Raccoon Coats – The First Vintage Clothing Hit?

Raccoon coat wearing football fans, c. 1930

The raccoon coat originally grew in popularity in the 1920s, alongside college football. Late fall games were not comfortable for fans sitting in open stadiums, and raccoon coats (a more affordable choice than expensive farm-bred mink or fox) became a fashionable way to stay warm. The popularity for the coats peaked just before the stock market crash of 1929, and as they fell from favour during the early 1930s, supplies surpassed demand. The bulk of the unsold coats went into storage where they languished until the Davy Crocket coonskin cap craze of 1955 resulted in many of the old coats being repurposed.

Coonskin cap, c. 1955

In 1957, New York socialite Sue Salzman was telling a story at a Greenwich Village party about how she had hesitated on buying an old raccoon coat, but that it had sold by the time she had decided she wanted it.  A guest who had heard the story told her that if she wanted a raccoon coat, he could put her in touch with relatives who had a warehouse of jazz-age raccoon coats. Sue promptly went into business acquiring and reselling the coats to retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor. Some were sold as is, some recut and relined. However, like thirty years before, their popularity faded after a few years.

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About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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