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Fur or Against: Is wearing fur ever fair?

With fur back in popular culture and a sheer abundance of vintage pieces, might it be okay to wear the real deal again?

Jennifer Lopez posing at Times Square earlier this year in a statement fur coat. Photo: IMAGO / Cover-Images

Among younger millennials, the chorus “I’m gonna pop some tags / only got 20 dollars in my pocket / I’m I’m I’m hunting, looking for a come up / this is fucking awesome” should trigger some core memories and evoke a very specific image: Macklemore slo-mo dancing between the racks, wrapped in an ostentatious floor-length fur coat. The 2012 chart topper ‘Thrift Shop’ is arguably more of an anthem for thrifty zillennials now than it was over a decade ago.

When we speak about fur and ethics, we often ignore that we do still kill animals for clothes

While $20 often doesn’t get you all that far anymore, thrifting has become widely popular among young people: save the environment and money – a classic win-win, although recent findings reveal that secondhand is not actually more climate-conscious if you don’t also limit your consumption. Either way, eco-friendly or not, secondhand is not going anywhere.

Enter a new trend. Popularised on TikTok, the ‘mob wife’ aesthetic is the antithesis of the ‘clean girl’: staples are heavy gold jewellery, a big blow-dry and, most importantly, a lavish fur piece – much like the one sported by Macklemore. While the maximalist trend seems a little too extravagant to take over the masses, it brings about a renewed focus on fur, and indeed, fur fashion has seen a resurgence of late.

Mob wife style icon: Carmela from the 1999 family drama The Sopranos. Photo: IMAGO / Avalon.red

In an article from February, Highsnobiety fawned over the celebrities rocking the furry look in different variations, concluding that “fur is back, baby”. And just like that, an age-old debate we thought had long been put to rest has been reignited – only this time, we have access to a gamut of vintage and secondhand clothes, begging the question: is it okay to wear fur if it’s not fresh off the… animal?

As a society, we seem to have reached common ground on the idea that breeding and killing animals for their fur is wrong; in Germany, the value of imported clothing and accessories made from fur decreased by over 60% between 2011 and 2021, according to the animal rights organisation, Vier Pfoten. It’s also for that reason that in recent years, many luxury brands have gone pelt-free, most notably Gucci in 2017.

Disposing of high-quality fur doesn’t just feel unnecessarily wasteful, it would also mean that the animal died in vain.

Buying new fur is out of the question, but what about inherited pieces, or the hundreds of fur coats lining the racks of Berlin flea markets and vintage shops? Personally, I have not yet brought myself to take my grandma’s fox fur jacket out for a spin. “If they already exist, have survived from that time and are still in good condition, they should definitely be worn and not thrown away,” opines Marita Makasch, the owner of OFT Vintage. It’s true: disposing of high-quality fur doesn’t just feel unnecessarily wasteful, it would also mean that the animal died in vain.

Sharon Stone in Martin Scorsese’s 1995 film Casino. Photo: IMAGO / United Archives

On the other hand, Makasch says, “it might create a demand that can’t be satisfied by the old ones, and then this brings a new momentum into today’s fashion”. This is also the worry of PETA Deutschland. “Wearing real fur always suggests that it is okay to wear the dead skin of a tortured animal. Therefore, never wear fur – whether secondhand or new,” the organisation wrote in 2022.

Unsurprisingly, PETA condemns any profits made off fur, pre-owned or not. Instead, they recommend donating pelt pieces to those in need – but not before ensuring that they can never enter the market again, for example by spraying a big ‘X’ across the piece. You shall keep warm, but you shan’t look good doing it.

When we speak about fur and ethics, we often ignore that we do still kill animals for clothes – and most importantly, don’t seem to have a problem with it. Buying leather shoes, belts and bags is not a hotly-contested issue, let alone quarrelling over whether it’s okay to buy leather goods secondhand or not.

Fur fanatic Elizabeth Taylor with husband Eddie Fisher at film premiere in 1959. Photo: IMAGO / Bridgeman Images

So why is the fur question a different one? One explanation is that our idea of what is considered normal is relative and ever-evolving. It’s difficult to justify slaughtering animals for our enjoyment; with fur, this has been firmly established. In the case of food, we’re witnessing a similar development – rising numbers of vegetarians and vegans testify to this collective change of heart. On this account, and against the backdrop of current trends, to wear fur would be to regress.

“In my opinion, wearing vintage real fur isn’t worse than wearing vintage leather shoes or accessories, because the damage is already done and personally I prefer someone to use something rather than throwing it in the trash,” says Vasiliki Voulgari, who doesn’t sell real fur at her boutique, VV Vintage. “I strongly advise everyone that likes the look of real fur to search for vintage synthetic instead. They give the same look, and most importantly, no animals suffered in the process!”

Ultimately, the decision lies with the consumer. For those who are on the fence about whether or not to buy a vintage fur coat, it boils down to this: if the thought makes you feel uncomfortable, it’s good to remember that there’s a reason why. As for me, I’ll keep admiring my grandma’s fox fur jacket from afar.