Amidst the euphoric scenes of Brits celebrating the Queen’s platinum jubilee, many saw the parade of the regimental guards with their enormous fur hats as a reassurance of the UK’s might in the world as well as a flashback to its once worldwide imperial power. For others, albeit a tiny minority, all we saw was a bunch of antiquated buffoons marching with dead bears on their heads.
It takes one whole Canadian black bear to make one of these Marge Simpson hairpieces, the tradition enduring for some 200 years with all five regiments of the Queen’s guards. The bears are shot and trapped in a supposedly annual cull with around 100 pelts needed each year by the UK hat maker. So much for the Royal family’s PR push which often presents them as champions of conservation and the protection of wildlife.
It would be a simple and far cheaper move to make all the bearskin hats out of a synthetic as has already been done with the smaller but equally preposterous busbies, currently employing black nylon fur. Unless a couple of black bear cubs are ceremoniously slaughtered for the cameras in front of Buckingham Palace, it’s unlikely public opinion will ever call for such a change.
When it comes to a large public display of tradition such as the recent platinum jubilee, history is easily sanitised. The wealth of imperial England and indeed its Royal lineage was built on the backs of colonial oppression and often shocking cruelty. Present day pomp and pageantry is a legacy of that exploitation but makes no apology for the sins of the past. It’s left to the Barbadians and Jamaicans, where the memory of slavery still festers, to tell the Royals to take their ceremonial bobs and bangles and shove off.
Whilst animal skins are still widely used to make many items of human apparel, it’s no secret that furs are on the outer – at least in many Western countries. Granny’s creepy fox fur stole has long been consigned to a dusty box in the garage and animal activists have been most effective in killing off most of the fashion fur industry. In Australia we currently show enormous concern for the survival of koalas but seldom mention that millions were killed for the fur trade during the 1800s and early 1900s.
Kangaroo skins are still widely used to make moccasin style shoes and various items of clothing such as hats and baby rugs. There are signs though that so called ‘k-leather’ is losing public favour with many of the large fashion houses like Prada banning the use of the product. Our national animal is okay for a burger or pet food but not so for a stylish leather jacket. I’m not sure if they are still available but the somewhat gruesome kangaroo paw shoe horn was once a staple item in many Australiana souvenir shops.
Clothing yourself in an iconic Australian marsupial might now be a bit on the nose but not so in New Zealand where our expat brush tail possum is regarded as a feral pest, with open season on hunting them, eating them and using their fur in all manner of so called fashion items. A designer air force bomber jacket, trimmed with possum fur (as advertised on the net) will set you back a mere $2,799 (NZD). No doubt for a small extra sum they will use the hapless possum’s tail to embroider the words ‘WANKER’ on the back.
You can only hope that when the Queen, who seems to have longevity on her side, celebrates her next big occasion, her regimental guards will have seen the light and converted to the admirable fake fur nylon washable look. Maybe a live black bear could be imported from Canada to act as a ceremonial mascot or even share the Royal carriage (sedated of course). A big fuss was made about world famous ‘Paddington Bear’ during the recent jubilee – what about his less well known Canadian cousin?