Gorilla Fur and Other Oddities
The conversion of dead animals into the garments of years ago still brings scary and wonderful effects. For instance, Capitol Hill's Red Light has a vintage cape said to be made of gorilla fur, which looks and feels like human hair and spills down in glossy black piles ($600). Why not pair it with bare feet and a postapocalyptic bubble perm to create the perfect look for stumbling out of an abandoned building? Or pick a different jacket from Red Light's impressive selection of furs, which rotates but often includes the typical varieties, such as fox, sheepskin, and rabbit. There's also a mid-length fetal-lamb coat with swirling clumps of hair resembling a cocker spaniel's ($90). Or the seal jacket: moderately beat-up though still perfectly wearable, the fur very soft and patterned with little spots so faint and precious that you'll want to cry and cry ($100).
Meanwhile in the University District, the Henry Art Gallery's extensive costume collection includes a monkey-fur hat with a floppy brim and stitched leather panels recalling medical sutures. The hair is clumped, wispy, and appears to have been sprinkled on in handfuls. It will remind you of peering into someone's scalp. (The Henry has plenty of conventionally beautiful items in storage, too, its staff asked me to mention, including a frothy Dior gown and an Indian paneled skirt with delicate flowers embroidered from metallic thread and beetles' wings.)
The hat dates from somewhere between 1910 and 1915, but monkey fur has drifted in and out of popularity for decades, and that is weird to imagine. Still, it's less weird than the fox-fur stoles with the shriveled feet and shriveled head attached. (The skull gets removed, perhaps to enhance the shriveling.)
Other historic oddities, from the New York Times archives, include 1960s hamster-fur coats, which sounds like the apocalypse. A 1933 special article describes wool textiles embellished with wild boars' hair or pig bristles, bringing a "chic shaggy surface." And "doggy street hats" trended at the same time, designed to "match your pet breed of canine; airedale, fox terrier and griffon felts are all notable." Ten years before, dog skins were a fashion don't, as T. Winfield Thackery wrote in his 1923 Popular Mechanics article: They're "heavy and coarse and only used in the cheaper trade, chiefly for rugs." He continues: "Even the house cat is pressed into service... although in color, weight, and warmth they are very good, the fur is apt to become loose and fall off. They are used mostly for coat lining."
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