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Margaret Nyland was 23 when she emigrated from England and settled in Chicago. As the only girl in a working class family from Manchester, she came to the U.S. with the same ambitions that have always brought immigrants: she wanted a better life.

Two years later she married Herbert Brandenburg––a choice that likely scandalized her Irish-Catholic relatives back in England; Mr. Brandenburg was from a large Lutheran family with roots on Chicago’s south side.

Soon the couple had two adorable children, Doreen and Michael, shown here in front of the Little Flower Catholic Church in Roseland. Margaret worked at Chicago’s Mandel Bros. department store, where her English roots served her well. “People in Chicago just ate her up, with her British accent,” says her daughter Doreen. “She was from a working class family, but she had excellent taste and she was a great sales person.” Among her mother’s papers is a letter of commendation from Mandel Bros. for outstanding service.

Together, the Brandenburgs prospered enough that Margaret enjoyed many luxuries of the era, including the vintage mink-tail coat shown below. By many standards of the day, a full-length mink wasn’t really a luxury—it was a necessity for anyone who could afford one. “A fur kept you very warm during those cold Chicago winters, with week after week of temperatures at zero and below,” Doreen says.

Walking the streets of Chicago in a mink today carries its own set of perils; your toasty-warm backside might get you some very unwanted attention. I have seen it happen.

Ethical compunctions aside, wearing real fur feels pretentious to me. I once saw a woman walk into a restaurant and fairly well throw her mink to the floor. Or was she throwing it at the maître d? It was hard to tell. Anyway. It made a negative impression.

Have you ever wondered how and when women wore their mink stoles back in the day? My friend and golf partner Doreen obliges us with an answer. “On Sundays, you always brought out your best,” she said. “You wore a hat and gloves, and if you had a mink stole, you would certainly want to wear it to Mass.”

These minks are part of a collection of vintage costume jewelry and accessories Doreen is selling in my Etsy shop. Among the vintage costume jewelry are several gifts Doreen received from her mother. We’ll be adding pieces bit by bit, so check the Etsy site to see what’s available.

For fitting information, I tried on the full-length mink and it fit beautifully as a knee-length coat. I wear a six. This one was custom-made by the Roselawn Fur Salon which is (not surprisingly) no longer in business. The craftsmanship on this coat includes an amazing silk embroidered lining that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The coat and stole are both in immaculate condition.

Every since the raccoons tried to move in with us earlier this week, I’ve been trying to organize my thoughts about the animal kingdom. There are so many contradictions in our culture.

For example:

• A great many people who never wear fur will carry a leather purse without a second thought.

• Not everyone who cares about animals is a vegan.

• And I have some precious friends who won’t trap a mouse, but will squash a spider.

I do not naturally love all animals, although I’ve been very fond of a few. I would never wish to harm one deliberately.

I know this blog space has some socially-conscious readers out there who have opinions about these things. How do you reckon on the subject of the ethical treatment of animals? I would love to hear from you. I would especially love to hear from vintage enthusiasts who care about animals.

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.