In this article I will cover:
What is fur?
Fur is the fine, soft hairy covering of the skin of certain animals. Skin and hair of the animal together is called a pelt.
A variety of fur-bearing animals may be bred in captivity or found in the wild to obtain their pelts. Animals like mink, raccoon, fox, coyote are trapped from forests and this fur is called wild fur. Animals like mink, fox, chinchilla, raccoon are bred in fur farms and this fur is called farmed fur.
The fur obtained includes luxurious furs as well as furs of lesser value. Cheaper furs may be dyed to look like more expensive fur. The finer and softer furs obtained from young animals are called baby fur.
In ancient times, animals were very useful for humans – they were hunted for food, and their pelts were used as protective clothing against the weather. As civilization progressed, different ways to make other materials were discovered. The animal pelts became no longer necessary with the invention of fabric. But humans continued to use the fur, not as a necessity but as a luxury.
In the ancient cities of Rome, Greece and China, exotic furs were a symbol of affluence and status. From then on, fur has always been a much sought-after commercially-important commodity. They have been used in the fashion industry to make all kinds of clothing and trimming – hats, stoles, coats, jackets, hoods, scarves, collars, cuffs. Boots are trimmed with fluffy fur; fur snoods and ruffs are used as winter accessories.
Different types of Fur
This is originally fur taken from Karakul sheep, found in Soviet Union. It is also known as Persian lamb fur. It is taken from a lamb not older than 10 days. In the young lamb, the fur is just developed in a moiré pattern to a tight close curl. They come in natural browns, greys and whites. Some are dyed to be black in colour.
Bukhara is the finest Russian Persian lamb. The broadtail lamb fur is that of stillborn lamb or a few days old. The Persian lamb fur has been one of the most popular furs in Europe and it is in and out of fashion in the United States.
The beaver is an aquatic animal with shiny coarse guard hair and exceptionally thick and soft underfur. The fur of beaver has a wide colour range. Some are dark brown on the back and then shading to a pale golden brown on the sides. Others may have entire fur in pale or even silvery color. Sometimes it is dyed into fashionable colors. It has a velvety texture and is very durable.
Badger is a small animal with short legs. The fur is very durable but coarse and is used to make trimmings
The chinchilla is a rodent found in the Andes mountain range of South America. It has a short and soft fur with lustrous slate blue guard hairs and dark underfur. You can recognise a chinchilla fur by the black streak that runs along the length of the tail.
Though it is lightweight, the fur is very warm. Because of the fragility of its skin and the smaller size chinchilla fur is difficult to work with. Because of this reason, they are very expensive.
The coyotes are predators found in North America. It has long-haired fur in pale grey or tan colour with thick paler underfur. Its fur is very durable.
Many domestic animals like cats and dogs and even horses are bred and held captive to gather their fur.
The ermines belong to the weasel family. The ermines fur is chestnut brown in summer but snowy white in winter with a distinctive black tip tail. Ermine’s fur is brown in summer but turns white in winter. The white winter ermine is the favoured fur over its brown summer coat. Their guard hairs are silky smooth with dense underfur.
The ermine fur had been the most sought-after fur in the royal courts. They are often seen in the official portraitures of monarchs. The Imperial State Crown worn by the monarch of United Kingdom is lined with ermine fur.
The fisher is a small mammal belonging to the weasel family. They are native to North America. Their fur pelts are thick, soft and brown to blackish tone. It is a very durable fur. The best pelts are usually taken in winter and second quality pelts in spring. Its fur is often used for scarves, hats and neckpieces.
Fox is a predator found all over the world. It has the widest range of natural colours in any fur except maybe the mink. It has long lustrous guard hairs with soft thick underfur. The fox fur wears well but needs high maintenance. It has to be regularly cleaned and cared for to keep the fur fluffy and the skin soft and supple.
There are different kinds of fox furs from different varieties. They are blue fox, cross fox, grey fox, kitt fox, plating fox, red fox, silver fox and white fox. The fur of the red fox is the least expensive. Arctic fox has a white or blue fur. The fox fur can also be dyed in a wide variety of colours.
The lamb fur can be long hair or short hair which are curly or flat with a wavy pattern. It ranges from inexpensive to expensive. There are different types of lambs and each fur has got its own characteristics. Persian lamb fur (Astrakhan fur, Karacul fur), Mongolian lamb fur are varieties of lambskin fur.
The shearling sheepskin is a natural sheepskin that has been sheared and the leather side has been sueded. The fur or the sheared side is worn closer to the skin. The Mouton lambskin is a sheared lambskin. The hair is generally off white in colour and is treated, straightened and set to make soft water-repellent fur. It may be dyed black or brown to look like Alaskan fur seal or beaver fur.
The lynx are long-legged large pawed cats with fur in colors ranging from tawny to cream and mottled with brown and black. In winter, the fur is very dense and soft. For lynx fur, the whiter the fur, the more expensive it gets. Sometimes the lynx fur is dyed a lustrous black.
The Canadian lynx has a creamy white tone with darker markings. The Russian lynx on the other hand has the whitest and softest long-haired fur with subtle beige markings.
Marten is similar to weasels with long silky guard hairs and thick underfur. The colour of the fur ranges from blue brown to dark brown. The finest marten fur is very soft with thick guard hairs and a bluish brown cast with pale underfur.
