When Fur Wasn’t Faux

I have a childhood memory that makes me feel guilty. I have to be careful whom I mention it to because it can incite even the most mild-mannered person to absolute anger and possibly even violence, much the same way as discussing religion and politics can. You see when I was a child I liked fur. Real fur. Fur that came from animals.

Now before you start throwing red paint at me or reporting me to PETA, let me point out that in the 1960s and early 1970s there wasn’t the awareness of animal rights and the cruelty involved in the fur trade that there is now. There is absolutely no way I would wear fur now. The thought is abhorrent to me, but when I was four or five years old it didn’t occur to me that any animals had been harmed to produce the fur-covered things I coveted.

My Scottish Aunt (who married a very wealthy, very ugly, very overweight man) had a mink coat. She was the only person in our part of Glasgow who had one and she lorded it over the rest of us. That mink coat was a wondrous thing to behold. Movie stars wore mink – Bette Davis, Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor – it was the height of glamour and desirability. I even thought that the fur coats that hung in the wardrobe at the entrance to Narnia must have been mink. It all seems so wrong now because we all know the horrible fate of those poor little minks.

My grandmother had a fox stole. She wore it like a badge of honour along with her camel-hair coat and her felt hat with the mother-of-pearl pin. My sisters were afraid of that horrible wizened fox face but I loved it. On the days my grandmother let me wear it – only for five minutes – I imagined I was a Countess living in a manor house shouting: You there, get me some sherry while snapping my fingers. Fox stoles were the bling of the 1960s.

And when it came to bling there was one fox stole that was the mother of them all. It belonged to my grandmother’s best friend, Mrs. McQuade. It was something that actually looked like the result of an unfortunate genetic experiment – a sight to behold, indeed.

The two headed fox stole. It consisted of two heads joined together by a length of body. You could single drape it so that you had a little head beaming at you on either shoulder or you could double drape it so that both heads met at your throat. It looked like something Harry Potter might need Godric Gryffindor’s sword to fight.

Mrs. McQuade wore that stole everywhere. It was the talk of the town. The funny thing about it was she actually personified the foxes by naming them Max and Addie. Everyone enquired after Max and Addie’s wellbeing. They were usually fine and dandy but sometimes they felt the heat or had a touch of damp because the boiler had been giving Mrs. McQuade gyp. They slept at night on a down pillow on Mrs. McQuade’s dressing table. I think that’s why I liked them so much – under Mrs. McQuade’s humorous hand it seemed as if they were still alive.

My love affair with the fox stoles continued until I was about eight or nine. It was then that I saw a little fox coming out of the woods, the dearest thing with his orange pointed ears and white-tipped tail. I realised at that moment that for that fox to get from the woods to being around Mrs. McQuade’s neck meant he would have to die. I was horrified and angry with myself for not making the connection sooner. I suspect that was where my interest in animal rights began to germinate.

I swore off all things fur from that moment even though my rich Aunt was talking about getting me a chinchilla coat for my birthday. I looked up chinchillas at the library and felt sick. I told my Aunt I would rather wear rags than a chinchilla coat. I suspect that was where my Aunt’s opinion of me as being too bohemian for my own good and a lost cause began to germinate.

It is funny what things allow us to begin to define who we are.

So now if I happen to wear fur it is definitely faux. No animal coats will sit in my wardrobe.

That doesn’t stop me however, from remembering the fox stoles of my childhood; and thinking of Max and Addie with a smile.

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29 thoughts on “When Fur Wasn’t Faux

  1. I did once get taken to task for wearing a sheepskin jacket; I see no harm in that, because you’re going to kill the sheep anyway. My response:

    ‘Are those boots real plastic or imitation plastic?’
    ‘Certainly not; they’re genuine calfskin!’

    But, killing an animal solely for its fur stinks …

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  2. Oh I did giggle at the vision of that two headed fox stole and Mrs McQuade having conversations about its wellbeing. So funny.

    I do wear fur. A stole in fact. But it only has one head and it is still alive. My poor Teuvo (who was possibly eaten by the fox) always travelled on my shoulder and round my neck like a scarf and I am doing the same with our new kitten. I hoist her up there and she lies there obediently, all soft and warm whilst I cook or work. I think living fur is rather nicer than Mrs McQuade’s monstrosity.

