Fur Fashions in 1890

Fur Fashions in 1890

Did you know that monkey was fashionable in 1890?  I didn’t until I found an article about fur used as fashion in The Sun, a New York newspaper.  The article was printed on January 5, 1890 and describes various types of fur and their application in the latest fashions.

I was curious how much something with fur on it would cost in January of 1890, so I found an ad in another addition of The Sun printed on January 19, 1890.  Then I went to the website I’ve been using to calculate how much a dollar from 1890 would be today.  Today $1 from 1890 would be $25.92.  That would make the Real Astrakhan Capes $127 today if you got it at the sale price and $518 if you didn’t.

1890 Jan 19 - The Sun NY - Fur Department Prices

Below are the drawing that were printed with the article, followed by the transcription I did of the article.  I didn’t find a credit to the author printed in the paper.

“Furs were never more in demand, never so much worn, and never so treated, combined one with another and applied on cloth, silk, velvet, plush, and even on light, semi-diaphanous evening fabrics as they are this winter.  The pictures below give only a few, a very few, of the many applications of fur to garments this season.  It is true we no longer have the fur-lined circulars of the past, and squirrel or miniver is not in fashionable favor on this side of the water, although it is said to be in Paris.

The flutter in furs which began at the commencement of the season, when the furriers announced that Astrakhan and Persian lamb were once more in the list of fashionable pelts, has not abated.  These old favorites are not only restored to favor, but the “break” made by their reintroductions into the fur trade has occasioned the introduction of other furs – some old and some entirely new.  For instance, the Siberian hare seal capes which are sold in considerable numbers are not seal furs at all.  Nor do they look like seal.  They look more like the skin and hair of the American black bear – the animal in its wild, healthy state – than anything else, but in reality they are made from the skins of a little black cony or animal of the rabbit kind that lives in the rocks of California all around San Francisco.  The skin is strong, the hair stiff, glossy, and erect, standing almost like the bristles in a black hair brush or the teeth of a fine plantation cotton card of the ante-bellum days.  The skins make a showy and pretty cape, but there is no undergrowth of fur, and the white or yellow skin shows rather conspicuously at the sides and bottom of the capes and collars.  But for all that, Siberian hare capes are popular, for they are glossy, dressy, inexpensive, and make the impression of great durability.

Real seal, in spite of the growth in fashionable or other furs and the immense use of seal plush as a substitute for the real thing, is as popular and as much in demand as ever.  The furriers combine it this season with other furs in the composition of capes, stoles, jackets, paletots and pelerines.  Then the walking coat of seal, in lengths varying from thirty to thirty-four inches, is more worn than ever.  Frequently a Medici collar of fine Persian or a stole and collar of this fur or a fine Astrakhan, or of costlier sable is added to the coat.  This piece of fur is oftener detachable, and detached from the coat than made a part of it.  Then it can be utilized for garments, wraps, jackets or gowns.  These detachable pieces of fur are as much in demand for children’s and young girls’ garments as for older persons.  The first picture above shows how they can be applied to skating jackets or seal paletots, or walking jackets for girls in their teens.  They are generally made of Astrakhan, or fox, or black hair, or lynx, or raccoon, but sometimes of mink and less frequently of sable.  But the stole of seal is the favorite, and in some fur houses that cater to the most fastidious women it is frequently seen made up so that it can be worn as a stole, a collar, and waistcoat, a Russian collar, or a Medici collar and waistcoats, just as you choose.

Long boas are still worn, but as a rule, the boa is made shorter and does duty as part of some rich evening wrap for the theatre, the opera and for 4 o’clock teas.  Many very elegant fur-trimmed garments are seen at these functions for the toilet may be as dressy or a plain almost as one chooses at a 4 o’clock or an afternoon reception.  The next two figures illustrate some of the uses of fur as seen at these popular gatherings of those who are in the “swim.”

One of the highest novelties in furs is the application of embroidery on Astrakhanland seal.  For instance, not only are seal jackets and capes frequently furnished with waistcoats and revers of cloth that are richly embroiders in color and gold cord and thread, but sometimes the entire cape or jacket of Astrakhan is decorated with fine “motifs” of gold and colored silk embroideries appliquéd directly on the fur.  The gown and which such a piece of fur is most effectively worn is of tartan, in colors that are matched with those of the fur and its embroidery.  I saw yesterday a slender and graceful girl in a gown of dark shades of green and black tartan, brightened with lines of yellow and red.  The cuffs of the same were of emerald green velvet appliquéd on with gold cord embroidery.  The collar and yoke of same were hidden under the cape, for over the gown was worn a fine black Astrakhan tippet bordered with an appliqué embroidery of leaves and flowers in shades of green silk and cord, with dashes of gold cord and thread.  The stole and collar of seal were joined to the cape with similar embroideries, all of which described scroll patterns in leaves and flowers.  But not one girl in a thousand can have worn such a combination becomingly.  She was one to the manner born.

