A long time ago, I read somewhere a movie review where the shortness of the lead actor was compared to the willowy height of the leading actress as “he looked like a midget walking in a trench”. This describes perfectly how I look when wearing a fur coat. I said so to my friend Jane when she insisted on dragging me to the furrier’s located on the first floor of Rumpole’s office building. This was back some 28 years ago, up north – a place where it made sense to wear fur coats in the winter-time.
Jane was a fashionista who loved clothes of a luxurious cloth and cut. She badly desired to own and wear a gorgeous fur coat of the latest design. She did own a dilapidated mouton coat inherited from her grandmother. It had leg of mutton sleeves which added football-player proportions to her otherwise slim build. When wearing this “poor woman’s mink” coat she looked unsteady on her thin legs which looked like inadequate stilts with which to support a bear-like bulk.
On a cold December Saturday, after having done her sheep pen and meat rabbit hutch cleaning chores, she phoned me to request my assistance in negotiating a trade of her lamentable mouton coat for a brand new, luxe, fur coat at the downtown furrier’s. We were to meet at a nearby coffee shop to prepare ourselves for the fur-trading process. Jane was a keen and experienced bargainer and rehearsed her methods well in advance of the actual dickering.
I buttoned myself into my favourite winter coat for casual wear – Apu’s old plaid hunting jacket that hung to below my knees and with twice rolled up sleeves kept me snug and warm at -25F winter temperatures. At the coffee shop, Jane picked her jaw up from the table surface and announced “you can’t go fur shopping looking like that!” Her grandmother’s ratty mouton coat hung from the back of her chair like a forlorn dead thing.
“Well, no matter how you look at it, we are going to a place where the hides of dead animals are displayed. There is no sign of the carnage that accompanies the production of furs. The least you and I could do is to attend there in the roles of both the hunter and the hunted,” I responded in my best sarcastic fashion.
We drank a couple of cups of coffee. Jane rehearsed approaches toward the clerk which might incline him to give her a good trade up to the desired fashionable fur for her disreputable old one. We worked up the nerve to cross the street and brave entry to the fur salon. I trailed after Jane into the showroom like a hunter stalking prey.
An effete young gentleman greeted us effusively as if we were “grande dames” wearing the latest in winter furs. He gave no hint of what must have been going through his mind (These two characters look fresh off the farm… if not the farm then the trap line?) Jane, in her best shopping manner, told him what kind of coat she had in mind, the colour, the cut, the kind of fur, and the occasions it was intended for. The young clerk swanned about bringing with elegant flourish one amazing fur concoction after another. Jane tried them all on and posed graceful as a fur model in front of the three-way mirror. I stayed in the background, unbuttoned from my hunting coat, trying to sit as prim as possible, mukluks crossed in a lady-like pose and twiddling my fingers. My mind strayed from the fashion show on hand to the contrast of smell between the perfumed fur sales room and my memories of the reek of mink and chinchilla farms as my family had driven by them many summers ago on the way to the local swimming hole.
Jane mentioned trading up from her mouton to a new below-knee length blonde mink coat. This smartly brought my wondering mind back to the situation at hand. She handed over her coat to the young man. He appeared reluctant to lay his hands on it and held it out between his pinched thumbs and forefingers as he looked it over. With a disdainful expression on his face and holding out the coat as if he feared being sullied by its proximity to his person, he smartly marched over to a garbage can and dropped the mouton coat into it.
“No trade-in value here!” he announced as he wiped his fingers in fussy gestures against his pant legs. Poor Jane was mortified as she retrieved her coat from the garbage can, put it on and buttoned up.
The clerk turned his back on us, dismissing us. As Jane was shepherding me to the shop door, I could not resist a parting shot.
“I do need a good casual fox jacket to wear while mucking out the barn. Can you suggest a little something for me?”
To this day, Jane still has not replaced her grandmother’s mouton coat, as far as I know. It does keep her cosy and warm on those bone-freezing mornings when she does her farm chores.