environmental issue on faux fur as it’s “derived from plastics, shedding microfibres, often with a shorter shelf-life for wearing and unable to biodegrade.” And many are asking whether this was a more sustainable option than the natural process of making fur.
There is a more lengthy conversation regarding this and there have been proposed ways of producing real fur clothing without the animal cruelty in the equation. Nevertheless, people are not yet fully turning their backs against the fur industry and it remains to be an iconic piece of clothing with a rich history.