On the tickly issue of wearing fur in cold climates

>> Monday, 12 March 2012

Fur coats: now there's a divisive issue. Or, at least, there's a divisive issue until you come and live in Moscow for a winter or two.

Growing up, and in my twenties and thirties, I was adamant that I would never wear a fur coat. All those supermodels claiming “I'd rather go naked than wear fur” had it spot on as far as I was concerned. “Why oh why would you wear the skin of an animal when there were perfectly good man-made alternatives available?” was my take on the matter, and I stuck to that argument. It wasn't hard, mind you; not only was there next-to-no fur available in the shops I frequented in London, but it's easy to be holier than thou about these issues in a climate where it rarely gets colder than minus 2 Celsius.

And then we moved to Moscow in January 2010, slap bang into the jaws of the coldest winter in a decade.

Oh boy.

Unsurprisingly, I found my attitude to fur shifting. Not only does it do the job nature designed it to do — keeping the wearer warm as toast — but you see it everywhere. This is surprising to me, because as anyone who has wandered through retailers in Moscow selling them will know, a fur coat does not come cheap — a new one from a high-street store will set you back anything from $1,000 to $30,000, depending on the quality of fur you want. So, it's not a purchase to make lightly. Devotees will tell you of course that if you look after it properly, a fur coat will last you a lifetime, but doing that brings it's own set of additional costs — there's the cleaning, and then the over-summer storage in a special facility. And yet, if you take a ride on the Moscow metro today, I guarantee that between 20% and 50% of the adults you see will be wearing fur.

Repeated exposure to anything changes perception, and halfway through my third winter here I'm a lot less judgmental on other peoples' choices to wear a fur coat than I used to be. Suddenly, the sort of comment a visitor to this city made to an acquaintance of mine on learning that the fur coat the latter was wearing was the real McCoy — “You should be ashamed of yourself!” — starts to sound not only incredibly rude but also more than a little blinkered. Live through a Russian winter yourself before judging other people's ways of staying warm, would be my advice to any new arrivals.

In the interests of full disclosure, I still don't wear a fur coat myself. I can kid myself that this is because my ethics are still intact, but it may also have something to do with my innate belief that, more often than not, they make the women wearing them look somehow middle-aged (a state I am far to close to to mess about with). And I'm afraid that I have to admit that if the sheepskin shearling coat of my dreams suddenly popped up in my price range, I too would be clad in the skin of an animal.

Obviously, my supporting rationalization for this purely hypothetical choice would be that since, as a confirmed carnivore, I eat lamb, I can see no reason why I shouldn't wear sheepskin. So it's lucky for my ethical sensibilities that mink, sable or chinchilla pie aren't on menus too...

This post first appeared on my other blog 'Diaries of a Moscow Mum' over at The Moscow Times online....


MsCaroline 12 March 2012 at 10:40  

Fur is very popular here in Seoul, too. I feel like you do, though: whatever it takes to keep warm.

The mum of all trades 12 March 2012 at 11:58  

The duck down coats are great for keeping warm too. But as I have never experienced a Moscow winter I'm not really qualified to say!

DD's Diary 12 March 2012 at 12:25  

Hmmm, a tricky one. There's not much logic involved, as most people are fine about suede jackets/leather bags etc etc .... I take it the knee-length socks aren't cutting it any more! x

Expat mum 12 March 2012 at 14:06  

Ditto Chicago. It gets so cold here that furs are really the only coats that cut it. (I don't have one but I just don't go out when it gets too cold!)
The number of fur-wearers is apparently dwindling, but you'd never find anyone throwing a can of paint over a fur coat, or planting a sticker on the right lapel.

nappy valley girl 12 March 2012 at 14:42  

I still remember being on the Tube once in London, and seeing a woman getting berated for wearing a fur coat.

Here, there are quite a few fur shops in town, and it doesn't seem quite such a big issue, although I don't know anyone of my generation who wears fur (it tends to be older ladies).

The Expatresse 12 March 2012 at 16:49  

I have a fur coat, too. Got it in Slovakia. Makes me feel like a princess.

That said, down is sometimes more practical in Moscow--not so warm on the Metro. And not so heavy.

A friend who spent a lot of time in Siberia told me sheepskin is actually better for keeping warm.

planb 12 March 2012 at 21:10  

Oh I couldn't agree more! I spent my winter in Moscow (temp dropping to -27 for two weeks or so in the middle and not rising much beyond that for the rest of it) clad in an ancient sheepskin duffel coat belonging to the Canadian mother of a friend of mine. And boy was I grateful for it! (Mum of all Trades, friends were in down and believe me it wasn't nearly enough!)... Not least because it gave me an easy way out of the dilemma of whether to wear the dreaded fur....

I've actually had this same argument with friends too. There is no justification for wearing fur in the UK - we just don't need it for the warmth. You're killing an animal because you want to look better (the comparative is subjective, obviously). But in Russia (or other places with similar temperatures) you need it, you really do.

I can see that many people may morally have a problem with killing animals for any purpose and I can understand that argument. I, however, accept the killing of animals to feed myself and, indeed, to put shoes on my feet or hold my trousers up, either of which is arguably less of a necessity than keeping warm. I can't therefore, in all honesty, argue that to do so to keep warm, in a country where the other options really aren't as effective, is unacceptable, however uncomfortable it may make those of us (including myself) brought up on PETA ads feel.

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