    I always longed for a fur coat as a child too. I did have a fake fur coat when I was about nine – it was brown and made me look like a grizzly bear. I loved it.

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  3. Oh Selma, what a wonderful memory. I love how Ms. McQuade handled her stole!

    My grandmother grew up in a time where fur coats, stoles and collars were accepted and expected in her social circle. I inherited her mink coat and a collar made of six (yes, six!) whole minks stitched in pairs. They came to me when my daughter was 5, I was in the middle of my divorce, and my mother had just passed away. My daughter immediately claimed that collar, which we ended up separating into six friends. They slept with her at night and one of them accompanied her everywhere she went.

    Like you, she figured out the live animal/dead animal connection and and we swore off fur, but she did keep her friends with her throughout her childhood until they all literally fell apart. They filled a need and helped her through a tough time for us both, so I hope this gave their life and death a little more meaning than just decoration.

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  4. Hi RELUCS:
    I am glad you got a new kitty. I had hoped Teuvo would return – I am so sorry. But a lovely kitten stole that is warm and cuddly would be the best thing ever. I would love that. My sister had a purple fake fur that made her look like a purple grizzly bear. It was hilarious!

    Hi SAGACIOUS WOMAN:
    What a charming story. I think it’s brilliant that the coats helped you get through such a difficult time. I love thinking of your daughter and her six friends. I bet she still has fond memories of her friends. I loved hearing about this!

    Hi DAOINE:
    I know. I want one. Too adorable.

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  5. It is unfortunate that a fur means unnecessary death for an animal, and it is good that you explored the debate and made decisions for yourself so young. I think it shows that you are an independent thinker.

    The Mrs. does not own one; likely for the same reasons…

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  6. Luckily no need for fur in the Middle East though I suspect the rich Bahraini women have a few fur coats in their closets for travels abroad. Animal rights are not a big thing here.

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  7. Great post Selma and funny! It took me a while to work out where furs came from. I remember being in Melbourne and seeing fur coats in the posh shops and thinking they were fabulous. My grandma had a rabbits foot (a real one) – which is supposed to be a symbol of good luck – not for the rabbit I assume. I loved that rabbits foot. I didn’t really make the connection.

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  8. Hi Sel, I’m only skimming this post as I have a LOT of guilt regarding real fur. I was so naive years ago about so many things. And yes, I did have a fox fur coat that I wore till it fell apart. You are a good person to bring up subjects that make people think about their choices. Some really hit home.

    Hugs dear, G

    PS: Are you having any issues with visiting blogs? I had an Access Denied message come up for a couple yesterday and today. Otherwise everythings working fine. Just wondering…

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  9. I remember my grandmother used to wear fur and I though she looked so glorious in it; you know, before I grew up and became a strict no-fur! kind of girl…:)
    But it is amazing how we remember those images from our childhood… When my grandmother wore that fur she wasn’t just a beautiful women wearing soft, fluffy coat, she was this goddess in my eyes!
    Wonderful story Selma, thank for sharing…:)

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  10. I don’t think I’ve worn any animals…that I can think of. I don’t agree to using animal skin or fur for clothing, unless it was the only option in a matter of survival like the people in the Northern most areas do or in some forest. But for a person in a town or city to do so is sacrilege and I won’t condone it.

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  11. Great story Selma. There wasn’t the awareness back then , that we have today. I wear wool, and lots of it. Socks are next on the list.

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  12. God, I loved this Selma! I too grew up when fur was fine to wear. I remember my Mom always pining for a fur coat…. like it was a HUGE milestone or something. She eventually did get her muskrat coat. She was so please that she almost slept in the thing. My grandmother had one of those fox head stole numbers. It cracked me up.

    As for MOI? I had a pair of mukluks (do you know what they are??) that were white fur of something. I wore them on my feet and as I walked the fur would bounce. I loved them and they were so warm! However, when they got wet from slushie snow, they would stink so bad! I also had sealskin boots when I was little. Everyone did in Canada. they were so posh AND practical. Now, every year some famous person arrives in Newfoundland during the sealing season to make a big controversial deal over the tradition. But, it continues to be a way of life in some remote ports along the north Atlantic. Seal meat and goods are still consumed, but not as they used to be. Too controversial.

