The Conversation on Fur
What’s your take? Is it ever okay?
As you all know, “Let’s Talk About It” is always a forum for conversation. This week, guest contributor Mattie Kahn takes on the topic of fur.
It started with a hat.
I had been walking home from school some years ago when I noticed a trapper-style chapeau in the window of one of my favorite neighborhood boutiques. Justifying my investigation as a necessary respite from the cold afternoon, I ducked in and tried it on. When I found my reflection in the store’s gilded mirrors, a fourteen-year-old, female version of Ernest Shackleton stared back at me. Intoxicated, I asked a visibly bored saleswoman how much the deliciously warming wonder would cost.
“It’s on sale,” she drawled and priced it at $75. “Oh, and that’s real rabbit fur,” she added, pointing to its sumptuous lining.
My mother hated it immediately. She may have deemed its archetypal silhouette “cute,” and its superlative ability to stave off frostbite “practical,” but she flatly refused to condone the purchase. “I’m not the kind of person who wears fur,” she said simply. “Not ever.”
Should I have anticipated her disapproval? Probably. My mother has always been something of an activist. She hasn’t eaten meat since 1975. A few years ago, she pasted a sign to our front door that read, “Stop! Did you turn off the lights?” She remains the only member of our household that remembers whether yogurt containers are recyclable. (They are. I think?)
But despite such convincing evidence, her morally charged disapproval caught me off guard. It didn’t seem fair that someone who wore leather and ate omelets could so unilaterally condemn fur! How hypocritical! Still, after my red-hot teenage brand of indignation subsided, I could not so easily dismiss her barely disguised censure.
“Your grandmother always wore fur,” my father told me later, somewhat conspiratorially. According to family lore, Nana’s achingly elegant father had given her a floor-length mink for her seventeenth birthday. Over time, she amassed a collection of them — beaver jackets and fox stoles and a particularly striking, Margot Tenenbaum-esque number. It was all terribly glamorous. And vaguely uncomfortable.
On the condition that I pay for it, my mother let me keep the hat. But I couldn’t bring myself to wear the offending topper. Racked with the guilt of a Dostoyevsky character, I needed to dispose of the evidence. The hat had to go. Because the store wouldn’t allow me to return it, I wrapped the cap in several sheets of tissue paper, nestled it in a festive bag, and gifted it to my best friend.
However, I hadn’t banished the hat because of its flesh-and-blood origins. It was my mother’s not unkind, but firm criticism of it that drove its exile. I may have regretted buying the accessory, but I felt worse about myself for this ugly truth: I still liked it. Even now, as I might readily criticize the oft-corrupt fur trade, I find myself irresistibly drawn to luxurious raccoon-trimmed hoods and shearling bombers. If pressed, I’d denounce their very existence. And yet occasionally I have to remind myself to keep my hands to myself as they hang on store racks. Sometimes, I see their appeal. Other times, I’m absolutely horrified that anyone would buy them.
Given the arctic chill that held New York in its deathly grips earlier this week, it seems like as good a time as any to have what writer Pamela Erens terms The Conversation. In an essay published on Elle.com, she writes:
[T]he public obsession with fur as uniquely immoral puzzles me. The realities associated with the raising, penning, and slaughtering of beef cattle are equally appalling, and the number of animals killed for meat dwarfs that of those killed for fur. In 2012 about 9 billion farm animals were slaughtered by the meat industry in the U.S. alone; the number for fur animals is 50 million worldwide…I know these facts don’t make fur morally stainless, but I have to wonder why the revulsion is so much more instantaneous when it comes to fur. Needless to say, almost none of the people who comment on my fur wearing eschew meat or leather.
In the subsequent dialogue around Erens’ piece, commenters’ views have been as passionate as they are opposing. But what do you think? Is Erens right? Is anti-fur sentiment as hypocritical as she suggests? Do you — like those who remark on her coat — vilify fur, but revel in leather? If so, why? Is there ever an ethical way to sport either material? Or are you completely, morally opposed?
Go on. Don’t spare me the hairy details. Let’s talk about it.