Some of you may wonder why I would talk about a garment that is now often associated with less-than-legit professions or men who lack good taste, but hold on. Throughout the decades, the fur coat has always been a staple in the closets of the best dressed gents. While fur coats for men were certainly around in the 1900s, the fashion probably peaked in popularity in the 1920′s and early 1930′s, before it was revived in the 1950s and 1970s. In the 1990s, anti-fur activists made their mark and considerably fewer women wore fur coats; men, it appears, acquiesced entirely. Just recently, while spending spend some time in NYC and Chicago, I was pleasantly surprised to see quite a few women on the streets with fur coats – but sadly, no men.
History of Men’s Fur Coats
In the 1920′s, every man who could afford a fur coat probably had one. It was symbol of status that allowed its wearer to advertise his wealth and social position. For example, the famous silent film actor Rudolph Valentino was rarely seen without some kind of fur in the winter.
As I mentioned in the Polo Coat article, fur coats were really popular with students and spectators of football games until about 1929; the dark brown raccoon overcoat was a particular favorite. The camel hair coatbecame increasingly popular in the US between 1929 and 1935, after which the fur coat celebrated a comeback.
In 1935, the leading men’s fashion magazine Men’s Wear reported: “The raccoon coat is back in fashion. More were seen at the climax football games in the East this season than at any time in the past ten years. The best style, worn by undergraduates and alumni alike, is very dark in color, has a shawl collar and usually hefty leather buttons”. At the same time, fur coats remained popular in Europe. There, every respectable man would own at least three coats! Analog to the overcoat fashion, there was a city fur coat which was comparable in formality to the Chesterfield, a black evening fur coat and a casual fur coat for sporting events. Of course, there were significant differences in the origin and quality of fur: while beaver and raccoon remained affordable, sable was reserved for only very affluent gentlemen and there were even a number of different astrakhan(black curly lamb) collar qualities.
The depression, as well as World War II, caused a decline in demand for men’s fur which did not recover until the last half of the 1950s, when renewed economic prosperity brought fur back into the reach of the American middle class.
In the following years, the Peacock revolution helped to popularize fur again for men, although some creations were more gaudy than classy – just think of a white mink fur coat, for example.
By 1970, a public awareness of fur had evolved, and many questioned the necessity of fur garments, especially when certain animals were brought near extinction or were treated cruelly at fur farms. Consequently, fake fur was advertised more heavily.
Today, real men’s fur garments are difficult to find, and are mostly limited to parts of Northern America, Russia and a few cities around the world.
Fur Coats For Men
Basically, there are three kinds of fur coats for men:
- The long overcoat with fur on the outside
- The lined fur coat with or without a fur collar
- The fur collar
These coats are made of raccoon, beaver, nutria, sable, etc., and are ideal for regular wear when it is cold outside. Personally, I would not want to wear fur unless it is 23°F (-5°C) or below outside, because they tend to wear much warmer than a wool overcoat. Typically, all-fur men’s coats are substantial, and make the wearer look a much more imposing. Indeed, some men may not like the bulky proportions that come with wearing a full fur coat – they look a bit distorted to an eye accustomed only to slim coats. Traditionally, the coats are cut a little wider and often times look like an Ulster overcoat. Depending on the skill of the furrier, a coat can look like it was made of one piece, although by necessity it contains numerous pieces of fur. Also, the quality of the fur depends on when it was harvested: winter furs are always preferable to summer furs, because they contain underhair that is thicker, softer, and consequently better insulating. Unlike regular cloth overcoats, you really must assure that a fur coat fits precisely, because alterations are costly and limited in scope.
For instance, a fur coat can only be taken in; extra fur is almost never left in a hem. Interestingly, early double breasted fur coats often had a little button loop instead of a buttonhole but today, buttonhole (backed with leather) are the standard.
Some people may find it simply inappropriate to wear a full fur coat nowadays, but personally, I really do like my vintage dark brown beaver fur coat. Originally, it came from a Levy & Co. in Berlin, which was a furrier just for men! Unfortunately, the owner Wolfgang Levy is now retired and the business has been discontinued.
If you do not like the look of an all fur coat, you may want to consider a fur lining. This way, you combine the warmth and softness of fur with the understated appearance of a classic wool overcoat. Most of the time, fur linings are either shaved – meaning the hair is cut to a certain length – or plucked. A plucked fur is certainly much softer because the coarse, longer guard hair has been removed, leaving you with only the extremely soft under hair. Ideally, these linings are removable – either with a zipper or simply buttons, so you can wear the same overcoat on warmer and colder days. Traditionally, even fur lined coats had a round shawl collar made out of a different fur than the lining. However, if that is too much for you, simply skip it.
If you prefer only a touch of fur, or you are primarily interested in the looks and not the insulating properties, a fur collar is the way to go. For example, the Casentino overcoat has just a fur collar, whereas others may have a shawl collar. Although it is just a little piece of fur, you will definitely feel warmer with it on.
Fur collars are also a great option to change the look of your existing topcoat. Vintage fur collars can often be bought very reasonably priced, from $20 or less for a simple loose raccoon collar up to $250 for a more auspicious fur collar. To get the best selection of collars, shop at vintage stores; you’ll often find great collars on ugly coats that can easily be detached at home. Every alterations tailor should be able to add it to your coat. In case it ever wears out or your just do not like it anymore, you can just rip it off and nobody can ever tell that you have a fur collar sewn on before.
In case you want to learn more about fur, read our guide about buying and caring for fur. In the meantime, what do you think about fur coats for men? Would you wear one?