How To Select Your Furs
( Originally Published 1924 )
Unless one is certain of her own knowledge of furs, she should patronize only that shop whose reputation is one of reliability and whose guarantee is always to "stand behind all goods sold." This is more essential in the purchase of furs than of any other article of apparel, for there are too many easy ways of passing off furs which are really inferior.
The mode and temperament of to-day have often been spoken of as barbaric. This is suggested by the weird and pagan ornaments women love to wear, and probably by the eagerness with which we have seized upon jazz as a music and as a novelty in dancing. Perhaps another evidence of a barbaric complex may be found in the almost passion-ate abandon with which women are draping their slim bodies in the skins of animals, by which we mean furs.
The common and cheaper furs are often treated in manufacturing so that they resemble rarer and costlier ones. Even that most domestic of animals, the cat, has been requisitioned to satisfy the mania for fur trimmings on all articles of apparel. Assembling is done with marvelous skill so as to pro-duce uniform depth and pleasing color effects. Clip-pings and cuttings are used for various purposes so as to lower the price of scarfs or garments and yet give the effect of the more expensive. The twentieth century will go down in the History of Costume with this description, "An unprecedented and lavish use of furs characterized this era." After all, it is but a "throw back" to a stone-age period.
It is a long way from the dignified Alaskan seal-skin jacket to the furs of the present mode. In past seasons furs were circumspect, and their aspect was most matronly; we now have infinite variety in design and cut with correct modes for every age and type. They may be tiered, flounced, or even godet trimmed. For these designs ermine is chosen, also broadtail.
Mole, because of its softness, lends itself to stripes and checks and tucks, the furs so manouvered that the cloth-like patch-work has many shadows. For wearing quality, this fur is not of high rank.
Mink usually follows the straight silhouette and depends on contrasted stripings for variety in de-sign. The fact that mink capes are "handed down," shows their tenacity to life. Their color does change, and so do styles in hues, but furs can be dyed and done over.
Rare and costly chinchilla gives to a woman an air of refined splendor. The markings of this fur abet a designer in achieving startling yet attractive results. In the lower part of the garment, the stripes may run around the figure, while in the upper part, the stripes may run vertically.
Caracul in taupe, cocoa brown, gray, beige, and black is also used, sometimes self trimmed and sometimes collared and cuffed or bordered with fur which contrasts in texture and blends in color. A kolinsky collar and cuffs in rich brown, blends with the lighter cocoa brown of a short box caracul coat. Black fox or taupe are used to trim caracul coats of similar color.
The style of the fur garment has an effect similar to the lines of a gown ; a long narrow stole will add height and slenderness, a round design will make the figure seem plumper. Long haired furs, except monkey, increase apparent size—especially those women with very short necks should not wear them.
One's choice in furs should be decided by their suitability for certain occasions. The same good taste that would prevent one from wearing a chiffon gown for mountain climbing or a tailored suit to a formal dance should be relied upon.
Nothing is more flattering than fur if one knows how to choose it aright. Not only must it bring out the "hidden beauty," but it should suit and emphasize the woman's individuality as well.
It has been said that a rose by any other name is just as sweet In furs, however, the idea may be carried even farther. For many of our old friends who have been transposed into furs have developed such an aristocracy of name that it is hard to recognize them as the familiar acquaintances of our younger days The reindeer, the gazelle, the pony, Mary's little lamb, and even pretty pussy have been burnished and dyed and given a new name. Shaggy furs, such as skunk, blonde skunk, which is the white part of the skunk dyed, fox of every color, monkey, bear, and similar pelts are used for trimmings. Kolinsky, squirrel, mink, ermine, astrakhan, beaver, nutria, badger—there are almost as many fur-giving animals as personalities
The real value of furs is determined not only by the original cost but by their durability.
Astrakhan is the skin of young lambs. The fur is curly and varies in quality; the better has shorter hair. Bokharan lambs have the finest pelts. Coats and trimmings are made from this fur.
Badger measures two feet in length exclusive of a six-inch tail. The American badger has a light yellowish under-fur covered with long black and white hairs. It is also found throughout Europe, Asia, British North America, and the central and western portions of the United States. This fur has been classed with those for sports wear because of its sturdiness, but it is used to trim some of the more formal garments. The stiff white hairs of the fur are used for "pointing" other furs. The pointing is done by holding the stiff white hairs, usually of the Badger, in the fingers, dipping them in glue then, after pulling apart the hairs of the fur which is to be pointed, sticking them close to the skin. Only soaking in water will loosen the hairs.
