Yesterday we noted that the Humane Society of the U.S. was calling out Strawberry retailer for selling faux faux fur. More specifically, the company is selling real fur vests (made of raccoon dog fur) and labeling them as fake fur (something many stores before them have done). But why? We asked Patrick Kwan at the HSUS to enlighten us, and unsurprisingly it comes down to cost. He says, "Low quality animal fur (which can sometimes be scraps) can actually be cheaper than the new high quality fake fur (usually made from tufts of acrylic fibers that are held in place by weaving them into a backing of fabric)."

How can the consumer (or for that matter, the protester tossing red paint) tell the difference? Both animal fur and fake fur come in many different colors and lengths, so it can be hard to differentiate. The HSUS has a handy guide with images (which you can find above), and their basic field guide tests are below:

You can tell this is real fur because it looks like a puppy.
  • 1. Check the base of the fur for skin or fabric. Push apart the fur and look at the material at the base of the hairs.

  • 2. Check the tips of the hairs for tapering—if it looks like a cat's whisker or sewing needle, it's real.

  • 3. The Burn Test (only if you own the coat!). Animal hair smells like human hair when burned; fake fur made from acrylic or polyester—the two most commonly used synthetics—does not. Carefully remove just a few hairs and then, holding them with tweezers above a dish or other non-flammable surface, ignite them.

The above photo shows a high quality faux fur vest, sold at Henri Bendel, by a company called Imposter. Also pictured, adorable little raccoon dogs, which are a member of the dog family though more closely resemble raccoons. A majority of mislabeled fur comes from raccoon dogs, including the vests at Strawberry. From our experience, it's pretty easy to tell the lower quality faux fur apart from real—and as shown from the real fur hat above, if your instinct is to pet it, it's probably real.

UPDATE: Regarding finding out your faux fur is real, Kwan tells us, "The Coats for Cubs program of The Humane Society of the United States returns the furs back to the animals by repurposing them as bedding to comfort and keep orphaned and injured wildlife warm. The donation can also be tax-deductible!"