Thrifting 101: A Definitive Guide To Vintage Fur Fashion

When I was in New York City back in October, I had the chance to drop by the Columbus Avenue Flea Market. I spent most of a morning wandering through the aisles, examining an eclectic mix of handmade, vintage, and junk. In between booths hawking delicate glass bottles, antique toasters, handmade soaps, and chain link purses was a seller offering nothing but vintage furs. Fur coats, wraps, scarves, earmuffs, hats, and stoles draped over the racks in a luxuriously plush heap. I spent a good half-hour running my hands over the glossy pelts, imagining an occasion that would demand a mink stole or fox-trimmed swing coat

Vintage fur is a great alternative to new. Styles can be very unique, and it is often much less expensive than a new coat. Fur is absolutely timeless, as it never goes out of style and can maintain its beauty for years to come. It is also very versatile, pairing well with everything from cocktail dresses to blue jeans.

Vintage fur offers a fun, classic and more humane alternative to fur lovers who want to enjoy the feel of their favorite pelt without contributing to the harm of an animal. By buying a vintage fur coat, you are giving new purpose to a classic fashion. However, vintage fur requires extra attention. Age, storage, and overall condition can determine whether a thrifted fur is a great bargain or better left on the rack.

Identifying Fur By Type

There are several different types of fur. Occasionally, you'll be able to identify what type you've come across by a tag on the inside of the piece. If no tag is present, the appearance of the fur can usually determine what type you have. For a more thorough guide to types of fur, see my friend Sammy Davis' post on identifying fur types.
  • Beaver: The sturdiest, warmest, and most hard-wearing fur available. Very dense and thick. Beaver fur sparked the fur trade in North America between Native Americans and Europeans, nearly resulting in the beaver's extinction. From the early 1600's to the late 1700's beaver fur was often used to create men's felt hats.
  • Chinchilla: Fur will be very soft with a gray or slate blue color.
  • Coyote: Very dense and creamy fur. Coyote fur is usually used for men's coats and is tan or grey.
  • Ermine: White with black tips. Ermine is a type of weasel, and the fur is usually very silky.
  • Fisher: Fur is very long, dark and shiny.
  • Fox: Thick, plush fur with a short pelt. Often used a trim on vintage coats, either on the collar or cuffs. Available in gold, silver, blue, white and red. Often dyed.
  • Lamb: Lightweight, shiny fur. The coat has a wave pattern to it and fur will often be long and curly. Typically comes in white but can also be found in gray, black or brown.
  • Lynx: Color varies from medium brown to goldish to beige-white. Often spotted with dark brown spots.
  • Mink: Very silky and dense fur. Flat and non-bulky. Natural mink ranges in color from chocolate brown to dark brown to black, while farmed mink can come in colors ranging from silver blue, pearl, beige and platinum to black. Mink fur coats can be sheared or full skin. Here's an interesting fact: Male mink coats are thicker and more dense than female mink coats, which are silkier and have a higher luster. As a result, male mink coats are often more expensive.
  • Rabbit: Grooved, medium-length fur. This is the most frequent type of fur seen at thrift stores, and available in nearly every color and pattern imaginable, including blue, pink, black and marbled. Rabbit fur comes in two layers - a soft undercoat with a top layer of longer guard hairs. It is known to shed lightly, especially in areas that are more susceptible to wearing such as shoulders and sleeves.
  • Sable: Lightweight, silky fur. Sable fur is the most expensive fur in the world because it is rare and extremely shiny.  Available in sandy yellow to dark black.

Identifying fake fur can be difficult, even for the most experienced thrifter. The market is flooded with cheep, synthetic materials, many which do a surprisingly remarkable job of pretending to be a fur they are not. Here are some ways to identify whether a fur is fake or genuine:
  • Examine underneath the lining of the garment, looking for the back of the "fur" itself. Real fur backs look like leather and are usually sewn in strips or patchwork. Fake fur has a uniform, stitched pattern resembling knit work.
  • Rub the "hairs" between your fingers. Animal fur rolls easily and feels smooth, while fake fur feels coarse.
  • Stick a pin through the base of a fur. With fake fur, the pin will hardly resist and go straight through. The leather at the back of a genuine fur will resist and make it difficult to push the pin through.

Thrifting for Vintage Fur

Thrifting for vintage fur is an excellent option if you're looking for a warm, stylish piece for winter  at an affordable price. However, the delicate nature of genuine fur can result in tears, discoloration, mildew and odors that are impossible to repair and often difficult to notice.
  • Never buy an oxidized fur piece. If the fur has a yellow tinge, it has been exposed to sunlight and become oxidized. Check areas that are frequently exposed to sunlight, such as shoulders and sleeves.
  • Fur should have a supple, soft feel. If it is brittle it has become dried out, or has dry rot. Both conditions are unrepairable.
  • Examine the entire length of the piece for rips. Rips are often a sign of dry rot, and mending a rip is a costly process you most likely want to avoid. Be sure to check areas such as arm holes, neckline, and hem.
  • It is normal for a vintage fur to shed a bit. Some delicate furs, such as rabbit or chinchilla, break easily, and most vintage furs will shed with vigorous handling. However, if the fur is coming off in clumps, or breaks easily at the slightest touch, avoid buying it.

Caring for Vintage Fur

When you thrift a vintage fur, it's important to care for it as if it was new. Knowing how to care for your fur will help extend the life of the garment and ensure years of luxurious wear.
  • Ideally, your fur should be kept in cold storage in the vault of a reputable furrier. If storing your vintage fur in your own closet, make sure it has enough space to hang comfortably. Never store your vintage fur in a plastic bag; the delicate material requires proper air circulation. 
  • Hang your fur in your closet using a padded, broad-shouldered hanger. Do not use wire hangers.
  • Limit the amount of time you expose your vintage fur to the strain of purse and shoulder straps, which can also take a toll on your garment.
  • Avoid spraying any chemicals, including perfume and hairspray, directly onto the coat. The alcohol contained in these products will dry out the fur and any leather used on the piece.
  • Take your vintage fur to a furrier as soon as you detect a tear, rip or other damage. Delaying the fur repair process can contribute to extensive damage. In addition, attempts to repair the garment yourself may actually worsen the damage and require even costlier repairs.
  • Seek the expertise of a furrier for an annual cleaning and conditioning of your vintage fur. Having your fur professionally cleaned will help eliminate unwanted odor, and the conditioning process, also called a glossing, will help restore oils that are essential to the longevity of your fur.


  1. this is a fab guide.

    last year i found two vintage furs hoping i could fit them but alas i could not so now they are going in my online shop.

  2. I just purchase a beautiful mink chocolate blackest coat...vintage and has embordery inside but no lable, no tag on it anywhere...the two buttons are fabulous looking. They have black diamond stone inlaid in the buttons...very nice My fur dose have an old oder to it, what can I do to take the oder out?
    Thank you for the information...

  3. It is true that vintage fur can be an alternative for new fur, and it is much cheaper, so people choose it rather than new fur. But if you want vintage fur, you also have to know how to take care of it. In addition to proper maintenance, the accessories you wear with it can also affect it. Shoulder bags and jewelry can sometimes rub with the fur and cause it to wear off.


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