Historically, Ivy style has always championed durability and functionality. Nowhere is this truer than in the realm of outerwear, where such weathered classics as the toggle coat and balmacaan remain viable and timeless.
However, at certain vivacious moments in the style’s history, discerning collegiate sartorialists have exchanged the reliable for the resplendent, the austere for the ostentatious.
One such moment occurred in the 1920s, when young men threw off their tweedy raglans in favor of a far more flamboyant material: raccoon fur. University of Illinois football star Red Grange (1903-1991) and radio crooner Rudy Vallee are credited with popularizing the wide-collared, ankle-length raccoon coat, a fad which spread quickly across the campuses of the Northeast. The coats were particularly popular among young male jazz enthusiasts who garnered the nickname “collegiates” or Joe College.
The first wave of the fad ended with the dawn of The Great Depression, but the coat saw a brief revival in 1956. This second coming of the coonskin coat saw voracious demand for secondhand furs in, as the Lord and Taylor College Shop proudly announced at the time, “a state of magnificent disrepair.” An article in the New Yorker from August 17th, 1957 traces the origins of the revival back to a group of three young New Yorkers and a presumably jazz and smoke-filled party at their Greenwich Village apartment.
As legend has it, Sue Salzman was about to buy a used raccoon coat on a whim when it was snatched up by another customer. Bemoaning her loss at a party hosted by herself and her husband Stanley, she was approached by an acquaintence whose relatives were in the boys’ clothing business and just happened to have a warehouse full of old raccoon coats. This crop of furs was leftover from the wave of Davy Crockett Mania, during which time they were chopped and used to make coonskin caps. “Feeling manic” from their good fortune, the Salzmans purchased coats for themselves and for every person who attended their party.
After they began receiving inquiries about the coats, the Salzmans and their friend Benjy Bejan decided to go into business and let the fur fly. When Glamour magazine published a photo of a raccoon coat and credited them as the supplier, the trio received over 300 letters, phone calls and an urgent inquiry from Lord and Taylor. The department store was a collegiate style heavyweight at the time, and, as Mr. Salzman admits, “anything that Lord and Taylor does in college fashions is copied.” Once Lord and Taylor became involved, demand outweighed supply, and a trend was born.
It is no coincidence that the craze for fur coats arose during periods of unprecedented prosperity in which youths actively sought to redefine their own morality. In this age of traditionalism imbued with conservative nostalgia it is sometimes all too easy to forget that collegiate style once represented liberation from the dress of prior generations, a way to dress freely for those who lived freely.
Below are images from 1928, 1959, and from the Fall ’09 collection by Brooks Brothers (courtesy of Mister Mort), suggesting another raccoon coat revival might be just around the corner. Of course, that would negate the prosperity theory. — ZACHARY DELUCA
I would love to have a raccoon coat, trouble is, I live in Texas, and it would be wearable maybe 2 times a year.
A reader and Michigan State alum asked about the MSU photo. The LIFE shots from that set can be found here:
I’d love a fur coat–raccoon or otherwise–too, but I live in The People’s Democratic Republic of California, and would probably be splattered in paint and harangued by the intolerants from PETA as soon as I wore it out of the house, to say nothing of the fact that here, too, it would only be wearable once or twice a year.
I love the pictures, I had seen the Saturday Evening Post cover before but not the other pics. I have a feeling this may be the year raccoon makes a come back in the midwest. Expected cold weather and so many people buying gently used furs due to the economy. Just think how much we can save on our gas bills by wrapping in the warmth and luxury of a recycled fur!
Ever since I was a little kid growing up in the 50’s early 60’s — I have wanted a raccoon coat. Perhaps born in the wrong decade, I also missed the 50’s revival mentioned above. (RATS!) Now, many years later I have satisfied my desires and now own three different length raccoon coats. I love them. They are great fun to wear in the cold being the warmest coat possible. I love the comments too –varied, but all positive.
I am aware of the anti-fur movement, which appears more political than compassionate. However, I am very knowlegable of modern fur farming practices and am comfortable wearing my raccoon coats –all pre-owned by the way. Hopefully The Brooks Brothers offering will spark the latest revival! The economy be damned.
