Two weeks ago, when I went to visit a friend who had just moved to Washington DC, I was quite excited to learn that her apartment was directly above a DMV office.
“We should go there and people watch!” I suggested. “It’ll be fun! I went to the DMV in Harlem over the summer and I had a great time.”
That’s perhaps a bit of an exaggeration – but it was, at least, an entertaining time. For starters, I had forgotten to bring my glasses, which is a particularly big mistake considering that my license renewal hinged on passing a vision test. So I spent the first half of my wait time walking around to all the different windows trying to memorize the direction of the E’s on the eye charts. No one – not a single person – asked me what I was doing.
When I tired of that, I decided to hover around a man in a business suit who appeared to be extremely frustrated by having to spend his morning sitting down and reading The Wall Street Journal. When he inevitably unleashed his tirade about the inefficiency of the DMV and its “archaic processes,” I asked him what time he had made his appointment for.
“Appointment?!” he shouted back. “You can make an appointment?! SINCE WHEN??”
I don’t know when the DMV started offering appointments, but they did and I considered it my personal mission to share that tidbit with as many people as possible. Unfortunately, I only worked my way through two patrons before my number was called – because I did make an appointment and that left me with relatively little time to bullshit.
But apparently none of this sounded appealing to my friend. Instead, she suggested we eat brunch and browse Eastern Market – the food and arts fair in Capitol Hill that also has a flea market tacked on in the parking lot across the street. It was there that we spotted this coat.
“Is it wrong that I love this?” I asked my friend as I pet the sleeve.
“No,” she said. “Try it on. I think you should try it on with the matching hat!”
I did, and decided that I loved it – the coat at least. So I bought it. I bought it even though it was fur. Even though it smelled faintly of rotten eggs. Even though there was a huge gash down a seam in the back. Even though I knew cleaning it was going to cost three times as much as I paid for it. I bought it because I loved it and I’ve never seen anything like it. And for as unique as it now, I could only imagine how truly odd it must have been 70 years ago. Who is the lady who wore a belted white rabbit fur coat with black leather trim? I’d like to shake her hand. (And that also makes me wonder: what kind of gloves did she wear? Do you think she still has them?)
When I bought the coat, I told myself that wearing fur was no different than wearing leather. I was pretty sure that my riding boots and motorcycle jackets were no more humane than this jacket. Of course, I paid the vendor before bothering to confirm my logic so I suppose that demonstrates how much of a moral dilemma it really presented for me.
And then, as if on cue, this article about the fur debate showed up in the Financial Times on Friday. The reporter had inherited a full-length mink coat and she was torn as to what to do with it. Wear it, toss it, burn it, sell it? She too seemed to buy into the decades-long message that fur is somehow less acceptable than wearing leather shoes or eating chicken breast.
She writes, “The more I think about it, the odder it seems that someone should throw a paintball at a fur coat but still wear leather, eat factory-farmed meat or buy most types of fast fashion, given what is happening in some workshops.”
Ultimately, the writer at the FT decided to wear the mink in the name of “recycling.” I suppose that logic would work for my second-hand coat too – though I’m not even sure I need the excuse. I bought a new leather belt last week and didn’t think twice about it. If I don’t need to justify that, I don’t know why I need to scream “upcycle!” as I put on the coat.
But the piece raised a point I hadn’t factored in yet: if we’re going to talk about ethics and fashion, let’s not forget about workshop conditions around the world. The down parka I bought earlier this year was made in China and I didn’t spend a minute considering how humane the making of it was. I would venture to guess that I would find it far more horrifying than whatever happened to the rabbits.