Remake that hand-me-down fur into a wardrobe staple

cbolling@charlotteobserver.comFebruary 5, 2014 

  • • A good quality faux fur can also have a long life in your wardrobe. A traditional tailor can make changes in faux fur, modernizing sleeves, collars and hemlines.

    • Faux fur is less expensive than real fur and some favor it because North Carolina’s mild winters mean you have more opportunities to wear it and not get overheated.

    Faux fur vests range from $48 at Kohl’s to $180 at Nordstrom and $248 at Neiman Marcus. Prices for genuine fur coats range widely, depending on the type of fur, the size of the coat and the designer. They can range from just over $1,000 to the tens of thousands of dollars.

The fur industry, which reached $1.2 billion in U.S. sales in 2012, is aiming to make fur more appealing to younger generations by creating more streamlined, tailored pieces that look nothing like grandma’s bathrobe-length longhair coats.

Susan Hagy spends her days overseeing fur transformations at Douglas & Montaldo’s Furs on Park Road in Charlotte.

“We call it the ‘chop shop,’ ” says Hagy, laughing.

Hagy says customers are often shocked when they realize how many ways they can alter their fur.

Some women, especially those in their 20s and 30s, approach Hagy holding their hand-me-down coat at arm’s length away from their bodies, unsure if they want to keep it or sell it to the store.

Hagy has them play dress-up with the other coats around the shop to get a sense of their fashion tastes, lifestyle and vision for where they’d wear a fur coat.

For instance, a floor-length mink coat can be transformed into a shorter jacket, with the leftover fur being used for a vest or scarf. A fur cape can be made into a vest lined with silk or cashmere.

Even a fur that’s rotten in spots can be taken apart, mixed with fur in a contrasting color or a rich cashmere fabric and remade into a coat or vest.

One easy way to modernize a coat, Hagy says, is to shear the hair on the fur. Shearing makes the coat less bulky and formal, leaving it more velvety and casual.

Fur alterations typically take two to six weeks, depending on the extent of the work, and require a specialized sewing machine that creates miniscule side-to-side stitches. Douglas & Montaldo’s employs three furriers who create patterns and cut and sew the fur, as well as four “finishers” who sew in linings and closures. (The company wouldn’t give a price range for alterations.)

Deciding whether to alter or sell a fur coat (many fur sellers will buy used coats to resell or chop up to create new ones) can take some thought.

First, the condition of the coat will determine what’s possible. Any portion that is dry rotted will be unusable.

Most coats that come in for alteration are in usable condition, says Douglas & Montaldo’s owner, Gregory Albert. The areas that are exposed to the most body heat, such as under the arms and the back of the neck, are often the most damaged. (Fur experts recommend having furs cleaned and conditioned once a year and stored in a climate-controlled environment.)

Next, consider where the coat will be worn.

“Shearing it makes it less pretentious,” Hagy says, so shearing is recommended as part of a more casual wardrobe, as well as shortening a full-length coat into a short jacket or a “stroller,” a fingertip-length jacket.

In Charlotte’s mild climate, many women opt for fur vests they can dress up with dresses or dress down with jeans.

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