    People still wear fur coats but not as many as before. there are even storage places for summer months one can take them too…….. STILL. Most vintage fur coats though that you see at second hand stores are usually bought up by folks who turn the fur into teddy bears and various craftie things.

    Would I wear a fur coat now? yes. but I wouldn’t go have one tailor made. A hand me down one would suit me fine. 🙂

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  13. Growing up on a farm (and impoverished at times), we raised animals and used every part of them. I remember being so upset when Dad killed my rabbits, but they fed us and Dad tanned the skin and made me a muff out of the fur that was incredibly soft and warm. I don’t think it was a bad thing either – I’ve always had a deep respect for animals. Maybe if more people were taken through the process, they would be more prudent in their actions towards them. I don’t live on a farm now, and don’t have the needs I used to have. However, I don’t condemn the folks that do – I see plenty of folks with animal skins and furs on them up here, way more than we did in Texas – in the harsh winter (it’s worse up north of me), I can see the need for it. It’s the guys that hunt for sport and leave the rest to rot that I have issues with. And yes – that still happens. 😦

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  14. I agree with Texasblu: I don’t think I would have the stomach to do it, but the concept of being totally involved in the entire process of gaining animal food and related products does speak to me. I used to think of humans as predators, but actually most of us are scavengers.

    I was told a story of a gathering of pagans who had no choice but to kill a snake in their camp. Half the group wanted to simply bury the snake with an honouring ritual; the other half believed the best way to honour the snake would be to cook and consume it, utilising the energy it had given up.

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  15. Fur from animals is beautiful — no wonder you liked it so much as a child! Whenever I think of fur, I think of the movie “Dances with Wolves” and how people once used every part of the animal instead of partaking in the wasteful and abusive policies of today.

    On the other hand, fur also makes me think of rich, bitchy old ladies around here who still regularly wear their furs — plural. Yuck.

    Once upon a time, my mom’s girlfriend had a mink and a NYC street vendor sprayed perfume on her while she was wearing it. I think it’s the angriest I’ve seen her in the 20 years I’ve known her. No piece of clothing is worth getting that upset about.

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  16. Oh Selma! When I was a little girl, I too was fascinated with fur. Real fur. Fur that came from animals! My grandmother MANGA wore the most beautifully fabulous Mink coat. She just looked so glamorous. Stunning even.

    When she passed away from Alzheimer’s Disease a few years ago, I was given her Mink fur coat. And, I hate to piss people off, but I wear it every winter on Christmas Day. The rest of the year I keep it stored safely in a sedar closet.

    But I would NOT buy any real FUR coat – especially knowing what I know now about the way the animals are trapped and tortured to make said coats.

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  17. I know it is considered a macabre and indulgent practice these days but those real furs were so silky smooth and luxurious. What glamorous woman from those days would not wish to steal a stole for herself. I love the account of Aunt McQuade and her 2 headed number – hilarious – just not funny what the poor little foxies suffered to get there, though.

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  18. Thanks, Selma, for bringing a little more compassion and awareness into the blogosphere. It seems so strange that people never made the connection between fur and cruelty until relatively recently–but then it also seems strange that humans were kept as slaves not all that long ago, and most people didn’t make the connection then, either.

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  19. Hi SLAMDUNK:
    I take being referred to as an independent thinker as a great compliment. Thank you. It was a shock to me as a kid to make the connection. I still remember the big sigh I gave.

    Hi KATE:
    I can’t imagine you’d see too many fur coats in your neck of the woods. Far too hot. Not too many in Oz, either.

    Hi GABRIELLE:
    Oh, I remember the rabbit’s foot charms. I’m sure my Grandad had one. As you say – not so lucky for the rabbit 😮

    Hi GERALDINE:
    I don’t think anyone should feel guilty for wearing fur in the past. People didn’t really know what was involved in the fur trade back in the day. And if you’re in a really cold climate, staying warm is a priority. Actually, I’ve had a bit of trouble with Blogger blogs. I keep getting signed out. Don’t know what’s going on.

    Hi LUA:
    I was the same. My grandma was so glam. I think that was part of the appeal for me – looking totally fabulous!

    Hi ROSHAN:
    I agree. I think it is imperative in the Arctic, otherwise frostbite will set in. I suspect most people would be against wearing it these days.

    Hi PUNATIK:
    There is nothing like woolly socks, particularly in bright colours. When I was a kid my Mum used to knit me slippers with big pom poms. They were so warm and comfy!

