Fur is synonymous with the story of northern North America. There is much evidence of its use by the First Nations and Inuit people, before the arrival of the Europeans. Since the earliest European settlements in the 1500s, the economy of Canada was based on the development and export of raw materials, and fur was one of the main exports, in the period before 1800.
As the traders migrated to the “new world” they quickly learned to follow the First People’s “wearing of the fur” themselves and broke the dress code of staying true to the styles worn in their homeland, as the Canadian winter was so much more severe than in Europe. This was function, not fashion, yet…
By the late 1800’s possibly with the influence of Russian nobility, possibly with the phenomenon of the rising prosperity of the Victorian middle classes, and their taste for ostentation, the use of fur was pushed farther forward, and into fashion. During this time, increasingly, fur garments were worn with the fur on the outside.
In 1900, “Fashion” was featured in the Paris Exposition Universelle, a major international exhibition. The fashion section included not only day and evening ensembles in cloth, but also newer fashion items, including fur coats. One of the coats displayed was a Princess line coat in Canadian mink, it used 300 skins, took over 100 hours to cut and 1000 hours of highly skilled sewing.
From this time forward, fur coats and fur accessories began to appear regularly in the collections of the leading French fashion houses, which of course, as with most fashion pre the mid 20th century, would fully legitimize the trend from function to fashion.
The silhouette of that era was was such that it required careful shaping to get the proper fit, but, as the silhouette became simpler with time, the new straight cut coat of the 1920s could be made with less expensive workmanship, and by using less expensive fur, the coats became a part of the rapidly growing ready-to-wear fashion industry, making them available to even the newly independent and employed young women.
Fur as fashion was seen everywhere in the 20’s and 30’s, as fur edging and trim, as fur collars and cuffs, as muffs, and fur stoles, as well as full jackets and coats, and for Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall.
Once again, what Canadians had been wearing for centuries for function, was now recognized abroad as fashion. Now if only CANADA had the power to create fashion trends…