Fur is generally thought to have been among the first materials used for clothing and bodily decoration. The exact date when fur was first used in clothing is still heavily debated. It is known that several species of hominoids including Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis used fur clothing. As early as the 11th century, fur was worn as a symbol of wealth and social status rather than just out of the need for warmth. European royalty regularly wore fur coats, fur capes, and fur accessories made from mink, sable, and chinchilla fur. By the 1300s, laws were introduced that regulated which social classes were allowed to wear which types of furs. From the days of early European settlement, up until the development of modern clothing alternatives, fur clothing was popular in Canada during the cold winters. Fur is still used by indigenous people and developed societies, due to its availability and superior insulation properties. The Inuit peoples of the Arctic relied on fur for most of their clothing, and it also forms a part of traditional clothing in Russia, Ukraine, Yugoslavia, Scandinavia, and Japan. It is also sometimes associated with glamour and lavish spending. A number of consumers and designers—notably British fashion designer and outspoken animal rights activist Stella McCartney—reject fur due to moral beliefs and perceived cruelty to animals.
The manufacturing of fur clothing involves obtaining animal pelts where the hair is left on. Depending on the type of fur and its purpose, some of the chemicals involved in fur processing may include table salts, alum salts, acids, soda ash, sawdust, cornstarch, lanolin, degreasers and, less commonly, bleaches, dyes and toners (for dyed fur). Workers exposed to fur dust created during fur processing have been shown to have reduced pulmonary function in direct proportion to their length of exposure. In contrast, leather made from any animal hide involves removing the fur from the skin and using only the tanned skin. However, the use of wool involves shearing the animal’s hair from the living animal. The chemical treatment of fur to increase its felting quality is known as carroting, as the process tends to turn the tips of the fur a carrot orange color.
Story by Jen Ruane.