Women's gear, up first

Dawn Patrol

In Defense of Fur

For years I wrote off fur-trimmed gear as all look and no performance. I stand corrected.

Yeah, I’m a woman: You got a problem with that? (Bruce And Rebecca Meissner/Stock)
Photo: Bruce And Rebecca Meissner/Stock fur

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For years I wrote off fur-trimmed gear as all look and no performance. I stand corrected.

This winter a test jacket arrived in my office that made me rethink my assumptions about women’s gear. It was the Goldwin Charis Hybrid Down Jacket, built for resort skiing—and it had a faux-fur-trimmed hood. I set it aside. Clearly, I thought, this was not made for real skiers, since fur screams all appearance and zero practicality.

But as weeks passed, I started to feel guilty for shunning that jacket, which taunted me from the corner of my office like a marmot. After all, my mandate is to approach gear objectively, without bias. And the Charis has some bona fide technical cred: the four-way stretch fabric permits athletic movement, a powder skirt seals out deep snow, and body-mapped insulation puts moisture-resistant PrimaLoft in sweat-prone zones while Kodenshi down insulates the lower back and chest. So I wore it to my local ski resort for a few trial runs.

I was surprised to find that it passed my performance benchmarks for protection, comfort, and fit. But after initially failing to recognize me, my regular ski pals asked if I was wearing a costume. Strangers snickered at me on the boot-pack to the top of the run. The fur labeled me as a girl and, by extension, a poseur. And that ignited my defense of fur and every other outerwear detail (like the color pink) that signals femininity. My flowered hat, my powder skis with the fuchsia topsheet—these pieces of gear suddenly felt like badges of defiant nonconformity. Yeah, I’m a woman—you got a problem with that?

The Charis isn’t actually the first piece of fur-trimmed gear I’ve worn. Before it came the Rossignol Pure Elite 120, an alpine ski boot that looked as if a poodle had been stuffed into the cuff. But it was also the warmest boot I’ve ever owned—beyond the fluffy trim, the liner featured a layer of merino wool—and it positively ripped. It opened the door for me to notch faster speeds and more precision in the trees. It’s not an overstatement to say the Pure Elite was a transformative piece of gear, and I mourned the day when I had to retire those packed-out favorites. Had I spurned it because of the fluff, I would’ve missed out majorly.

Plus, fur does sometimes offer a performance benefit. According to polar explorer Eric Larsen, that strip of fur around the hood is properly called a ruff, and it’s a critical piece of gear in polar environments. “A ruff helps protect your face from wind and keeps a warm ‘tube’ of air close to your skin,” he explains. At temperatures of 20, 30, and 40 below zero, the warm-air buffer that the ruff creates plays a key role in staving off frostbite. “When I guide my polar training and last-degree polar trips, I require my clients to have parkas with fur ruffs,” Larsen says.

Admittedly, few of us venture to the poles, so the fur ruffs on our hoods probably have more to do with fashion than function.

That’s true not only for jackets but also for outdoor equipment, like snow helmets. Particularly in the 1990s, gear manufacturers used fur embellishment as a way to appeal to women, and all too often, women’s gear was just a dumbed-down version of the men’s stuff. Decorative fuzz was part of the “shrink it and pink it” movement that sought to capture women’s dollars without delivering optimized performance features. Consequently, fur—like the color pink and glittery trims—seemed to be full of condescension, as if the outdoor industry were saying, “We know you girls can’t handle real gear, so here’s a toy version with girly accents.”

That movement hasn’t fully faded into the past, which may be why many women remain stubbornly opposed to any embellishment that smacks of girliness—like fur. “I don’t want a furry hood, I don’t want furry boot liners, and I don’t want cutesy-soft fabric on my helmet inserts,” says Outside staffer (and badass shredder) Katie Cruickshank. “Frankly, I think it is embarrassing when I get a women’s helmet that has fur, or boots with furry liners,” she adds, because all too often fur trims add zero performance value. She gravitates to companies that “make gear for women who ride and ski hard, are strategic in their approach to design and technology, and that market to women who look, ski, and ride like me.” That means no bling.

I’m not much for bling myself. In fact, I like to see sports as one realm where women don’t have to uphold all the traditional rituals of femininity: you can climb with unshaved legs and ski without eye makeup. I don’t need to advertise that I’m a girl, but some women do—and I vehemently defend their choice to wear what they want. For people and gear, decoration only tells part of the story.

When we judge gear purely by its appearance, we’re playing by the shrink-and-pinkers’ rules. We’re giving way too much weight to appearance, when we should be looking past that—or at least considering what fit and performance features might await inside the wrapping. Merit isn’t defined by how stuff looks.

So ladies, wear what you like. If those fuzzy ear covers aren’t your jam, feel free to choose something else. These days, there’s generally more than one women’s option on the shelf, and that’s worth celebrating. There is no one “woman.” Let’s demand diversity in our designs, to serve beginners and experts, earthy types, and glamour goddesses. As long as fur is just one option among several, I say: bring it.

Filed To: Boots / Sports / Jackets / Skiing / Skin