The Baum or Pine Marten is of the Weasel family, the Marten group. This representative of its group is from sixteen to eighteen inches long and the tail from nine to twelve. The fur is a rich brown color at the top with a reddish gray tint to the undercoat and white yellowish or a bright orange patch on the throat. The Baum Marten is so called because it ranges in thickets or creeps from branch to branch of high trees. It is generally found in the higher latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, but one species is found as far south as India and the Malayan region. The Baum skins, like those of the Sable, are used principally in the natural color or are dyed for the manufacture of neck pieces, which are usually "animal scarfs" with head, paws, and tail. These scarfs may be used singly, or two may be attached, the head of one overlapping the tail of the other. When Baum is blended, it is hard to distinguish the fur from sable; in fact, even in the natural color it is difficult for any one but an expert to tell some of the finer skins from the Hudson Bay Sable.
Black and brown bear skins are used for warm garments. The best pelts come from Hudson Bay territory; inferior skins from Europe and Asia. This fur is used for coachmen's capes and for trimmings on cloth or fur garments.
Beavers at one time inhabited the greater part of North America, but they have greatly decreased in numbers because of the incursion of habitation and the killing of the beaver for the preservation of forests. The skins most valued are those with a dark reddish brown hue found in the Hudson Bay country. The beaver measures from two to three feet in length, exclusive of the tail, which is about ten inches long. The long top or water hairs are removed by plucking. Some skins are dyed black, either with or without the long water hairs. The dark skins are sometimes made to imitate the sea-otter fur by being pointed with white hairs.
Domestic or House Cats are used by some furriers. The black skins are the most valuable; the largest of these come from Holland. All cat skins have a line of bristly hair running down the back, which is cut out when they are being manufactured into articles of fur wear. Scarfs, children's sets principally, and a few cheaper coats are made from this fur, but comparatively few are used.
Chinchilla is a rodent, found in a limited area of South America. The skin is light and thin and will measure from six to twelve inches in length, exclusive of its bushy tail. The fur is dense, soft, lustrous, and silky, nearly an inch long on the back of the finest skins. On the sides, the fur is somewhat longer and thinner. The color is a delicate French gray, darkly mottled on the surface, with a bluish slate tint beneath. The fur of the Chinchilla is expensive, but it can not compare in durability with sable, marten, mink, or seal.
The Civet Cat is of the Weasel family, Polecat group. It never exceeds a foot in length, and has a tail shorter than the head and the body. There are white markings running from head to tail so arranged as to form a lyre. In working up the skins, no attempt is made to cut out the white stripes. Civet cat, so called by furriers, is a little striped skunk found in Maine, New York, Virginia, South-ern British Columbia, and as far south as Yucatan and Guatemala.
Ermine, or Stoat, is the most important member of the weasel group. The fur of common weasels is often sold as ermine, but the winter dress of the stoat is the only true ermine. When full-grown, it is about seven to twelve inches long, exclusive of the tail which will measure about four inches. The ermine's habitations are spread over the globe; the finest representatives are found in Siberia, British North America, and Alaska. In the higher latitudes, it invariably assumes the winter dress, altho the black tip on the tail never changes color even when the rest of the fur turns white. If Sable is the king of furs, Ermine is the queen. The fur of the ermine has at all times adorned the state robes of both kings and queens. There is a record of a charge for an ermine lining of a coat for Louis IX of France in which three hundred and forty ermines were used for the body of the garment, sixty for the sleeves and waist band, and three hundred and thirty-six for the frock. Ermine is very popular for trimming dresses and hats, for evening coats and jacquettes. The price is very high for the better grades.
The Fisher is known also as Fisher Marten. It has been called, altho not universally, Black Fox and Black Cat. The last two titles were given because it resembles the fox and cat in color and build more than it does its own family, the weasel.
The fisher is found from the upper part of Texas to Alaska ; its length is from twenty-four to thirty inches. The general color of the fur is a blackish brown, becoming gray at the head and neck, but showing no light colored patch at the throat. The fur is coarser and as costly as the American marten, and in some cases more costly; but it is handsome and durable and in demand for neck pieces. The skins are graded according to color as "dark," "brown," and "medium," and the price is influenced not only by color but also by size and quality.
Fitch is the name given to the common polecat of Europe. The body of the animal is about seventeen inches long; the tail measures about six inches. It has fur made up of a woolly yellow under-fur showing through long glossy dark top hairs; in the Russian skins, the under-fur is almost white. The finest darkest skins come from Alsace-Lorraine.
Foxes are of the Dog family. There are four distinct species of North American Foxes : the Western Kitt, the Gray Fox, the' Red Fox which some authorities say include the Black, Silver, and Cross Fox, and the Arctic Fox which includes the Blue Fox or the White. The blue fox is a bluish mauve color the year round in the lower latitudes; but according to some authorities in the far north, it becomes white in winter, when it is known as the White or Arctic Fox. The red fox attains its deepest coloring in Labrador and Canada. The Kamchatka fox ranks with the Labrador fox in the fine quality of its fur. In points of value as well as beauty, the black and silver foxes come first. The blue or arctic fox comes next, then the cross, and last the red variety, altho the last named may become a fad and, because of its popularity, rise in value.
