Gentleman Scholar

When Can Men Get Away With Wearing Fur?

Advice for men who think a mink coat would be pretty comfortable right about now.

Please send your questions for publication to, or bring them up in casual conversation with the Gentleman Scholar. (Questions may be edited.)

Troy Patterson.
Troy Patterson.

Photo by Christina Paige

When, if ever, can guys get away with wearing fur?

Thank you for your question.

According to the Fur Information Council, just short of 5 percent of the fur sold in the United States is menswear. To be sure, men buy much, much more fur than that, purchasing women’s coats and stoles and asking nicely for gift wrapping, but it’s hard to find statistics on exactly how many purchases men make for their wives, or for their girlfriends, or for their wives who’ve found out about their girlfriends.

This 5-percent figure represents a decline from the days of yore. The tradition of men wearing fur predates the existence of men, technically, as animal pelts first caught on after a design house called Homme Neanderthalensis presented its fall/winter 100,000 B.C. collection. Likewise, the tradition of American men wearing fur predates the existence of America, as the Dutch settled New Amsterdam to trade beaver pelts. A beaver hat was an essential accessory for a fellow who hoped to hang with the likes of the Astors in the age of “the 400.

We think ourselves to be more enlightened than our forebears, and in some ways this belief is not delusional; therefore, the well-dressed gentleman must consider the ethics of assembling his wardrobe, just as the true gourmet must spare a thought for the rights of animals and make an active, informed decision to go ahead and order the foie gras. Ask yourself: Is my sartorial splendor more valuable than the life of a sable? Would a mink wear me if given the chance? Isn’t it always ethically defensible to buy vintage fur?

But the thing is, the risk of aesthetic disaster here is more severe than that of ethical error, and for the purposes of this discussion, a faux fur is indistinguishable from the genuine article. Fur is difficult for men to wear for reasons pertaining to precisely the qualities that give it appeal. Fur is at once quite primal (see those Neanderthals) and suprasensual (see Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s famous novel, with ermine adorning imperious women). Its richness and sumptuous luster are hard to square with the post-Renunciation principles of male dress. The too-muchness of fur is its virtue, so less is more, more than ever. The raccoon coat has its partisans and its Jazz-Age swank, but in this century it can never be more than a costume, and it’s tricky to wear one unless you are semi-ironically attending a college football game at the center of the world. Really, all fur coats are best avoided by men who are not named Kanye West. This goes double for tall men and triple-double for 6’9” hall-of-fame point guards. Magic Johnson in a fur coat looks like the Millennium Falcon’s first mate.

Stick to hats, collars, and glove linings. And when doing online research, be sure to consult and not, which is a whole ’nother thing.

I recently went to my regular barber, and while I tipped my normal healthy amount, I forgot to include a bonus holiday tip as a thank you for another year of outstanding service. I won’t be back for a while. Is there a good way to remedy this situation?

Thank you for your question.

I hereby decree that you have until Jan. 31 to catch up on all your holiday tipping. I do so with the knowledge that no one ever objects to receiving extra money at any time whatsoever (unless the situation involves surveillance vans and marked bills) and with the hope of soon finding the self-addressed envelope that the woman who delivers my newspapers slipped into the bag one Sunday last month.

I suggest dropping a bonus tip when next you are in the chair. This is the kind of gift best given with a personal touch. I rather doubt that your barber will be stewing at your stinginess in the meantime. I also suggest that you right now put a year-end reminder in your 2015 calendar.

And a whole lot of money in your savings account. Jesus, holiday tipping is expensive. It pains me to declare that the tipping guidelines recently laid out by Forbes magazine are entirely correct, as is its taxonomy of people who should receive a year-end little extra somethin’. These include people who attend to your cosmetic vanities with shears, nail scissors, and such, and people who attend to your home. (You ought to give your superintendent at least a $50 to hasten his responsiveness when you ask him to do stuff that really isn’t his job. You ought to calculate a tip for your doorman by considering the fanciness of your building and the quality of his service when looking after your deliveries or looking the other way when shadier guests come around.) Forbes’ third major category of tip-receiver is people who attend to your children’s needs and whims, and I think you ought to give a nanny an extra week’s salary, rounded up attractively, plus a small present purportedly selected by the child.