People have worn animal furs since the dawn of time. The earliest known hunters and trappers captured and killed animals not only to provide themselves and their families with food, but to stitch together the fur—the thick, smooth, hairy coat of animal skin—to make warm clothing. People soon developed other fabrics that provided warmth, yet at certain times in human history fur became a fashion statement, indicating great wealth and luxury. A fur coat, wrap, hat, or stole might be made of the soft and luxurious furs from mink, sable, ermine, fox, or muskrat.
The 1950s saw a return of enthusiasm for furs. Following years of frugality and uniformity in clothing due to restrictions placed on clothes during World War II (1939–45), women wore furs to show off their wealth and status. The enthusiasm for furs could be seen in popular fashion magazines as well as in such movies as The Lady Wants Mink (1953), Make Mine Mink (1960), and That Touch of Mink (1962). The 1950s craze for furs recalled a similar craze from the last prosperous economic time, the 1920s, which saw such movies as Ermine and Rhinestones (1925), Orchids and Ermine (1927), and The Lady in Ermine (1927).
Though wearing furs has long indicated wealth and a taste for luxury, some people consider killing animals for clothes to be cruel. As early as 1961 the Disney film 101 Dalmatians depicted the villain, Cruella de Vil, as driven by a crazed desire for animal fur. By the late twentieth century a combination of increased environmental awareness and sensitivity toward animals had made wearing fur extremely controversial. Animal rights activists claim that fur-bearing animals suffer needlessly and are slaughtered just to produce a nonessential consumer product that appeals to the purchaser's vanity. Due to the controversy several celebrities and other people who wear fur have switched to fake fur.
Cudlipp, Edythe. Furs. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1978.
Kaplan, David Gordon. World of Furs. New York: Fairchild Publications, 1974.
[ See also Volume 3, Nineteenth Century: Fur ]