The Goat has a dense, woolly undercoat which, like the coarse long outer hair, is white. The skin may be sheared, leaving a curly coat which is dyed in many shades and sold as Caracul. Goatskin is also used for lining and trimming sports coats. This long goat fur is also sold as bear and as monkey fur.
Hare—( See Rabbit).
Kolinsky or Siberian Mink is of the Weasel family, the Marten group. This animal is found in the district east of the Yenesei River. It is dyed to imitate marten and sable, just as Japanese and Chinese mink are dyed as substitutes for American blended mink. It is about fifteen inches long; has an eight-inch tail, and the fur is of a rich brown or tawny color.
Lambs which are of commercial interest are produced in South America, Persia, and Afghanistan. These include Persian lamb, Broadtail, Bokharan lamb (Astrakhan and Caracul) and Krimmer. The Persian lambs are finest and best so far as price and color are concerned. They have regular, close, bright curls, varying from small to very large, and of equal size, regularity, tightness, and brightness. Their value can not be estimated. Broadtail is the young Persian lamb killed before the wool has had time to develop beyond the flat wavy state. This costly fur is exceedingly light in weight, has an even pattern, and a lustrous sheen. The pelt is so delicate it can not resist hard wear. Astrakhan, Shiraz, and Bokhara lambs have a coarser and looser curl. Caracul lambs are the very young Astrakhan ; the finest skins are almost as effective as the broadtails, altho not so fine in texture. Krimmer are gray lambs obtained from Crimea. They are similar in nature to the Caraculs but tighter in curl, between Caracul and Persian, and ranging in color from a very light to a dark gray, the best being pale bluish grays.
The Leopard is of the Cat family, the Leopard group. The body of a large leopard will measure four feet in length, exclusive of the three-foot tail. There are several distinct species of the animal. The East India leopard is a rich reddish-yellow color above and white beneath. A profusion of solid black spots of different sizes show on the neck, breast, and belly; on each flank it has six or seven rows of large open ring-like black rosettes with orange centers; the head is beautifully marked with black and white stripes. The tail has a black tip and black spots along the entire length, and the ears are also tipped with black. The African leopard is flatter, the rings smaller and closer together. The South American leopard is also small and flatter.
The Lynx is also of the Cat family, the Lynx group, of which there are many varieties. The lynx is larger than the domestic cat. The American or Canadian lynx is from three to four feet long, including the five-inch tail. In winter the lynx has a coat of thick fur. It is rich gray-brown in color which will take a wonderfully glossy black in dyeing. The natural skin is used on semi-sports coats most effectively, and the dyed skin for neck pieces and trimmings. A large quantity of Russian lynx is used.
The North American Mink is found all over North America. The best is from Maine, New York, Canada, North Carolina, Michigan, and Minnesota. It has a bushy tail about half the length of the body which measures from fifteen to eighteen inches. The color varies from a light yellowish brown in the poorer representatives of the species to a rich chocolate in the finer grades. A white upper lip always characterizes the European varieties. Minks of an inferior quality are found in japan and China where they are called Chinese weasels
Moles are divided into a dozen different families, the most important of the fur producers is the Talpidæ, of which the Common Mole is the principal representative. The best mole is from Scotland; the skin is larger and not so dense. The Holland mole is next in value. The mole is about four inches long. The fur on the body is short and very fine and silky, and makes beautiful soft garments. The color is generally a peculiar shade of lustrous slate gray, the color of a mouse.
There are many species in the Monkey tribe. The Abyssinian monkey is one of the largest and most beautiful of all the true monkeys. The skins measure from two to two and one-half feet, exclusive of the four-foot tail. The long silky white hair is marked with a black saddle on the back, and the thick bushy black tail has a beautiful long white tuft on the end. The skins are very rare and highly priced, depending on popularity. The skins of the gray monkey of the West African coast are much more common in the fur market, but the fur is not so desirable. The blue monkey of the Himalayas is highly esteemed.
The muskrat is a rodent and is one of the cornmonest fur bearers of North America. It lives on the banks of lakes, rivers, and pools in every part of North America and in certain sections of Europe. The Russian muskrat is very valuable, also the German, but the latter is negligible, how-ever, because of the small number. Muskrat fur consists of an under-coat of soft, dense, gray fur, protected on the back and sides by long, shiny, smooth, dark brown hairs, making the general color gray beneath and a deep brown above, darkest in the middle of the back. In some of the animals, the hair coat is black, and in this variety the under-fur is also darker. The body of the muskrat is stout, thick-set, eight to fifteen inches long. With the exception of the black skins, which are always used in their natural state, a large part of the muskrat skins are plucked, that is, have the long, dark hairs removed, and the ground fur is dyed to make the rich substitute for sealskin known as "Hudson Seal."
