What lead Europeans in the 17th century to desire beaver fur specifically? Why?
Fashion has been and is always something people are thinking about. Today there are many different styles and trends that everyone wants to try. It wasn’t much different in the 17th century. In the 17th century keeping up with fashion trends was just as important to most people then as it is now. One of the essentials for men’s fashion from the late 16th century to the early 19th century across Europe was the beaver felt top hats. The pelts that these hats were made out of were extremely valuable and were treated like family heirlooms that were passed down from father to son. These hats weren’t just for the commoners either though, if a man had one of these it would show his social status. These fashion trends and social status markers resulted in a high demand for the beaver fur top hats and by the late 17th century, beavers were practically extinct in Europe.
Luckily for the Europeans, North America provided an alternate supply. This supply had beaver pelts with some of the thickest fur in the word. These pelts were found in the Hudson Bay, and so in 1670, the Hudson’s Bay Company was born. The Hudson’s Bay Company did not make the hats themselves, but they were the main supply for the fur for the companies that did make the hats. Beaver furs were the top choice for the felt top hats not only for the thickness of the furs, but also because beaver furs are water resistant. Having a water resistant fur hat in a place with the same climate as England and Europe was extremely useful. Selling these beaver furs helped sustain the financial needs while Canada was in the making.
This is an important and significant question to ask about the past because there are many furs that we have today that we would choose over beaver fur and we may sometimes wonder why the Europeans chose beaver. Today we would choose furs like fox or chinchilla for their softness and look. By asking this question it shows us why they did choose beaver fur, for it’s thickness and water resistance. We also learn that if the fur trade did not happen, we may have been in a financial issue while developing Canada.
I believe that my researched events happen because there was so much demand for the beaver felt top hats, that they practically wiped out the species in Europe and they needed an alternate source. If the demand for these hats weren’t so high, then they wouldn’t need to get an alternate source and then the fur trade with Canada never would’ve happened. The consequence for such high demand was the near extinction of beavers in Europe. There was some good things that did come out of this though, the fur trade sustained Canada. Since Canada was not Canada yet and was still a developing country, the money from the fur trades and shipping the furs off to Europe sustained Canada financially while it was still being developed.
Our lives and conditions are similar to those found in my research in many ways but I think the main way we are similar is the want to follow and be a part of the fashion trends. Today our fashion trends are short and come and go, this leads us to buying cheap clothes that are “in style” then but we can throw it away when it’s out of style. This isn’t the exact same as the lives of those in my research but in both cases we are impacting our world in a way. With the Europeans, they were wiping out a plethora beavers just for their hats. We are filling landfills with clothes that we throw away just because they are “not in style”. These aren’t exactly the same but the both have an impact on our world. The way it has changed is the fact that there is such a little demand for real furs now a days and that we have the technology to make other materials, that we aren’t hunting specific animals for a extended period of time. We are also more aware of how our hunting impacts the world.
In conclusion I now know that what lead Europeans to desire beaver fur was the desire to keep up with fashion trends. Their fashion trends were also quite practical, and that is why they chose beaver fur because for their environment the water resistance and the thickness of the fur kept the rain from soaking through.