A mink stole is an item of women's clothing that is similar to a shawl or evening wrap. It is usually smaller and narrower than a shawl, but wider than a scarf. Mink stoles are often long and rectangular in shape, although some stoles may be triangular instead. Typically, it is made from the fur of the American mink and is often lined with silk or other fabric. A stole is worn wrapped around the shoulders, usually over a gown or other formal wear.
The fur used in mink stoles is that of the American mink — a small, carnivorous mammal found primarily in North America. It is a relative of the European mink, whose fur is also used to make garments. American mink are also related to otters, weasels, and wolverines. As a result of their fur's natural shine and softness, mink are often raised on fur farms so that their pelts may be harvested for clothing.
Domestic mink raised on farms are usually larger than their wild counterparts, thus yielding more fur. They may be bred to be white, black, or any color in between, whereas most wild mink are dark brown in color. The United States is one of the top producers of mink pelts, behind Denmark, China, and the Netherlands. Farming mink for their fur is a subject of controversy and debate.
To make a mink stole, the pelts of mink are first processed with chemicals and oils. This processing cleans the pelts and makes them softer and more flexible. The processed skins are then matched according to color and quality. Usually the heads, paws, and tails will be trimmed off, although some types of stoles leave these parts of the body intact.
The pelts are then sewn together, stretched, and shaped to the desired dimensions during a process called blocking. After blocking, the fur is sewn into a garment and cleaned once again. As a final step, a mink stole will usually be lined with fabric so that the leathery underside of the fur does not directly touch the wearer's skin.
A mink stole is most often worn at formal occasions over a dress or gown, providing warmth while keeping the arms free. Due to the high cost and quality of mink fur, many consider mink stoles to be a symbol of wealth or status. Mink stoles are also sometimes associated with a vintage or retro look.