Long cloaks, Newmarkets, and ulsters of seal and seal plush are still worn.  Sometimes these are trimmed down the fronts with bands of fur of another kind.  Of course whoever can afford to trim seal with sable does so.  The stole of sable is frequently seen on seal Newmarkets, seal coats, jackets, capes, and short wraps, or rather wraps with short backs and sides but long tablike ends as seen in The Sun’s last pictures.  Alaska sable and black marten, Astrakhan and Persian lamb is also seen bordering such garments, especially when they are of seal plush.  Real seal seems to demand a richer, costlier fur than Astrakhan or Persian.  Still so popular are these furs they are not infrequently seen combined with seal in capes, stoles, muffs, coats and paletots or short wraps with long fronts. 

Monkey is also much in favor as a combination fur with seal.  Astrakhan and Persian lamb.  Stoles of monkey are given a collar of seal, and sometimes a stole or cape of seal is made dressy with a border and sleeves of monkey.  The seal stole reaching to the waist in front, widening as it encircles the neck, and bordered with a fringe and ends of monkey, is an exceedingly becoming addition to either a long or short wrap, or a dress.  It has been disputed, but it is now pretty well settled that the pelt known as monkey is really the skin of one or several of the South American lemurs, or perhaps the marmosets or onistitis of Guiana, creatures allied to the family of the chimpanzee and the baboon, but not very much like them in general appearance or habits although undoubtedly quadrumana.

The application of fur as garnitures for the richest dinner and evening gowns runs up the cost of dresses enormously.  The manner of using furs for this purpose is very original and varied ad infinitum.  There is a band of it, Astrakhan, seal, otter, or beaver placed around the bottom of the gown, vandyked or scalloped, or cut in turrets or scrolls at the upper edge, where it is appliquéd to the cloth, silk, or velvet with rich embroideries of silk and gold cord embroidery, executed in close line knot and satin stitches.  Similar band of narrower fur, with embroideries, are made to time the corsage and sleeves.  Sometimes there are medallions or diamond-shaped pieces for fur applied, with embroidery, as bands and ornaments on the skirt, bodice, and sleeves of a gown.  No fur is too costly or too beautiful for these uses, but the favorites are sable, beaver, otter, seal, Astrakhan, and black Siberian fox, a beautiful long pile, silky black fur.

As for those odd pieces of fur cravats, boas, and muffs with the heads of the animals left on the skins and given jewels for eyes, they are worn only by a few women who indulge in eccentric fancies.  They will never be generally worn even by the wealthiest women.  In fact, the wealthiest women are less apt to affect those kind of oddities than other who are simply reckless in the expenditure of what they can ill afford to throw away.  These are the women who purchase those long evening wraps of ruby red and garnet and Eiffel brown, and asparagus green and while silk brocaded with silver and copper, lined with white Angora or white cashmere goat skins, and border with the same, and trimmed with rain-fringed gold and crystal passementerie ornaments, and clasped over their bosoms with costly agrafles glittering with imitation or real jewels.  Or if the shorter evening wrap is donned it must be trimmed with marabouts and softly shaded feathers and lined with elder or swan’s down, and glitter with tinsel and bead fringes falling over laces and marabout bands white as snow, or delicately tinted in some lovely shades of evening color.  The muff and boa, or stole must match, of course, and when these are not used, the sable cravat and muff to match, with the cunning little beads and jeweled eyes, take their place over wraps scarcely less showy though of sliver gray and steel brocade or plush moiré in some of the delicate tones, dusky heliotrope, moonlight blue, pearl, and smoke gray, which come for evening wraps this season.  These are also fur-lined or faced and lined with bright satin or silk, the long fleecy gray furs with steel embroideries taking the place of the white Angora or Tibet or cashmere goat skins.

Then there are beautifully tinted and shaded long pile furs that are also used to trim evening wraps.  With these are frequently worn a long and full boa of cashmere or Tibet goat with a muff to match.”

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