Kentfield, you should email me a photo of you wearing a coat. I’m sure we’d all be interested to see one in action here in 2009.
here it is, straight from Gentry Magazine (Fall 1956):
An ebay seller once had a raccoon coat by Langrock. An Ivy League Fad sold by an Ivy League outfitter. It was amazing.
It was also not my size.
I too would love a fur coat (racoon or otherwise). Alas, I live in South Carlina where it would be wearable, at most, once a year…
A belated follow-up that I have sent you a picture that you requested.
And to the others above — as I write this much later in 2011 – we should form an online group of sorts that promotes the “raccoon coat” as a classic icon, and a fun, fashionable and practical way to fight the cold.
email at firstname.lastname@example.org
What a great photo: in one image it sums up the “Ivy Style” readership and project perfectly: old white guys whose only connection to the ivy league is reading this website, engaged in live action role play of how they imagine their social betters to dress and act.
To the hilariously self-described “trads” who bemoan today’s culture and yearn to Make America Dress Great again: there are still very much class signifiers both worn and unworn (there’s a lot more inconspicuous consumption these days to be considered U), but they just haven’t been put into a book or appropriated by the schmatta trade for those of you in the flyover states to ape.
“TrueDat,” who hurt you?
Nice to see that Henry has been here since ‘09 with his always enjoyable comments.
Thanks, GS! I might have commented even earlier, back in aught-eight, but I’m not inclined to search for ancient comments just now.
The coat on the form appears to be beaver.
There’s a whole lot of Davy Crockett hats there. Yes Sir.
I’m from fly over country. Someone explain to me, other than personally tailored clothing what
brands of clothing carried by the iconic Yankee Ivy shops couldn’t be found in shops in almost every state in the union? Brooks may be the exception
Fly over country, along with the South, is the backbone of the US. Sadly, they may have to secede someday as California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois (because of Chicago), Massachusetts, Connecticut, RI, Michigan (because of Detroit) go under financially because of Liberal mis-management.
And the backbone of flyover country, especially the South, is the backbone is opioid addiction, white supremacy, and hillbilly Trump voters. Not coincidentally, none of the states you mentioned went for Trump except for Michigan. It’s also no coincidence that those states have the best universities in the world ….and where actual ivy leaguers tend to live.
As for the canard of fiscal mismanagement, New York, California, New Jersey, etc. are net tax payers (i.e, they remit more to Federal government than receive) and the Southern states are net takers. Succession would be the best thing that could happen for New York, California, and Massachusetts, so it would only be sad for those of you who arent’ fortunate to live in one of those states.
In fact, the 5 states with the lowest per capital GDP are Alabama, South Carolina, Arkansas, Idaho, and Mississppi:
Try looking at data instead of parroting whatever garbage you hear on Fox news.
But think how sound these now insolvent states would be( as they all used to be not that long ago) with honest and astute leadership. And with right to work laws!
Terrific article! Thanks for this postcard from the 20s and later.
Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day.
We have a lot to be thankful for: BB, J. Press, The Andover Shop, O’Connells, OCBDs, chinos, Weejuns, not to mention “Ivy Style”.
Bigoted much? I got to ask, what is President Donald Trump doing in your head this weekend?
Thanks for your concern and for using your real name here (I assume.) The only thing I like about Trump are his judicial nominations (picked by the Federalist Society) and his deregulation efforts. I voted for neither presidential candidate last time. I voted against our Red mayor here in NYC. I worked in the presidential campaigns of Nixon Vs JFK, Goldwater and Reagan. I have Jewish family members and close African American friends. My girlfriend for the past 16 years is as left wing New York as you can get and we have never had an argument. Nobody considers me a bigot.
I have lived in New York, Massachusetts, Maryland and Illinois; I consider myself an expert on corrupt and inept state government. I am on the New York County Republican Committee and am searching for gay and so called minority candidates to run for office. I invite all to join us at our West Side Republican Club monthly meetings on West 86th Street. I do not normally do back and forth but enjoy the give and take on this site.
Recently, I have seen several raccoons near the Hudson River; I am told they are most likely rabid so they would not be good candidates for coat material.
I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving and wish all readers of this site to keep a stout heart!
Yes Mac McConnell is my real name, although Mac is a nick name. If you came to KC looking for me using my legal first name no one would know who you were talking about.
I to have been involved in Republican politics. My first was Goldwater, the last BushII.
Buckle down Winsocki!!!