    Hi DANA:
    I loved hearing your story. You guys really cop it in Canada from the anti-fur lobby. I think it’s the baby seals thing. People feel so guilty about it. My sister lives in Alaska and makes things from moose fur all the time. It’s a matter of survival. I’m not saying I support the fur trade en masse, but for indigenous people it is a part of their every day life.

    I looked up mukluks – how cool. I would have loved a pair of them as a kid!

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  20. Hi TEX:
    I had no idea about the hunters. That is shocking. I agree with you about people being taken through the process. It would certainly change a lot of attitudes.

    Hi TOBEME:
    Oh, absolutely. And thank goodness they do!

    Hi DAOINE:
    It speaks to me too, but of course, it is hard for us to achieve such a thing living in an urban environment as we do. Your snake story is a great one. I hadn’t heard that before!

    Hi KATE:
    Dances with Wolves was a great movie. I was in love with Kevin Costner at that stage. It started with Silverado and went on for many years. It makes me laugh to remember it.

    I agree with you – an article of clothing is not worth getting that upset about!

    Hi MELEAH:
    I bet your grandmother looked fabulous in the mink coat. I bet you do too. You know, I don’t see anything wrong with wearing it at all. You are honouring your grandmother by wearing it. It must be nice to remember her in that way.

    Hi ROWE:
    I would have swapped one of my dolls for a stole, believe me. I used to imagine walking down the street wearing it with all my friends going ‘ooh’ and ‘aaah.’

    The two-headed fox stole was hilarious. Always a talking point!

    Hi TIMOTEO:
    Sometimes making the connection is the hardest part. It is good to know our attitudes are capable of evolving. There is hope for us yet!

    Hi MAMA ZEN:
    That two-headed stole could have had its own TV show. It was a riot!

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  21. You might like to have a read at http://www.talktalk.co.uk/news/odd/reuters/2010/03/10/canada-parliament-eats-seal-to-defy-34ignorant34-eu.html

    I have no problem with wearing the fur or skin of an animal that’s been killed for food; it’s killing for the sake of the fur alone I abhor.

    Now, the Inuit have been eating seal and wearing its fur since time immemorial … but does this ‘demonstration’ really justify killing? Will seal meat catch on? (I gather it’s rather an acquired taste)

    I make no judgement; I’ll leave that to you.

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  22. I remember having a fake fur coat in the 80’s and I felt fabulous in it. Funnily enough, I always made the connection between fur coats and animals yet I could tuck into a steak without giving a thought to the cow that was sacrificed for it. I guess vanity is more frivilous than sustenance though.

    I don’t think I could ever have worn ANYTHING that still had a head attached though…and TWO? OMG the mind boggles.

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  23. I don’t believe that my mother ever had a fur coat, but as a child I do recall her having a nice soft coat that had some faux fur around the collar.
    My favourite memory of coats from my childhood however, is when people would come over, and we would put all their coats on the bed in the spare bedroom, and the kids would play with them. I should say play under them, because it was nice and warm and a pretty good hiding place too (when you are playing hide and seek of course!). Since you are from Glasgow, you have probably heard the Bill Connolly joke about the big coat when he was a wee lad. Always cracks me up to hear that! I did look, but couldn’t find that clip online. I keep and eye out for it, and let you know if I do find it.
    I don’t think that I would buy anything with fur – I just think that it’s cruel and really not something that I would like to be involved in.

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  24. Hi TRAVELRAT:
    I’m with you on this one. My sister knows a couple of Eskimo in Alaska (sorry, I don’t know the proper name. It might also be Inuit) who are appalled by factory farming and the mass production and consumption of beef and chicken around the world. From that perspective I guess it’s all relative. But to kill an animal solely for its fur seems inherently wrong to me. I think the demonstration was kind of missing the point.

    Hi GYPSY:
    I can imagine you in your coat. You would have been very groovy. Wearing something with the head still on would be weird. It’d be like walking around with a bear skin rug as a cloak and the head as a hood. Not a good look!

    Hi MANOJ:
    I know the skit. They used to put the coats on the beds in the winter to cut down on the heating. When the priest came over Billy’s Mum would urge them to take the coats off the bed saying she didn’t know where they got such ideas from. I have that skit on DVD. Hilarious.

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