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Can I Wear a Vintage Fur?

The evolution of the social contract and shared morality can have unexpected repercussions on fashion, relegating garments once considered essentials — like clothes cut to restrict women’s movements or cordon off social status — to the dustbin of history.

Fur, especially new fur, is now teetering on this precipice in many countries.

There is a school of thought that argues for the continued use of vintage fur, like those coats you inherited from your mother and aunt. In part, this is because fur is often passed down from generation to generation, with all of the family stories that implies. Moreover, to destroy a pelt already in circulation devalues its history and is worse for the environment than treating it with respect. There is also a rise in awareness of the problems with our disposability culture.

The problem is, the only person who really knows a fur is vintage is the person wearing it — especially as fakes have gotten better and real fur has become ever more creatively odd. Even if you know you are acting responsibly, you still risk the opprobrium and anger of the crowd.

A long time ago, when I first moved to London, I had a fake fur coat that looked, honestly, like no animal ever seen in nature. I was wearing it one day as I walked past Parliament when an anti-hunting demonstration was going on, and I came very close to be being doused in paint by a protester who was convinced I was wearing an animal and only refrained when I shouted that it was a man-made fiber.

Since then, I have inherited a fur coat, a mink that my grandmother, who left school at 15, dreamed about, scrimped and saved for over decades, and that became part of her American dream. While I can’t part with it, I can’t bring myself to wear it.

I’ve even considered stitching a giant “vintage” patch on the back of the coat. Maybe there’s a business opportunity for an enterprising soul in creating a certification process, including logo, for used furs, but it hasn’t happened yet.

What has happened, however, is the rise of a new kind of business — in not just restyling (that’s been around for a while), but entirely repurposing old furs. That means transforming coats into blankets, pillows, hats, scarves and even zip-out linings so as to preserve their meaning without promoting their creation. Many small storefronts have sprung up on Etsy to address the issue, as well as companies with names like Muffle Up and Further.

Admittedly, the solution is better than the wordplay.

Every week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a reader’s fashion-related question, which you can send to her anytime via email or Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.

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