The mink belongs to the weasel family. They are usually found in wild forests in North America. For the purpose of fur production, minks are raised in ranches. Wild mink fur is darker in color than ranched mink fur. American mink is the finest in the world. The thick, glossy and hardwearing mink fur started being a fashion statement by the mid-20th century.
The sheared mink with a short nap has a wonderfully plush velvety texture. They are the most popular of all furs, especially among women. Long haired mink has lustrous guard hairs and soft dense underfur. The prime quality skin is used in its natural state and is very durable. Dyed minks (from ranched minks) are considered as lesser quality minks than wild minks. Mink breeding is banned in many countries like Newzealand and netherlands.
Mongolian lamb fur
The Mongolian lamb has long, wavy and silky hair.
Muskrats are rodent sfound in wetlands and swamps and waterbodies all over America. Their fur is very versatile. It can be dyed to resemble mink or plucked or sheared to resemble beaver fur. They can be dyed and made ot look like northern or Alaskan fur seals. The colour of the muskrat is dark brown on the back, shading to a golden brown and silver on the flanks. The eastern muskrat is also known as Jersey – the fur is black in colour and it is the most expensive.
Also known as Coypu, Nutria is a large semi-aquatic rodent similar to beaver. The fur resembles that of the beaver with stiff guard hairs with a soft, short undercoat with colors ranging from dark brown to yellowish brown. The darker coloured furs are the expensive ones. The nutria is sheared or plucked to make fur. It can be dyed to a variety of hues. It is a popular fur for lining and trims.
Found mostly in Labrador or Northwest Canada, the otters resemble beavers. Their colour varies from brown to black. They have silver-tipped coarser ground hairs and rich, soft underfur.
Oppossum is a small animal commonly found in America. The fur has a dusty gray color. In Newzealand and other countries a very similar animal is known as possums. The animal is found in large numbers in many parts of the world and is largely considered as a pest destroying vegitation so the argument against fur trade may be less in using oppossum fur than with other animals bred in captivity for fur. Australian opossum is a larger animal with longer and thicker fur.
Ginat Panda bear has a distinctive black and white fur and this is a very expensive fur.
The rabbit fur is usually used to imitate other expensive furs. They are either left natural or plucked, sheared and dyed. Today, most of the rabbit fur comes from rabbits reared for food. The rabbit fur is very affordable but lasts a maximum of four to five years.
The raccoons are found all over in the United States and in Southern Canada. The raccoons have plentiful guard hair, heavy underfur and a silvery colour. Its distinctive tail alternates black with tan rings. The bodyguard hairs are long and silvery with black tips. The grey sides shade to black along the middle of the back. The raccoon fur can also be bleached or dyed. They are very durable with proper care.
Seal pups and adult seals are killed for their fur. This fur was a craze in the 20th century. They are usually found in the Pacific region. Alaska sealskin is a brown fur of seals found in Alaska. Seal fur is banned in many countries like the US, India
The sable is a species of weasels. The animal is very small. It is a very expensive fur – very lightweight with long luxurious guard hairs with thick underfur. The sable fur is very durable.
The Russian sable fur is the most expensive fur which is brown in colour with a silver cast. On the other hand, the Canadian golden sable is less expensive with amber tones.
The skunks are found in North America and South America. Their fur is white and black in colour, though sme skunk furs are in black. The underfur is thick and long keeping the silky guard hairs erect. The skunk furs wear well. The colour of the fur should be glossy blue-black and they are worn with or without the stripes.
The squirrels are found on almost all continents. Their fur is lightweight, soft, fluffy, and short-napped with short soft guard hairs with a flatter, thick underfur. The fur is naturally dark grey-blue in colour and sometimes red. The fur can be dyed to a pale brown colour. It’s often used to make capes, coats and stoles.
This fur is obtained from Tibet lamb and it is similar to Mongolian lamb wool. The silky hair of tibetan lamb grows as long as 3 to 4 inches. The hair comes in off white colour and can be dyed to a variety of hues.
How is Fur processed?
True furs have two parts – a dense undercoat called ground hair and longer hairs called guard hairs. The pelts that are missing in either of these parts are not considered true furs. For example, the Persian lamb has no guard hair. Still, pelts of such animals are used commercially as furs.
Full pelts are the most valuable but small pieces of fur (plates) are also used. Fur is obtained from different parts of the animal body, matched for similar color and sewn into plates.
The pelt of an animal undergoes several processes before the raw skin is turned into a final usable and durable product. The raw pelt is cleaned, softened, fleshed and stretched. This is then tanned by a process called leathering. Sometimes, these furs are bleached and dyed fully or dyed at the tip or only the guard hairs
The major producers of fur are United States, Canada and some of the Scandinavian countries.
Nowadays fur trade is frowned upon because globally about one hundred million animals are bred in captivity and killed to cater to the fashion fur market. In addition to this, a huge number of animals are trapped and killed in the wild resulting in the extinction of a number of animals and depletion of general animal population. The animals bred in captivity are held in deplorable conditions and they are caged for their entire lives. Most of the animals are killed before they are one year old by gassing, electrocuting, beating to death or by breaking their necks. Heart breaking but this is the truth. For the sake of fashion, many are willing to look the other way and design with fur and wear it.
But there is good progress too from the part of governments as well as brands to prevent ill treatment of animals for producing fur for fashion. Many brands have sworn not to use animal fur in any of their products and use synthetic alternatives if there is a need. Israel was the first country to ban fur sales. Many countries like Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, United Kingdom have legally banned fur farming of entire or selected species.