Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
Each year, dignified professionals from every major industry cast off their business casual, zip up their fursuits, and flock to furry events around the world. According to Furry Hall of Fame inductee and historian, Fred Patten, 74, the term "fursuit" was originally coined in 1993 by former Midwest Furfest chairman Robert C. King to describe full-body anthropomorphic animal costumes worn to conventions.
Not all furries don the suit, but for those who do, there is a bustling industry of fursuit designers and creators to help bring their anthropomorphic dreams to life. Using faux fur, upholstery foam, meshes, worbla, pillow stuffing, DF Luxury Shag and Punky Muppet fabrics, various glues, thread, zippers, clays, paints and more, fursuit makers are experts in their craft and take their work seriously. Many talented designers have received such a high demand for their work that fursuit making has become their full-time job. Jill of Jill Costumes based in Seattle, WA started creating fursuits in college and has been working in the industry for over seven years.
"The value of fursuits to furries is no different than you or anyone else getting excited over a luxury watch or designer bag."
"I accept new commission projects about twice a year. Demand definitely exceeds supply right now, so I have to pick the projects that appeal to me most!" said Jill. Once she and her client have agreed upon a design, she requests a "duct tape dummy" and goes through her fur stock to find the best match and create a perfect custom fit.
"I feel that fursuits are furry couture—high art furry fashion. And the community has gotten so large that some costume makers have built really solid brands, and furries treat their work like anyone else would treat a designer accessory or garment. The value of fursuits to furries is no different than you or anyone else getting excited over a luxury watch or designer bag. Just a different aesthetic than what we'd consider ‘high fashion’ normally," said Jill.
Musician and furry enthusiast, Amadhia Albee agrees. Donning a cheetah tail in a live performance at this year’s Califur convention in Irvine, CA, she thrilled a dancing crowd of domestic, exotic, and invented animals with her hit song, "One Part Fashion, Two Parts Fun!" Albee’s lyrics proclaim that fursuits aren’t so different from animal-inspired mainstream fashion trends, and urges outsiders to broaden their minds:
Short skirts, smartphones, even auto-cars
All were seen when they were young
Like they were from Mars:
Everything that's cool todayNever started-out that way!
On the fringe or weird somehow,
You're commonplace in "Future Now"!
And Gucci, CoCo, even Calvin Klein
All reference nature in their
Smokin' hot designs!
So if I wear a tail, please 'splain to me
Why you think it's weird—
If I were French I'd simply be a fashion pioneer!
Similar to a custom wedding dress, the price range for a custom fursuit varies greatly by designer based on the material, detail of the garment, and how much a furry is looking to invest. In a historic furry fandom auction rivaling the recent bidding war for Princess Diana’s iconic Atelier Versace gown, "Angel Dragon," an American Kestrel Hawk hybrid fursuit by Phoenixwolf sold for a record high of $11,575 on FurBuy.com, the Ebay of furry swag.
FurBuy was originally created in 1999 by a polar bear named Jurann, who, at that time, was working as a senior web developer. As the site’s popularity grew, FurBuy’s staff expanded to include a grizzly bear, a beagle, a puma, a panther and three foxes. FurBuy started out as an archetypical "garage computing" website and after several years of struggling, was able to start generating enough revenue to have a professional server rack hosted outside of the garage, in a co-location facility. Jurann says FurBuy is not and has never been able to break-even despite being a not-for-profit system. He pays most of the site's costs himself out-of-pocket.
"On a typical day we are getting about 40-50 thousand page views and somewhere in the range of 9-15 thousand unique visitors. We're certainly by no means as big and active as some of the big-hitters in the web world but it's an appreciable amount of traffic for a furry sales site!" said Jurann.
Just like mainstream fashion trends, fursuit trends are constantly changing and evolving. According to Beastcub, a veteran fursuit designer, Dutch Angel Dragons and Monokits are the hot species of the moment in fursuit fashion, but she still receives plenty of requests for unique creatures.
"I have made several fursuits that would be considered unusual such as a chamois, a moose, a quail, silkie chicken, pronghorn antelope, hippo, elephant, dodo bird, a steenbok, the list goes on and on," said Beastcub. "But I would say possibly the most unusual species given to me to create was an anteater." Though many create a "fursona" (an anthropomorphic identity) only about 30% express their furry passion through fursuiting, says Beastcub. For those who want to suit up, the expressive cartoonish and realistic heads are the key to projecting a desired personality and interacting in the world as someone new.
"The heads I fully adore creating. Not only do I find the work the most fun, but it also the most rewarding as the head is the very heart and soul of the entire character costume," said Beastcub. "The rest is more a means to the end of bringing the costume to life, with the hands and feet being the biggest chore of all."
Beastcub also specializes in Quadsuits, a challenging costume that comes equipped with arm extensions so the performer can walk on all fours. Such costumes allow the performer to teeter on the edge of the viewer's reality, giving a far stronger illusion of being a real animal than a two-legged costume ever could. Beastcub says the quadsuits are overall more difficult and technical to make because the body shape has to be more heavily altered with padding, the head has to be better balanced, and the arm extensions require a complex design. These costumes are the most costly she creates, as they take significantly more time, hardware and skill to produce.
Another measure some furries take to establish their own unique anthropomorphic identities involves tricking out their fursuits with electrical and animatronic features. NeonBunny, a San Francisco based DJ, had LED lights built into both the head and body that he controls through a battery and processor he keeps in his fursuit pocket. The fursuit head was built with room for a single headphone can so he can perform original electronic dance music tracks like, "Eat, Sleep, Fursuit, Repeat" with the head on. NeonBunny met his current boyfriend at his very first convention in 2003. He feels that the furry spirit of acceptance aligns well with the values of the LGBT community. The San Francisco Bay Area Furries and Friends were notably out in full force at the SF LGBT Pride Parade following the SCOTUS ruling in favor of marriage equality.
