September 12, 2011

A furry question

Autumn is closing in. We've had weeks of rain, a warm weekend and every day the weather is surprise. So, typical Dutch weather but there's no denying the change of seasons anymore.

This morning before work, I went to the market to pick up fruit and vegetables for this week. I was so early that some stalls were still busy unpacking. However, I did walk back to my bicycle the (slightly) long(er) way, past the second hand stalls.
At The Hague's general market, there are three stalls specializing in second hand clothes, and a few general second hand stalls which sometimes have a rack or a pile of clothes (I tend to avoid those). One is the place where I buy my to-be-refashioned leather and silk clothes, another the place where my interesting vintage finds, both clothes and accesoiries, come from and the third is a big two-stall emporium of tacky old party-clothes, shoes, leather and above all, fur. I've never bought anything there. The place with the most interesting vintage stuff also sells some fur in winter. The first two pieces were on the racks now.

picture from a 1930's Sears Catalog (from the book 'Everyday Fashions of the Thirties, as pictured in Sears Catalogs)

Seeing this display of seasonal vintage fair begs the question: Is it OK to wear vintage fur? Obviously, there would be the intuitive 'Oh my, I'm wearing dead animals' issue (which seems to bother a lot of people, including myself, much more in the case of fur than in that of leather...). But honestly, that hardly constitutes a rational, moral point of view.

About that, I'm still pretty much on the fence. I do not at all aprove of the modern fur trade as a luxury (meaning that, although I'm too far from such places to actually be able to have a well-founded opinion, I think it's OK if you live in places where it get extremely cold and need to wear fur just to stay warm). In fact, I was rather shocked to find out, two years ago, that not only is there still a fur industry in this country, it actually has an anual contest for designers, to promote its wares. And some fairly well-known Dutch designers actually participate in this...

Vintage fur isn't quite the same though.
Wearing fur lost a lot of its popularity since the 1980's. This means that most of the stock of those market stalls pre-dates me. Those animals suffered and were killed before I was even born. They were made into coats which were bought and worn for years, but are not worn out yet. If they are at the market now, this is their last stop. If no-one buys them, it will end with a one-way trip to the landfill. Which hardly seems a very sustainable course of action...

Nothing at all wrong with that view, is there? Well, no. But, maybe...
In a book I read (I thought the title was 'the importance of sunglasses' but Amazon doesn't recognise that title) there was quite a valid argument against wearing vintage fur. The book was a collection of articles by a prominent British fashion and style journalist. And she was opposed to the wearing of fur, period.
First of all, she thought the 'the animals were not killed to dress me but someone years ago'-argument was a weak and in fact rather silly one. However, her main argument was less a matter of taste or way of reasoning: She stated that by wearing fur, even if it's vintage, you promote the look of it. So, even if you would never buy a coat for which animals were killed recently, you are in a way indirectly justifying the present-day fur trade.

Seeing the fur on display this morning (I really should bring a camera to the market some day soon) made me wonder about this. What's your opinion on this sticky issue?


  1. I think that an animal has died to make a fur piece, and it deserves to be loved. Not to collect mildrew in a box somewhere. Of course you may apply that argument to give it a decent burial, but I take care after and cherish my fur pieces (most of them I've inhertied after my great-grandmother).

  2. Leather and fur are the same thing - animal hide. If you wear one, you might as well wear the other. It is an unethical argument to make that one animal is beautiful and furry and, therefore, less deserving of death for fashion. That being said, I have no issues with vintage fur. I also feel that I can't object to the modern fur trade while wearing a pair of leather shoes. It's hypocritical.

  3. I had the same problem, when I found a fox fur which belonged to my mother. It`s vintage, and I would like to wear it, but doing so I am promoting it. However, I am not a famous or well-known person, so I hesitate that I would be a bad example to someone... I am still in two minds, but winter is coming...

  4. I thought there is a difference between fur and leather in that the way they get the best pelt involved skinning animals alive. Or is that just scaremongering by Peta? If it's true, then on cruelty account I'd say it's not hypocritical to wear leather but not fur.

    Of course, in some wintery culture, fur isn't worn for fashion. And if it's not killed simply for our pleasure I don't see why not, considering we bred animals just for eating.

    I have a real fur stole and a fur scarf inherited from relatives. The stole I don't really wear because it's not practical. I also have a fake shearling coat which I depend on in the winter because I get cold very easily, and the furry inside really helps. But I'm not sure if petrochemical based synthetic fur is really much better ethically. There really is no win-win situation. (And I feel sorry for the plants which get systematically weeded out at the planting out stage.)

  5. I say go ahead and wear vintage fur. The animal suffered and died. At least let it not have been for nothing.

  6. It depends on the animal.
    I do not agree with breeding an animal for the purpose of using its skin, and I am VERY much opposed to hunting wild animals for this purpose. However in some cases the fur or leather is a byproduct of an industry which uses the whole animal To use an example from here in Australia, leather is a byproduct of the beef industry. And our famous ugg boots are made from sheepskin, which come from our lamb industry (I say "lamb" because that is what it is called, but it is not necessarily cute little baby lambs like you might think but just means all sheep meat) Sheep are also shorn for their wool, which is one of our biggest industries. In addition these same animals, both cattle and sheep, are used for milk, cheese and yogurt production. So the use of their skins is not an inhumane thing at all, but just making sensible use of the whole animal. And btw, ALL these industries are subject to heavy regulation to ensure humane treatment of the animals. Skinning an animal alive like it is sometimes portrayed, is completely outlawed here, and any farmer who did this would be jailed.
    With regard to old furs, well good luck with making a decision! I don't wear my one inherited fur myself, because I know I would have trouble dealing with the negativity I would get in public. Besides it doesn't get that cold here either...

  7. I'm also on the fence about this issue. I once purchased a vintage fur cape from an antique shop but then it sat in my closet for years because I wasn't sure about wearing it. Fur garments are problematic because I think they need to be stored in a climate-controlled room/facility when not being worn to give them the longest use-life. I gave away the cape. Another consideration to this topic is the impact on the earth of synthetic fabrics and non-organic silks, cottons, etc. I do like using thrift-store and used clothing for sewing projects though and it's fun to see the projects you've made from thrifted clothing.

  8. Oh how funny! I'm actually reading that book, "The meaning of sunglasses" right now!

    I really don't understand the fuss over fur. I've had absolutely nasty comments from people coming to my site because I made a 100% synthetic fur coat that looks real. I'll let you re-read that sentence and ponder on exactly how crazy that is. To me, this means that no matter what I wear, someone out there is going to shout abuse at me, whether it's real fur or fake.

  9. My muskrat coat was my mother's; she gave it to me when I was living on the (cold) Canadian prairies and she was in a much milder climate. It's a very nice coat, and I'm glad to wear it in winter. Those animals died over 30 years ago, and they are still keeping me warm. People here are practical about fur; PETA isn't much of a force. I also wear a thrifted sheepskin coat of a good Scottish make, which I was delighted to find. I eat meat and I wear leather, too, but I think it's important to be aware of the animals we make use of, not thoughtless or careless.