Nutria, or coypu, is of the rat family, and is similar to the beaver. It is found only in South America. Like the beaver, it has a close, dense under-fur protected by a covering of water hairs about three inches long. The general color is speckled yellow brown, but many are light brown in color all over. Some are nearly white, while others are almost black on the back. The best way to skin this animal is by cutting it up the back so as to preserve in one piece the good short under-fur on the belly. This fur was dyed and used as a substitute for many years. It lost its hold on popular favor because the fur is inclined to curl or crinkle when it has been worn for a year or two, causing it to lose the smooth silky appearance; but this condition can be remedied by ironing—not with a hot iron.
The Virginia Opossum is one of the largest members of the family. The general color of the woolly fur is a yellowish gray or grizzly, caused by the white underwool showing through the black or brownish top hairs. The Australian opossum fur is totally different from the American opossum. It has fur hair and top hair ; the latter is sparse and fine. The color varies from blue-gray to yellow with reddish tones.
Of Otters, there are at least ten species—land and sea. The most valuable is the North American. It is found from the limit of trees on the north to South America. The fur of the otter is very valu-able, as it can be used for nearly every purpose, either in its natural state or plucked or dyed. The size varies, the average length being thirty inches, exclusive of the tail which will measure about fifteen inches. The general color is from a fawn to a liver brown.
Rabbits and Conies are of the Hare family. Mil-lions of the skins of these animals are used every year by furriers. Most of the skins are dyed brown or black before being marketed, and are clipped or have their long hair removed before they are dyed and make an imitation of sealskin and beaver. The blue and white skins are generally sold in their natural color, either full-haired or sheared, the latter often being used to make an imitation ermine. Some of the skins of white rabbits are made into jacquettes.
Raccoons live principally in the southern and central portions of the North American continent and are extremely common about the borders of the Adirondacks. The fur has a soft brown under-growth with wiry gray and black top hair ; is brown, thick, and rather coarse, and has tips of grayish hair; the tails are alternate dark and light rings. The length of the body is from twenty-two to twenty-six inches. The fur of the raccoon, while not expensive, is valuable. It is used for men's and women's motor coats.
Russian Sable is of the Marten group, the Weasel family, and it is the most important animal in the Marten group. The chief haunts of the Russian, which is the most valuable sable, are East-ern Siberia and Kamchatka. Soft thick fur, top hairs darker and glossier than the under-fur, characterizes this animal. The value of sable and other martens depends upon the color and intensity of the top coat. Skins of animals taken in depths of forests where the sun's rays do not penetrate are almost black and well nigh priceless in value. Ordinarily the color varies from light to a deep chestnut brown and is uniform, except for a reddish gray patch on the throat and a mixture of black and gray on the cheeks and snout. There are furs that cost more, per skin, than Russian sable, but when the size of the animal is considered, its full length being from fifteen to twenty inches exclusive of the seven-inch tail, the Russian sable is the most valu-able of all fur-bearing animals. Sables should only be purchased where the buyer can have the fullest confidence in the representation of the dealer ; for skins that have been taken out of season or are artificially darkened are often palmed off upon the uninitiated as prime or mature. Sable is called the "King of Furs."
Hudson Bay sable is of the Weasel family, Mar-ten group. The brown marten which is found in the forests of North America is generally known as the Hudson Bay sable.
Dyed muskrat or "Hudson Seal," and Dyed Coney, or "Northern Seal," are often substituted for Alaskan seal. The Alaskan seal has splendid wearing qualities and is logically more costly than its substitutes.
Skunk is of the Weasel family, Polecat group. The finest skunk skins come from Ohio and the country east of that State. Western and southern skins are coarser and not so full-furred. Its general color is brownish black with a white tip on the head. It is marked on the back with white stripes of considerable individual variation, narrow in some and wide in other specimens. It has a long and bushy tail with a white tip. The natural black skins are the most valuable, and when the white stripes are not too large, they are cut out by the furriers so that the balance of the skin can be used in its natural color. The white part of the skin and whole skins, when stripes are too prominent, are dyed either a jet black or as near as possible to the natural color of the skin. When properly dressed and cured, the skunk skins lose most of their objectionable odor.
The best Squirrel skins come from Siberia and Russia where the animals have better pelts and thicker softer fur; those from the eastern side of the Ural mountains are gray and in some cases almost blue. If free from a reddish cast, the darkest skins have the most value. The number of squirrel skins used is enormous. They are worked up whole, or the backs are cut and coats and trimmings made from them, while the bellies with the white line are used for linings. Many of the skins are dyed and blended a sable color ; others are changed so as to make an imitation of chinchilla. Viatka, Russia, has produced squirrels of a dark color. This is the way Viatka, or dark gray squirrel, natural or dyed, gets its name.