Secondhand fur coats from the 1930s, '40s, and '50s are mainstays in thrift and vintage stores — but with all we know about how environmentally destructive and cruel the fur industry can be, can it ever be sustainable or ethical to wear a vintage fur coat? Is it better to wear faux fur instead?
This fur debate has been reignited after a TikTok creator said she was kicked out of a New York bar for wearing a vintage fur coat. Here are some details about her story, and some insight on whether it's OK to wear vintage fur or not.
A woman claims a bar kicked her out for wearing vintage fur.
In a January 2024 TikTok video, multimedia artist and model Alexandra Yvette (@preraphaelitequeen) said she was kicked out of a New York bar for wearing a vintage fur coat.
As she explained in the video, when she walked into a speakeasy, the bartender asked if her coat was real. She told him, yes, it is “really old” and from the '30s. His reply was, “That doesn’t matter. Fur is not allowed here. You need to leave.”
“I thought he was joking,” Yvette said. “It was like such an intense moment. I almost wanted to cry because it just felt like such a weird rejection. Then I was questioning my morals.”
“I feel like I didn’t get the memo that, like, wearing fur in New York is like, I guess, really offensive,” Yvette continued.
The coat in question was a vintage mink coat from the 1930s. It’s apparent from other posts on Yvette’s TikTok channel that she has a thing for the vintage look. Many of her videos show her modeling different pieces in her vintage clothes collection, including vintage fur coats and hats.
“I do feel OK with wearing vintage fur. I know that some people don’t agree with that, but personally, it’s never bothered me. I’d never buy a fur coat new,” Yvette said.
Several people who commented on Yvette’s video wrote that vintage fur is more sustainable than fast fashion and faux fur clothing.
“That’s ridiculous. Then people wearing fast fashion should also be kicked out,” said one commenter.
“I believe buying secondhand real fur and leather is more sustainable than buying brand new vegan clothes,” wrote another.
Is it OK to wear vintage fur?
Yvette’s video stirs up the debate on whether wearing vintage fur is morally OK. The discussion is split into two camps. Some people believe any real fur clothing, no matter how old, promotes the use and demand for real fur clothing, which is the product of the horrifically cruel fur industry.
PJ Smith, fashion policy director for the Humane Society of the United States, argues that wearing any kind of fur could inadvertently influence others to buy new fur items.
"While [vintage fur] could be perceived as better than buying new fur, it still perpetuates the idea that fur products have value and relevance," Smith wrote in a January 2024 blog post.
"If people see someone on TikTok wearing fur, used or not, there’s a risk that it could lead to the purchase of new animal fur products, creating a cycle of fashion that allows for fur to be viewed as acceptable," he continued. "Of course, the same can be said of faux fur, especially now that the quality is making it indistinguishable from animal fur."
Some vegans, vegetarians, and environmentalists may also just feel uncomfortable knowing that they are wearing the fur and skin (since fur coats include the animal's skin) of an animal who was killed for fashion.
Others believe that faux furs are worse for the environment and less sustainable than vintage fur clothing that has been around for decades.
Faux fur and other synthetic clothing contribute to microplastic pollution, which has been found in remote regions of Antarctica, according to a 2023 study by the Ocean Legacy Foundation.
However, faux fur is still more sustainable to produce than real fur. Fur production involves harmful emissions and the use of toxic dyes and other chemicals, PETA representative Ashley Byrne explained to Teen Vogue in 2019. Plus, all the chemicals that are used on treating fur (and leather, for that matter) mean the animal skins are not actually biodegradable, despite what some may think.
The debate will probably continue on for years. While it's true that the fur and plastics industries are both pollutive, anything is better than buying new real fur — or any other clothing item made from an animal's skin.