"There are now plenty of straight people in the furry fandom, and everyone loves and accepts them for who they are," said NeonBunny. "But if they are the kind of person who can't be friends with LGBT individuals, they probably won't feel like they fit in."
NeonBunny currently hosts Frolic, a furry dance party on the second Saturday of each month at different local San Francisco venues. Dance parties and competitions are a much loved furry activity (to understand why, please see this $8,025 Justin Bieber-inspired "Lavender Corgi" suit dancing sensually on a mountain top in Utah and/or this band of creatures breaking it down to the Backstreet Boys’ "Larger than Life.") Twenty individual dancers and groups competed last year at Anthrocon, the world’s largest furry convention, held in Pittsburgh, PA. Anthrocon hosts workshops, charity auctions, a dealer’s den for artists, gaming, music, an open mic and more for over 5,000 furry enthusiasts. The upcoming 2015 convention will feature unique highlights such as a Ferret Photo Meet Panel, a Lion King Meet-up and a Gathering of the Scalies (reptiles and amphibians).
Although our nerdy intuition tells us that Fur Cons and Comic Cons would be close cousins, many furries feel that Comic Cons have strayed too far from their origins as a breeding ground for comic books, heroes, artists, cosplay and storytelling, and become more of a commercial event for production companies and manufacturers to try to sell you on the next big new movie or toy.
Many furries feel that Comic Cons have strayed too far from their origins as a breeding ground for comic books, heroes, artists, cosplay and storytelling.
"I have only attended Wizard World Comic Con of Sacramento, and the vibe is very different than the furry and anime cons I have attended," said Beastcub. "I felt like SacComic Con was just there for me to buy merchandise and autographs, whereas at [furry] conventions I felt more invited to socialize and party." And party they do.
Whether partying at the club in Cologne, Germany, the woods in Wilburton, Oklahoma, or the rain at Seattle’s Rainfurrest, the costume and wearer are likely to be soaked in sweat and in need of some ventilation. Most conventions offer a "headless zone" where cooling equipment is provided for furries to air out their heads and rehydrate. According to fursuit makers Ravi, a blue bengal tiger, and Tenki, a red amur tiger, of Grinning Tiger Disorder Studios based in Helsinki, Finland, fursuits must be cleaned on a regular basis to maintain their quality.
"We try to make our suits waterproof, but of course the safest way to keep the head clean is to use a moist towel and a brush," said Ravi. "A non-toxic textile spray is perfect if you prefer to keep the head fresh and clean from inside out. The body and the parts are all washable. I usually prefer to wash my suits by hand and brush the fur multiple times while the parts are drying."
As the furry community grows and the demand increases for fursuits, new designers are taking up the craft. Up-and-coming fursuit designer Talarus is a fourth-generation sewer just breaking into the fursuit industry. She’s currently working on building up her fursuit business, Green Eyed Goat Studio. "There’s many fursuits I see out there that I can instantly recognize by their makers. I’m still improving and growing with my skills, but I hope that one day I, too, will have a recognizable brand, and with that, a steady demand for my work," said Talarus.
Talarus is also creating Furries Against Humanity, her own version of the offensive and hilarious game Cards Against Humanity. She describes Furries Against Humanity as self-referential for some of the strangest things the furry fandom has to offer. The game will feature cards such as "Excruciatingly Graphic My Little Pony Fanfiction," "Hot Squirrel-on-Whale Action," and "Chlorine Gas Attack," a reference to a real incident in Chicago at Midwest Furfest.
Furries have grown to expect hostility and many hide their furry interests to avoid shaming from outsiders. "There’s some danger from others, especially in a crowd," said Talarus, who performs as Button, a happy-go-lucky sabertooth. "Some people will pull, poke and prod, seeing only a cartoon character and forgetting that it’s a person inside."
Patch O’Furr, a popular blogger beloved by the furry community, says the mystery of age, race, and gender inside the fursuit brings freedom to the wearer. "It intensifies your ideal personality," said Patch. "It's about indulging in free expression as a character, which can involve grown-ups shedding inhibitions and having a wild party.When people are open to a silly experience, it just might make them a little tingly. "
Although they recognize the sensational appeal, most furries begrudge the media for their laser focus on the sexual elements of furry culture. They feel it diminishes the breadth and diversity of interests within the fandom.
"Furries are the most misunderstood subculture in the world," said Khord Kitty, a white American shorthair house cat. "If people would treat furries as hobbyists instead of fetishists in public and the media then the furry fandom could be rightfully integrated as a respectable member of mainstream culture, like trekkies or otakus. At the moment the fandom is a feared, misunderstood freak show in the eyes of the public and I want that to change in my lifetime." Put your paws in the air if you just don’t care.
"At the moment the fandom is a feared, misunderstood freak show in the eyes of the public and I want that to change in my lifetime."
Although the river of furry fashion hasn’t yet emptied into the mainstream ocean of haute couture, there may be a fursuit estuary in our future. Just think of the transformative impact furry culture could have on unrealistic beauty standards if Sparkles the Silkie Chicken and Coconut the Capuchin Monkey were our style icons. Imagine all the room you’d have in your closet if you dumped all that crappy old fitness apparel and evening wear in favor of your Fox-Bird-Deer suit. Isn’t it time you started that Australian Cattle Dog family you always wanted? Break free from the cages of conformity, snuggle up with a community that accepts you unconditionally, dare to believe that you too, can one day twerk in Unicorn suit.