Young Folks Go Fur It," read the headline in USA Today. "Sales Boom." The story went on to tell readers that retail sales of furs tripled between 1975 and 1985 to a whopping $1.6 billion. Further, it said, "the average age of first-time buyers fell from 50 to 26." Twenty-six?
And they're not buying rabbit fur. Mink accounted for 60 percent of the sales, followed by raccoon and fox. The story quoted Sandra Blye, executive director of the American Fur Industry, as saying: "One of the biggest reasons is that so many women are working. They're buying their own furs.
"Furs are part of the wardrobe now," said Blye. "It's not considered a luxury item."
On the one hand, this was very good news: It meant that furs were no longer an ostentation, something well-to-do-women wore to the opera and fancy French restaurants. Minks were now a necessity -- right up there with a microwave. The bad news, however, was that my wardrobe was clearly deficient. It's been a while since I've been 26 and I still don't have a mink. I don't even have a fox. I'm not even sure that the fur on my cloth coat is real. The closest thing I have to fur is my cat, and I'm afraid she'd be quite distressed if she ever discovered I'd thought of her in those terms.
I had never given the business of a mink coat a great deal of thought until the past few years. Nor, I might add, had I given a great deal of thought to owning a yacht or an oceanfront mansion. These were luxuries, just like minks used to be. Two things occurred, however, that made me rethink my position on mink coats.
First, my sister got one. Full-length. A gift from her husband. We're talking gorgeous. It looked sensational on me. It felt sensational on me. A little big on me, she pointed out, firmly disengaging me from it. When your sister has just gotten a new mink coat and you've just gotten a new cloth coat, you begin to rethink your life, not to mention your position on minks.
Second, a friend in her late twenties showed up for a lunch date last winter wearing a mink. Full-length. Gorgeous. A gift from her father who lives in Pittsburgh.
"Yes," she said demurely. "He wanted to make sure I was warm enough in Washington."
Ever since these incidents occurred, I have had a secret longing for a mink.
Looking back, I realized that I was raised with the notion that mink was something "older women" wore and that it was inappropriate adornment for "younger women." Younger women had their youth; older women their minks. This social standard, I have no doubt, was devised to take the heat off younger women to have minks and thereby take the heat off whoever might be buying them minks. For a good many years, I didn't give minks much thought simply because I was too young to wear one.
Furthermore, whatever longings I might have had for a mink in my present or future life were neatly suppressed by my firm conviction that it is wrong, wrong, wrong, to kill any living thing just to create a coat. This is the moral position for eschewing mink coats. It is a much more high-minded position to take than having to say to yourself that the only reason you don't have a mink is that you can't afford it.
I've discovered, however, that one's viewpoint on these matters can change with only a limited exposure to the other side of the argument. Five minutes in a mink coat can do wonders. Besides, said a friend, minks are vicious little creatures. It was getting easier to rationalize having a mink all the time. The only problem was affording one.
The USA Today story didn't say so, but I suspect that a great many of the 26-year-old women buying minks are professional women who don't have children to support. The only way I could afford a mink would be to write a best-selling novel that would be turned into a miniseries and make me a potful of money -- or else stop feeding my children. If they could go without food for a few years I could buy a mink, but they can't go without food for even a few hours.
I was in Florida recently with my parents and somehow the topic of mink coats came up. It seemed like a particularly auspicious moment for me to tell my father about my friend whose father had bought her a mink coat. I finished up the story by saying, "Doesn't he sound like a really terrific father?"
I expected him to come up with the usual answer, which was "You're too young to wear mink." He did not. Instead, he replied: "Fathers aren't supposed to buy mink coats. That's what you go out and find a husband for."
I didn't get my mink, but I did get a whole new angle on marriage.