Grading Condition Of Vintage Furs

You're in a vintage clothing shop and you spot a beautiful coat with long, silky fur.  It could be fox, let's say, but any plush fur would be a good example.  Savvy customer that you are, you check to make sure it's not shedding.  Knowing that furs cost into the thousands, a vintage find for a few hundred dollars seems a bargain.

But if you're really careful, you'll look closer at this coat.  It could be hiding some serious flaws, and because we're in the business of selecting vintage clothing, we want you to know about them.

A beautiful leopard-printed pony fur in less-than-glamorous condition.  Its leather has dry-rotted.

Sometimes people don't realize that animal fur is attached to animal hide, meaning leather.  Vintage leather often requires special care, or at least special consideration.  In the world of furs, you've probably heard of fur storage or "cold storage".  This is a specially created vault in which fur garments hang in a cold, damp environment, much like a cave.

If the coat you're eyeing hasn't been in cold storage, it's more likely to have inherent flaws in the leather under the fur.  The tough thing is, it's hard to tell an item's cold storage history merely by sight, especially if it looks flawless on the outside. 

Observing a fur's condition is much easier when the fur is short, like this beaver.  The fur was not cut by these scissors; its leather is so brittle that it's coming to pieces due to poor storage.

But there are some telltale signs when observing a vintage fur coat's condition:

  • Run your fingers along the leather, deep into the fur, at the shoulders and armhole seams, feeling for any holes.  If you find one, carefully flatten the fur to investigate.  If you find a hole, that's a sign not to buy.  Furs rarely have gaps in their seams where the thread has become weak.  It's much more likely that there's a hole due to weakened leather, which is a problem.
  • Ball up the fur with your fists along the same areas (shoulders and armhole seams).  A fur in excellent condition will still have supple leather, and will release quickly back to its regular shape.  If you hear a crunch, or feel a hard spot in the leather, you've found a problematic area of leather that will likely split and deteriorate with much/any use.
  • Similar hardening of the leather can occur elsewhere on the fur, but the shoulders/armholes and lower skirt/hem are the most common areas to observe it.  Check elsewhere just in case; this kind of quick check can save much heartache post-purchase.
  • Repairs on hardened/dry-rotted leather are not possible, although occasionally well-placed duct tape underneath on the old leather can mitigate its fragility, at least for a time.  This should not be considered as good as new, however.  A patchy repair like this is bound to come undone, but can bridge the gap between "wearable for a night" and not.

Hairline cracks in leather are hard to see under long-haired vintage furs like fox.  Using your fingers and ears to feel/hear the cracking leather is key.

When you a buy a vintage fur, remember to keep it away from prolonged exposure to hot, dry areas.  Placing it in fur storage is the best location for it during its off-season.  It will allow you more space in the closet, protect it from heat and light, and will last you many more fashionable winters.

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