So-called "faux" fur may actually contain dog hair, according to Humane Society of the United States investigations.

Inspectors for the Humane Society say fur from a canine species known as the raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides) was found on garments labeled as being "faux-fur."

(Raccoon dogs in Japan; Credi: 663highland)

During the recent winter holiday shopping season, for example, Neiman Marcus advertised and sold animal fur online as being "faux." The item in question was a $1,300 Burberry women's jacket. 

"Neiman Marcus has repeatedly sold garments where the animal fur was

misrepresented or even described as fake fur," said Pierre Grzybowski,

manager of the fur campaign for The HSUS. "How many of this latest

jacket were sold to unsuspecting consumers who thought they were buying

fake fur?"

Burberry has since changed its marketing for the item, but this is just one example in a long line of misrepresentations by other brands and retailers. In fact, "finnraccoon" is a well-known term used by the fashion industry to market fur from the raccoon dog, a canine indigenous to east Asia.

The problem also doesn't only impact individuals concerned about animal welfare. Buyers willing to shell out big bucks, thinking they are getting clothing made from the fur of exotic animals, may actually be wearing common farm animal hair.

Case in point- an HSUS investigation last August found that Neiman Marcus sold $1,500 fur-trimmed Manolo Blahnik boots

that were advertised as "natural ocelot fur" — an endangered species

that would be illegal to sell under the Endangered Species Act. After

The HSUS brought this issue to the public's attention, a Neiman Marcus

spokesperson admitted it was goat fur.

Bergdorf Goodman last year was also found to have sold unlabeled fur-trimmed jackets in violation of New York state law.

According to the HSUS, "false advertising or labeling of fur is punishable under the Fur

Products Labeling Act by up to one year in prison and/or a $5,000

fine. The use of trade names on labels to describe the animals is


The HSUS is pursuing a consumer protection lawsuit against Neiman

Marcus and other retailers in the District of Columbia, and is also

urging Congress to pass the Truth in Fur Labeling Act, S. 1076, by

Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, and H.R.

2480 by Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va., and Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., to

require accurate labeling of all animal fur-trimmed garments,

regardless of dollar value.

Dollar value is mentioned because an apparent loophole in the federal law allows clothing manufacturers to not fully disclose information about fur if the item is valued at $150 or less.

If you have purchased items thinking they were fake fur, but now aren't sure, Grzybowski advises that you try the following home test:

  • First, look at the base of the "fur." If you see sewn threads, that's a good indication the material is indeed synthetic. Usually real animal hair will still be attached to its skin.

  • Pull a few strands of "hair" from the item.

  • Place them in a small fire-proof dish and light them with a match.

  • Smell the resulting fumes.

  • If you detect a plastic odor, the fur is probably fake. 

  • If you still can't tell, try burning a few strands of your own hair and compare the smell with that of the burnt strands from the clothing. They both should emit similar odors. (Mammal hair is made up of similar proteins, oils and other components.)

Earlier this week you might have seen the Discovery News slideshow on how experts struggle to identify forgeries from genuine artifacts. Here is a rare instance where authentic fakes are desired.