Friday, December 29, 2017

Doin' the Raccoon

Cover of "Doin' the Raccoon" sheet music, showing a man and women wearing full-length raccoon coat and starting a dance number together.
With the approach of 2018, we hope that you have plans to spend New Year's Eve in style, whether that be out on the town enjoying music, the company of friends, parties, or simply bundling up and and staying cozy at home with a good book and a nice drink. It can get cold up here in Hanover during the winters and, whenever the snow begins to come down outside Rauner's windows, we can't help but think of what it must have been like to weather a New England winter as a Dartmouth student back before efficient heating and double-paned windows were the norm. For Dartmouth students in the 1920s, part of a comprehensive strategy for staying warm was likely the purchase of a raccoon coat.

An ad from a 1927 issue of the Dartmouth student newspaper advertising raccoon coats as perfect for drivers of open cars. The cost is $350 and sold by a New York furrier.Raccoon coats were full-length fur coats that became a fashion craze on college campuses during the heyday of the Jazz Age, much like the ubiquitous Canada Goose parkas that so many Dartmouth denizens seem to sport nowadays. Like those parkas, raccoon coats were also quite an investment and could cost anywhere from $350 to $900 or more, depending upon the quality of the coat. To put that price in context, the cost of annual tuition at Dartmouth during the late 1920s was $400. Still, they were a must-have item for aspirational college men. The popularity of the fad, especially among elite institutions, is underscored by the lyrics of a 1928 song, Doin' the Raccoon: "Oh they wear them down at Princeton and they share them up at Yale; Oh they eat in them at Harvard and they sleep in them in jail."

A black-and-white photograph of Dartmouth students in raccoon coats waiting on the train platform for the train to arrive.
Dartmouth students, although not fortunate enough to be name-dropped in a hit song of the era, nonetheless diligently bowed to the demands of fashion. The Dartmouth student newspaper was filled with advertisements for raccoon coats (as well as baby seal and bear fur coats!) and, during Winter Carnival, the train platform was often swarmed by fur clad Dartmouth men eagerly awaiting the arrival of their dates to the party. We won't speculate as to the other strategies that students employed to keep warm during the Roaring Twenties, but it's clear that wearing raccoon was a non-negotiable.

To explore the issues of the Dartmouth student newspaper from the 1920s, come to the reading room and pull them off the shelf. To see the full lyrics and music to Doin' the Raccoon, ask for Sheet Music SM 1567. To explore the various Winter Carnival photographs in the archives, search the Dartmouth College Photo Files database or ask to see them in person in the reading room.