Fur Coats & Pearls= Future Jobs?

One of my fall rituals is picking up my fur coat, inherited from my Grandma Mae, from storage. I wouldn’t have bought my own fur coat but happily wear hers. There’s nothing like it on a freezing day and I love how her name is embroidered in the lining.  

I bring the coat every May to a fur salon nearby where the owners, mother Wanda and daughter Helen Wijatyk store it in a near freezing, temperature –controlled vault to preserve the fur during the hot weather. When the temperatures begin to drop in the fall, I retrieve the coat. When I wear it, I carry a bit of my grandmother around with me and listen to what she used to tell me.

This time, I brought a white-dyed mink that had been my Great-Aunt Sylvia’s, my grandmother’s sister, who died in July at 100.  I thought perhaps I’d have it turned into a cape or shawl. Not that I particularly needed anything, but liked the idea of recycling her old coat into something I too could pass on to my daughter or a niece.

Wanda took one look at the fur and knew it wasn’t worth tinkering with. Dried out, splitting upon touch, it hadn’t been cared for properly. She didn’t think there was anything she could salvage.  Even if she could, she lamented how she wouldn’t be able to give it any attention until the spring at the earliest.

She has more work than she can finish. “Look at me, I’m 84 and still working,” she said. 

I asked her why she couldn’t hire some help.  She came to the US in 1970 from Brezg, Poland. She’d trained as a tailor and worked in a fashion design house with a fur department and gradually learned how to repair fur and create her own patterns. Within a year of being in the US, she started her own business, still speaking very little English.

“Aren’t there students from vocational schools looking for work?”

Wanda shared some stories. They had tried several students over the years and weren’t happy with the work ethic or the skills.   One girl brought coffee and was drinking it while working. Another smoked and the smell pervaded the shop and the furs. Another talked on the phone the entire time. And their lack of skills couldn’t meet the demands of the shop- they took too long to complete a task.

“What about people from Poland who had been trained?”

Wanda sighed.  They had tried to hire these girls, who are skilled but don’t want to fix furs because  they can earn more money cleaning houses than working in the shop.

So Wanda continues.

In cleaning out Aunt Sylvia’s apartment, my cousin offered some of her jewelry. He had sold most of it but had kept a few pieces, including a box with several strands of pearls.  He (and I)  had no idea if they were real or not.

I brought them to my local jeweler.  One strand he knew was costume jewelry. The two others he examined first with a one-eyed magnifying glass called a loupe. Then he gently rubbed the pearls along the biting edge of his top front teeth.

He explained that if the pearls feel rough like sand or grit, then they’re real.  Nacre, the organic substance secreted by mollusks that creates pearls, produces this surface. Imitation pearls would be smooth.  These two proved to be real and in perfect condition to give to my daughter and my niece.

Leaving the each store, I couldn’t help think about jobs. Are young people becoming jewelers? Knowledgeable about what makes a pearl real, how to fix watches and broken necklace chains? What about furriers?  Shouldn’t the inherited furs from grandmothers and aunts be able to be preserved?

Here seems two professions at least that need skilled workers.

I wrote about jobs here and here.

Do you have anything passed on to you from an older relative?


About cyclingrandma

I was a journalist (Danbury News-Times, Ct), before becoming a teacher, and continue to write for professional journals. I have written several study guides for Penguin Books and write for Education Update, a newspaper based in New York City. (www.educationupdate.com). I’ve interviewed many authors, college presidents, and scientists. I wrote “The Kentucky Derby’s Forgotten Jockeys” for Smithsonian Magazine's website, www.smithsonian.com. (April, 2009). Two essays have been published in book anthologies; one for Wisdom of Our Mothers, (Familia Books) and the other in “College Search and Parent Rescue: Essay for Parents by Parents of College-Going Students.” (St. Martin’s Press). I was a middle school Language Arts teacher for more than 10 years and have just completed a five year grant position under No Child Left Behind in Newark, NJ public schools. I have three children, two daughters-in law, and six grandchildren. I'm an avid cyclist, knitter, cook, and reader. I love theater, museums, and yoga.
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18 Responses to Fur Coats & Pearls= Future Jobs?

  1. judy says:

    This is so interesting, Lisa. I have often wondered about many of these sort of lost arts/talents. Locally, we have several jewelers and our state of NC has a couple of jewelry making schools. But who will take Wanda’s place?! This part of the craft/design industry should be promoted!


  2. I have a fur left to me by my mother-in-law. I love it too. i also have a cashmere, mink trimmed coat. I take it each ear to the cold storage and pick it up. I love wearing them both. I have purchased two coats on sale when Summit Furs went out of business. It was fun. The worse part of living in a small place is that I do not have the luxury of my large walk-in closet. My son is upset each year when the coats have to go into his closet. I do not have real pearls. i gave away s lot of her costume jewelry. It is hard to find good jewelers. When I worked in Brooklyn, I met several women who were jewelers and one whose husband is a jeweler. Each woman was wearing an amazing ring. The one married to a jeweler was lamenting how her husband worked all the time and had no help.


  3. adinparadise says:

    I have a beautiful mink zip up jacket which I never have the chance to wear because it doesn’t get cold enough where we live now. We’re going to New York for Christmas, and I thought I’d have a chance to wear it, but find that I’ve left it in my house in South Africa, not here in Florida. 😦 I’m sure that you’re right about these dying arts. I think the old craftsmen passed the skills down through the generations, and they’re now becoming lost. Very sad.


  4. I think with climate change we will all have less and less chance to wear our old furs. What resonated with me is the work ethic part. There was an independent drug store in our old town in Rumson and I became a friend of the manager since I did some ad copy for her. She said the high school students they hired never worked out – always late, uncooperative and lazy. But you are right, vo-tech high schools and community colleges should expand their offerings! Also the jewelry business was limited to men awhile back because Hasids dominated the diamond trade, today it is a wide open field for women.


    • My brother has trouble with high school kids – very different business- golf range. They aren’t reliable- sometimes it’s the parents’ fault- not allowing the kids to make a commitment.


  5. zannyro says:

    Really interesting! I have a fur that I ‘rescued at a garage sale”…I keep it…and someday, I’ll figure out what to do with it!


    • But if you don’t take care of it, it will dry out. My mother has a seal coat that is in tatters- beyond repair as much as she loves it. I pay under $45 a year to store it- it’s worth it! Enjoy!


  6. I love the rituals of these things you do, as well as the rituals of these very special jobs.


  7. Northern Narratives says:

    I also wonder about these jobs. I hope they don’t disappear.


  8. Barbara Klein says:

    These old crafts and skills should not be lost. Maybe they would provide more of an opportunity for meaningful work and income than some of these trendy boutiques that abound


  9. So true – these are professions that are important. My favorite jeweler just retired and sold his business. His lovely little shop is now being converted into a law office. It has broken my heart because he was wonderful and I have nowhere close by (and no one trust) to take my rings, charms, etc., for repair or resizing.


  10. Pingback: Talking to Strangers: Fur Coats, Downton Abbey, & Cremation Lockets | cyclingrandma

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