There are few fashion-related acts that spur a more visceral reaction than wearing fur -- if this taboo were a planet, rage and disgust would be its moons. As a fashion student, the fur dialogue is frequently approached from a subjective, impassive manner. Our professors matter-of-factly teach us the different demands and price points of fox, mink and rabbit, and assume we’re familiar with the “hand” (fashion-speak for “feel”) of real chinchilla versus a faux alternative. Granted, I’m talking about an industry that laughs in the face of practicality.
I never would have rationalized or glamorized purchasing an animal’s pelt before I spontaneously made my first real fur purchase -- a wine-colored fox collar -- last week.
During a field trip to a fur showroom, the students in my class received a hefty discount on the wholesale price -- we all lost our minds, and I was just another fly contributing to the predatory buzz. Afterward, while walking down the street with my first genuine fur purchase, I was caught between conflicting feelings of “Hell yeah I love wearing this soft, warm, innocent animal wrapped around my neck” and “. . . shit.” In the minutes following my purchase, I texted a fashion-loving male friend who I hoped would sympathize with my momentary sartorial bloodlust.
Now my first thought when rereading these texts was, What the hell is wrong with me? A friend clarifies that I’m wearing the product of a shaved, suffering animal, and I immediately justify it with leather bags and chicken nuggets? Realistically, I could never become a poster-child against animal cruelty. Yes, a research paper on genetically modified crops and animals combined with knowledge of the grotesque conditions of slaughterhouses spurred a momentary flirtation with pescetarianism, but I’m back to eating most types of meat. I’ll even admit that my choice to eat free-range chickens or cage-free eggs is selfish and kind of sick, like, “Oh yeah, I want my chickens to have a false sense of freedom before I eat them!”
Making my first fur purchase brought to light the commonly selective nature of compassion toward animals, and our society’s dissociative relationship with wearing leather. I spent $75 on a fur collar and received instant criticism, while my $300 Michael Kors leather bags have brought in more compliments than my ego can handle. Is the fur collar, like my friend claimed, really the more indulgent purchase?
Not once have I experienced unsolicited criticism for wearing leather, but I can count countless non-vegetarian peers who refuse to wear fur. Now, I’m not saying that there is absolutely no sensitivity when it comes to leather -- synthetic alternatives exist for a reason. It’s important to note that many vegan leather pieces are almost indiscernible from the real thing, while holding the advantage of being water and weather-proof. This adds complication to an argument that genuine leather is superior.
On the other hand, faux furs and genuine furs are easier to distinguish by the naked eye, so its easier to debate a preference. There are also those who stand on the fence, wearing only vintage leather and fur, not increasing the demand and therefore the production of new leathers and furs by this method of fashion recycling. I guess my real question is: Why does my less expensive fur collar attract more disdain than a leather bag from my fellow carnivores? Where does the detachment from wearing an actual skin purse deviate from the disgust of a cozy scarf? And why do people who eat carcasses find one way of wearing animals less humane than the other? Are our brains just lumpy meatballs full of double standards? (OK that’s actually a lot of questions).
Now, it’s pretty difficult to find a completely unbiased article on this topic, but here are a couple that provide a brief education on sourcing fur and leather. Unfortunately, the animals used by retailers for the coats would not have died from natural causes. This article from PETA explains how the same cows harvested for their milk and meat have their skins exported for fashion consumption, and Born Free USA describes what an actual fur “farm” is here.
I am neither anti-fur nor pro-leather, and I’m definitely not here to persuade you to either side of the spectrum. Obviously there are other people more qualified and capable of eloquently speaking on this topic than I am, but it’s a nuanced fragment of the fur/leather debate that I don’t think is had often enough. Why not start the discussions here?