Buying & Caring for Fur
After our recent coverage of men’s fur coats, today we’d like to follow up with an article on purchasing and caring for fur garments.
To buy or not to buy?
For many people, this is a sticky subject. Like any controversial issue, there are relevant points to be made on both sides. Personally, I would never want to wear a coat of an animal that is near extinction, nor do I condone animal cruelty of any kind. Like eating meat or wearing leather, choosing to wear fur is not for everyone. Fur and leather, with reference to the animal, are essentially the same product – one retains the hair, while the other does not. Of course, most fur animals are only raised or trapped for their pelts. In Minnesota, for example, beavers are so abundant that you can find a number of licensed beaver trappers who ensure that beaver furs are harvested sustainably.
Here at the Gentleman’s Gazette, we acknowledge that fur is a natural animal product that has long been part of classic men’s fashion,but we recognize that old practices are not sustainable and that fur is best worn in sparingly. Regardless, we strongly encourage you to make your own decision with regards to fur. However, if you are interested in fur, it helps to do some research about your potential purchase.
A new fur coat, regardless of the fur type, will be a substantial investment – it’s not unusual to spend $10,000 on a new mink coat. On the other hand, based on my research, there seems to be few worthwhile options for men interested in a classically styled, elegant coat. Most of the available stock at a modern furrier is for women, or it seems to cater to men seeking coats purely for flash – dyed furs in rainbow colors, puffy exaggerated cuts, or brash stripes that can be seen from a block away. Worse yet, these coats are finished cheaply with polyester linings and plastic (!!) zippers. Unless you can afford to go bespoke, a new coat is not a good option for any man who enjoys well-crafted, tasteful style.
That leaves vintage coats. While this certainly reduces the availability, going vintage also eliminates the need to spend so much money, verify the fur source for ethical practices, and weed the classic cuts out from in between pro-baller jackets. This choice also encourages the reuse of an already-harvested product without contributing actively to the modern fur trade. In addition, you’re more likely to find hardy, domestic fur varieties such as beaver, nutria, squirrel, coyote, and raccoon. For such a purchase, it’s a good idea to find a vintage retailer that specializes in fur pieces; they will know how to identify fur, inspect it properly, and price each piece appropriately.The downside is that a good vintage fur retailer will know what they have, and good deals will be harder to come across.
There are several possible fur pieces that one might encounter in vintage stores. Fur collars, cuffs, coat linings, and full coats are common products for men. The first step, upon encountering an interesting piece, is to determine if it’s real. Unfortunately, despite the growing prowess of faux fur makers, nothing will compare to the real thing. Fake fur can feel stiff, plastic-y, or rough, and seams between sections are obvious and exposed. The hairs will be all of uniform length, and the dye is often uneven or simply unrealistic looking. Next to the real thing, after a bit of practice, it will be easy to spot the fakes. A real fur should feel luxurious – soft, plush, dense, and extremely warm. There are a few quick tests to verify if the fur is real:
- Does the fur have a distinct nap, meaning that the hairs lie in one direction? Fake fur usually sticks out haphazardly in all directions. An animal can also have a colic, so a swirl or change in direction in some spots is a positive sign.
- Are the hairs dense? A good fur will have high density and by separating the layers, you should not be able to see the underlying material or base, but rather just the baby-soft under hairs.
- Does it feel right? That may seem galling to a beginner, but I guarantee that there is such an astounding difference between real and fake that feel alone should give you a good indication of it’s origin. Animals that are around water, such as beavers and racoons, will have long, waxy guard hairs (sometimes plucked or trimmed) over the under hair that will reflect light. Plusher animals such as fox feel more universally soft, though it is still possible to distinguish between the guard and under hairs.
Once you’ve found a real piece, there is another important buying factor to consider: condition. A poorly maintained or a doggedly-worn fur is often not worth buying; signs include bald spots, noticeably worn cuffs or collars, stiffness of the leather underlying the hairs, and cracking and splitting along the seams. Unfortunately, these maladies of age cannot be reversed, and full coats are especially susceptible. Make sure to wear a full coat around the shop for 15 minutes – I once donned a lovely white rabbit fur coat only to have it split the moment I raised my arms. Collars are much easier to buy in that respect, since there are few seams and they can often survive in normal storage.
As to sizing, it’s incredibly difficult to adjust ANY of the dimensions of a fur piece, so make every effort to find one that really fits well. Also, it’s important to note that very few vintage coats are odor-free; many will smell musty, mothball-y, or just plain old.
Caring for Fur Garments
Once you’ve brought your fur piece home, there are several ways to reduce the typical musty smell. A good old-fashioned outdoor airing will freshen it up a bit. For more persistent smells, hang the piece in a plastic garment bag, and add a small, open bag of fresh coffee grounds at the bottom. Seal, and let the coat hang for three days. Once complete, the coffee will have absorbed the odors, and your coat will retain a coffee smell only for a few more days. In addition, if you have any reason to be concerned about carpet mites or moths, insert the coat in a sealed plastic bag and place in the freezer for three days.
For day to day storage, keep your fur piece hanging loosely in a dark, cool closet – sunlight and compression can damage or discolor the hairs. If it gets wet, simply hang the coat in an open space (not touching anything) and allow to dry. During the summer, hang fur in a breathable cloth garment bag and store in a cool, dry, dark place. If you can afford it, have your coat professionally stored in the off season by your local furrier.
A well-treated fur can last for a lifetime. Now, enjoy the rest of the snowy season, and let us know if you make any noteworthy vintage fur discoveries!