Fur is an animal skin with fur fibres, and people have used animal
fur to dress and protect themselves from the wind and cold for
thousands of years. Fur mainly comes from Europe, Russia and North
America, as these are the places where furry mammals/animals
can be found. Red foxes live in Europe and North America, and this
fur comes from one of these places.
An animal pelt has to go through several processes to become
a piece of clothing. First the skins are scraped, and soaked in
solutions to clean and soften them. Then chemicals are added to
preserve the fur. Afterwards, the fur is dried and stretched. This
cape is actually made of several thin strips of fur cut from
a pelt and then stitched back together to give the cape its shape.
If you look closely you can see where the pieces are joined
together. Lastly the lining is sewn in and the fur is hand combed
to finish it off.
Furs are made by hand and it is a skilful job. The fur trade is
mainly made up of small family-run businesses of craftsmen. It can
take months to make a fine coat from start to finish. Because of
the work involved and the uniqueness of each piece of clothing,
furs are expensive. In the 1940s they were associated with a rich,
glamorous lifestyle and the fur was very fashionable. Sable,
mink, chinchilla and silver fox were some of the
animal furs in demand.
Fur came in different forms throughout the 1940s. There were long
coats that fell below the knee and capes that covered the
shoulders. Wraps were broad bands of fur, draped around the
shoulders and folded in front. Stoles dressed the collars of
jackets - these were pelts, with the animal head at one end and the
tail at the other. Today we would probably be shocked at the sight
of a fox's head on someone's collar, but during the war these were
all the rage!
Furs were worn widely, both during the day and in the evening.
During the day this cape would have been worn with a smart suit.
Throughout the war the fashion was for tight-fitting military style
suits. Women wore boxy jackets, with padded shoulders and narrow
waists, and straight skirts that rose to the knee. This fur cape
would have been worn over the jacket, and the woman would have
finished off her outfit with a hat and gloves. In the evening, the
fur shoulder cape would have been a glamorous and warm over a
close-fitting 'sheath' evening dress, heels and long evening
During WW2 there was a shortage of material for clothes. The
government rationed clothes so that people had to hand in
coupons every time they bought something on the list of rationed
goods. Wool, cotton and satin clothes were strictly rationed. Fur
wasn't on the list of rationed items - it had always been a luxury
item and few people were able to afford it anyway. The government's
Utility Scheme was a way of making sure that the design of
clothes was as trim and economic as possible. Although fur wasn't
allowed as decoration on clothes, within the scheme there were
haute couture garments (high fashion, one-off designs) for
those who could afford them. This fur cape may have been one such