Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fall Fashion - First Do No Harm

photo of a pumpkin flower

Part A

Autumn (or fall, for the disenchanted) is my most favorite time of year. It just so happens that it is my favorite fashion season, as well. Who knows which came first, the proverbial chicken or egg? The end result is that each summer I wonder why I have nothing to wear - it's because my closet is full of cool (and cold)-weather attire.

One of this season's trends that makes me both drool and cringe (though not simultaneously) is the return of nature-inspired elements, including animal prints. Don't get me wrong - there is nothing about the visual appeal which makes me cringe. Natural elements are some of the most beautiful, in my opinion, and anything that pays tribute to the beauty of life is A-list in my book. Instead, it is the implication, and perhaps generalization, of these trends which gives me pause.

While my views on veganism, vegetariansm, and the use of animal products are complex and evolving, there is a golden rule I apply when confronting these issues: ahimsa (Sanskrit for "nonviolence").

Ahimsa is one of the eight limbs of Yoga (as important, if not more so than the physical postures, for those who are unfamiliar with yogic philosophy), but is also a universal principle. The Golden Rule and the Hippocratic Oath (or "first, do no harm") are based on the fundamental value of nonviolence, and most legal and moral codes contain a similar tenet. The interpretation of the doctrine, however, is often a sticking point for many.

To oversimplify the way I have chosen to apply ahimsa in my own life, suffice to say that I try to take what I perceive would be an indigenous approach:
  • The first step is consciousness: I appreciate and respect the life (and potential sacrifice) of the living being.

  • The second step is to determine my true need. Sometimes (especially during the autumn), my perception is skewed and wants appear as needs, but I try to objectively discern this (step away from the boot display).

  • Diligent research comes next (though admittedly not 100% of the time). Is there another source from which I can fulfill my need? Is there a more humane way to obtain the product?

In the end, I make a compromise: I decide to purchase a product after I have determined that there is no better replacement for it, and that it will be truly beneficial to me and simultaneously as minimally harmful to another living being as possible.

Part B

This brings me to the point of my post - whether or not partaking of the lovliness that is autumn fashion, especially when it incorporates natural elements and/or animal prints, contributes in the long (or short)-run to the unnecessary harm of living beings.

I don't wear real fur, but I have purchased items containing faux-fur, and I recently read on the ASPCA web site that real fur isn't always labeled as such. (I also debate with myself whether or not vintage fur is acceptable to far I've decided it's not.) Lately I've been wondering, though...could wearing faux fur or animal print fabrics, or even gold-gilded leaf earrings, cause harm?

In the short run, if my autumn-esque purchases are devoid of once-living products (plant or animal), then it's possible to say that my selection has done no harm. On the other hand, is it realistic to believe that in a class-divided society like mine there will be no repercussions to this choice? After all, if I'm purchasing the faux versions, won't the Haves be purchasing the real thing? My "demand" for the item, let's say a beautiful animal-print cardigan from J. Crew, makes all others of its kind more desirable. (Well, ok, not my personal demand, per se, but the collective demand of the cardigan-purchasing public...which has apparently purchased all of my preferred color in this style!)

I had already nixed the pretty calf-hair headband because the ratio of my need to the animal's suffering for it lies outside the acceptable range, in my opinion. (Quite obviously, I can live without a calf-hair headband, but the poor calf can't say the same.) The line doesn't seem so clear for animal prints (though one could argue that a cashmere sweater may also be harmful). (Sigh) And so the downward spiral begins.

This is clearly an area where I shall have to do more research, both book-style and from within. I welcome thoughts, opinions, and facts on the subject.

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