Excerpt from the book “They Call Me Orange Juice” by Audrey McDonald Atkins
One of the things I love the most about Alabama is that one day it can be nearly 70 degrees, and the next day snow showers are predicted. Yesterday I was very nearly glistening. Today I am shivering. Yesterday I wore a T-shirt. Today my first thought was, “Hot damn! I can wear my fur coat!”
Now before you go out hunting for your red paint and start screaming about fur being dead, let me go ahead and tell you that my fur coat is fake. There, I’ve said it — fake, mock, phony, pretend, artificial. But, boy, is it glamorous!
I have, however, been fascinated by fur coats as long as I can remember.
Mama has had several beautiful fur coats over the years. She had a champagne sheared muskrat coat and a beaver coat we bought on a trip to Montreal. It was on that trip to Montreal when I realized that coats were not confined to your everyday mink, foxes, rabbits, and other woodland creatures. It was there that I saw an orangutan coat. Monkey fur. It was weirdly orange and stringy. I had to put it out of my mind.
My favorite was a splendid chestnut-colored broadtail coat with a ranch mink collar that Mama had when I was a little girl. Daddy bought it for her at Raphael’s, the swanky women’s clothing store in Mobile, and I thought she looked like a movie star when she wore it! I remember resting my head on her lap in church and her covering me over with it. It was incredibly soft, and the mink tickled my nose. It was heavenly.
What was not so seraphic, however, we’re the beady little eyes that would invariably be staring at me from the pew in front of us. I was both fascinated and repulsed by stoles made from pelts joined mouth to tail around an old lady’s throat. The glassy stare, the sharp claws, the little flat ears — all very menacing, if you ask me. And a little too close to the source for my taste.
Anyone who wears fur has to be able to mentally separate the fashion statement and its origins. If your coat has an expression, nay even a sneer, well, it just isn’t quite as elegant.
But the stole, preferably headless, has secured its place as the answer to the southern lady’s dilemma of wanting to wear fur while being constantly thwarted by unseasonably warm weather. Granny Mac had one with her initials stitched on the silvery satin lining, which is simply a must if you are going to wear fur. After all, when your mink is thrown casually over the back of the chair as you dance the night away at the Mardi Gras ball, how will everyone know it’s yours without your monogram to give them a clue?
And they will also know where it was purchased. You see, when I got my first, and only, real fur coat for my eighteenth birthday, I was dismayed to find that the Metzger’s tag had been sewn into the neck upside down! How could they? Didn’t they notice? And, furthermore, even if every discerning eye at Metzger’s had let this egregious mistake slip by, Granny would have surely noticed when she bought it. Wouldn’t she?
Embarrassed to tell Granny that there was a flaw in her otherwise flawless gift, I turned to Mama. Could we get it fixed?
“Oh, no,” Mama said with a laugh, “you don’t want to fix it! It’s supposed to be that way!”
You see, she enlightened me, when you are at that Mardi Gras ball and casually shrug your wrap off over the back of your chair, the label, upside down when worn, will appear right side up to passersby.
How deliciously sneaky, I thought.
And so it goes that I have always loved fur, its feel, the abject luxury of it as much as I’ve been fascinated by its societal nuances and its darker, snarling side. Thank goodness for cold snaps, synthetic fibers, and glamour without a sinister grin!