The Rise and Fall of the Fur Coat

Phyllis diller chinchilla coat 376 b4e0a92573c38378a6098dd58937d1d8 1
Phyllis Diller’s chinchilla coat.

Canceling Coats

While “cancel culture” has been in the news lately, one of the first things to be canceled was fur. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) was infamous for throwing fake blood on people who dared to wear it. They went after celebrities in the media, Kim Kardashian and Beyonce among them. Joan Rivers had red paint thrown on her sable coat, as did Vogue Editor Anna Wintour. PETA even occupied Calvin Klein’s office. Canada Goose, recently under pressure for its use of fur, announced it would no longer use fur after an aggressive PETA campaign. This wasn’t always the case.

Soft, Warm, and Successful

While soft and warm, the fashionable man or woman would wear a fur coat to project success. My father once said that my great uncle Art was the last man in town to wear a bearskin coat. Given his alleged antics, I don’t doubt that for a minute. The rarer the fur, the more money you projected. Sable, chinchilla, ermine all said you were at the top of the social ladder. Mink was the standard. If you were anyone, you had at least a mink coat and the required fox stole. Celebrities wore fur, and some even modeled it. Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor wore fur, just like Jennifer Lopez does today. Beyoncé even wore fur to a vegan restaurant.

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A woman’s ermine fur coat.

Foxy Lady

My grandmother had both a fox collared coat and a fox stole. My mother inherited them, and my father used to grab the stole, make it wiggle, and yell, “It’s alive!” Both items were the whole fox—tail, head, ears, eyes, and mouth. The stole had a clip in the mouth, so when you put it on, it looked like it was biting its tail. This was the fashion of the era, a fox collar on a nice Jackie O-inspired coat. Sleek, modern, clean lines of the coat, with a fox atop, staring at you, daring to see if you measured up.

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Fox stole with a clip in the mouth.

The Mink Stink

In the 1970s, when everyone who was anyone had a mink coat, the “stay-at-home housewife” had at least one. After the debacle of giving my mother a Hoover self-propelled vacuum cleaner for their 10th wedding anniversary, my father relented at Christmas. He gave my mother a full-length mink coat. It was a one-way ticket out of the dog house costing $5,000. It was also how much he spent on his car a couple of years earlier. My mother was thrilled, but even then, it seemed a waste. Now, you can find full-length coats on eBay for mere hundreds of dollars; many sell for even less.

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This full-length mink coat sold for $89.99 in June 2021.

Downright Dilemma

While fur may still be a fashion statement, with some degree of usefulness, it isn’t the warmest or the most practical. Down and Primaloft are much warmer and lighter. While they lack the status of fur, their utility is undeniable. You can store them in the closet and not worry about moths or mold. Most people store their furs in specialty fur shops with cold storage. Down is also lighter. Fur coats are just heavy. I had to help my mother out of hers and lift that thing over my head to hang it. While I loved the feel of it, to me, it just wasn’t worth the hassle. I asked for a down jacket instead and left fur behind. For those who like outdoor sports like skiing, down or Primaloft is perfect. But still, down and Primaloft are animal products and not exactly the most humane options.

Falling Fur

Fur began to fall out of fashion not because down was more practical and significantly cheaper. PETA was founded in 1980 and greatly influenced the wearing of fur. They exposed the use of fur as cruel, unnecessary, and a tool of the rich to promote themselves at the suffering of animals. Fur trapping was discussed with gruesome pictures. Younger people weren’t interested in the initial cost or fur storage for something less warm than down. (Down had yet to be exposed for its cruelty.) Prices dropped, and you couldn’t even give it away. PETA became more aggressive in its campaigns and protests. No one wanted red paint on their thousand-dollar furs. Even celebrities weren’t safe from protests or ridicule in the press.

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The classic mink stole.

Hip-Hop Fur

Hip-Hop artists have been wearing fur more and more of late. Jay-Z, J-Lo, Drake, Nicki Minaj, DJ Khaled, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Busta Rhymes, Macklemore, Diddy, and Kanye West have all been spotted wearing luxurious fur coats and jackets. Marc Kaufman Furs advertises their connection to rap and hip-hop royalty by showing the celebrities wearing their furs. Rappers began wearing fur in the early days of the genre in the 1980s. Wearing fur continued into the 1990s, growing in popularity. Ever the status symbol, fur blends well with the opulent lifestyle of heavy gold chains and Crystal Champagne touted by some rappers. It’s their money, and they can choose to spend it how they wish. If flamboyantly flouting status is part of your brand, then the fur coat is essential.

Fashionista Fur

While Hip-Hop artists and rappers may have been responsible for fur mounting a comeback, other celebrities are not afraid of fur. Kim Kardashian wears fur. PETA even threw flour on her in protest. That caused her sister, Khloe Kardashian, to stop supporting PETA due to her anti-bullying stance. Supermodel Kate Moss, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kendall Jenner have all been seen wearing real fur. Those choosing to wear fur would be in good standing with these famous fashionistas.

Faux Fur

With the resurgence of fur among the rich and famous, designers are scrambling to add it to the fashion lines without earning the ire of animal activists. Faux fur fits the bill nicely. It gives style without cruelty and bad publicity. But, if it’s sustainability you care about, then natural fur is the better option. Fake fur is made from petroleum products, which next to nuclear waste, probably ranks among the worst for the environment.

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Russian sable fur scarf or stole.

Fur Friendly or Fur Furor

Fur essentially comes down to a values statement. If you care about animal rights, then fur is not for you, but neither is down or Primaloft. Faux fur may or may not be fabulous, according to PETA. Synthetics are bad for the environment—if that’s your number one issue, you’re better off with natural fur. If you want to make a fashion statement, fur is fantastic. From the fox stole to the ubiquitous mink coat to the rare sable and ermine, fur has been and likely will continue to be a status symbol.

Fur does require some effort. It’s heavy to wear and needs proper storage, which can add to the cost. Fur is about choice. I can find more efficient ways to keep warm, but I tend to be more utilitarian than fashion friendly.

Vintage fur coats can be had at great prices, probably available at the lowest prices ever. Both real and faux fur are fashionista-friendly. The choice is yours. Though, to tell quality, you have to be able to feel it. Your local furrier may be the best choice, but you might have to fly to find one.

L.A. Rankin lives in South Florida. She is a freelance writer, avid walker, reader, and trivia savant. On any given day, she can be found at her local Dunkin’ Donuts.

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