Meat, fur, feathers & me

This post was sparked in part by a reader question, and in part by tomorrow’s terminology post (which means, in a way, you are getting a response from the future.).  It also interlocks with Steph’s post on taste, and judging (or not judging) other people by their clothes.

First, the reader question:

A reader asks “How do you feel about fur?  Would you use it if doing so was historically accurate?  Could you consider a reproduction with faux fur historically accurate?”

As a bit of background to this, I have a very specific and defined attitude towards animals and meat.  I will eat local unfarmed fish as long as it’s not a species that has been identified as being at-risk (bluefin tuna, orange roughies etc.).  I eat wild game in areas where the wild game is an introduced species (so deer & goat in NZ & Hawaii).  I don’t eat commercial meat, even the ethically farmed stuff.  I just don’t like the idea of something existing merely to die.  I don’t eat pork.  The thought is just disgusting to me.  Pigs are too much like humans.  At the same time, I try not to be a pain about my diet.  If I go to someones and get served meat I pick around it as discreetly as possible.  I’ll even cook meat for people.

How do I feel about fur?  

I’m OK with vintage fur, both wearing and using it, but I think that the fur industry needs to end.  It’s outmoded and unethical.  There is no reason to use fur anymore: unlike leather for shoes, we have found fur alternatives that work just as well as ‘real’ fur.  Wearing new fur is one of the few places in fashion where I will judge you.  I think it goes beyond tasteless to being cruel and unethical.

Although I am sanguine about wearing vintage fur (vintage meaning 30+ years old), the vintage fur pieces (two stoles, a jacket, a hat and a number of scraps or damaged collars) that I own were all Nana’s (she had almost 2 closets full of fur).  I don’t think I could buy a vintage fur piece, even at an charity shop.

I do wear leather.  I don’t think we are killing animals for the leather, and I feel that non-leather options work as well.  I don’t wear leather clothes other than shoes and belts, and I can’t see myself buying leather furniture.

The one limit to my willingness to wear vintage fur is astrakhan.  The knowledge of how it is sourced, even if it was before I was born, creeps me out too much.  I won’t judge you for wearing vintage astrakhan, but I can’t put it on me.  I gave Nana’s astrakhan hat and collared coat to an op-shop.

And now you are all wondering what ashrakan is.  You’ll find out tomorrow!

Would I use fur on a historical outfit where doing so was historically accurate/correct?

I’d use the scraps or damaged collars from Nana, but otherwise no.  My commitment to history doesn’t go as far as to ignore my ethics, or cause harm to my body.  That’s where I draw the line.

Could you consider a reproduction with faux fur historically accurate/correct?

I could.  Others may not.  For me, using faux fur is no different than reproduction (plastic) whalebone, or using the closest modern weave when the historical one isn’t available.  It’s not the same, but it serves the same purpose, and a seamstress of the time would probably have recognised what it was meant for, which is my rough standard.


These are all just my choices, and my opinions though.


  1. Bless. I’m with you on fur. It’s over. I make exceptions for rabbit and possum as they are major league pests here and if they’re going to die anyway why not use them – less wasteful. But trouble with fur like so many things is that if one kind is OK chances are people will want more kinds and more exotic and rare kinds etc etc. So it is difficult. I don’t wear fur anyway so I never have to face it down 🙂
    I love fake astrakan but the idea of the real thing is just so awful!

  2. I have a real issue with fur. I absolutely love it, but I do not, by any means, agree with the way it is produced. I even drew up a late Victorian dress made completely of ermine fur (don’t hate me, it’s just a drawing–I would never dream of making something like that with the way fur is harvested at present). I do agree with Mrs. C about the “no waste” thing, especially if you own an animal and plan to use it for food–why not take feathers or fur and use them? Throwing parts of it away that could be used truely is wasteful. I hope I didn’t offend you!

    • I totally agree with the no waste thing. I love a scene in Arthur Ransome’s Winter Holiday where they use rabbit and lamb fur from the farm they’re staying at to make mittens and winter hats for themselves. That’s the sort of fur use I can contend with. And vintage that already got made, so I can’t do anything about it. But I don’t even wear that myself, I used the fur from my grandma’s old fur collar on a teddy – I would not wear it. Even as a child, I refused a fur collar on a winter jacket in a thrift shop…

      My ethics are not very thorough, because I eat meat. Somehow, I gather my ancestors have always eaten meat, so I’m made to eat it, so to say. But I think I eat much less of it than some other people. When Rhonda Jean of Down to Earth suggested eating meat only three times a week (or some such number) as a starting point in simple living, I thought how odd it was, because sometimes much more than a week goes in between my meat eatings. And then, every once in a while, I become voraciously carnivorous. So.

      BTW, Dreamstress, would you also eat game/meat from non-introduced but still pest-y species? I’m no expert and have never had game myself, but I hear that because there are so few natural predators here in the Czech Republic, the roe population is much higher than it should be. That sort of thing.

      • Well, I’ve never lived somewhere where there were non-introduced but pest-y species that you could hunt, so I’ve not had to consider that situation. I presume the roe population was unbalanced in the Czech republic because the predators have been out-competed by humans?

        I suppose it would depend on the opinion of the conservation community – is the best way to re-balance the population to encourage hunting? And does encouraging hunting set up a cycle where the hunters try to keep the roe overpopulated, so that they will always be able to hunt?

        That sort of catch22 is partly what is happening with possums in NZ. They were introduced from Oz, and are a horrible, destructive pest, only good for fur, but balancing killing them off for fur, and keeping people from wanting to retain them for their fur value, has been a bit tricky. I know they used to give bounties for dead possums, and one guy started bringing in huge amounts of young ones, and they finally checked out his place and he was breeding them for the bounties!

        • I can respond a touch to the hunting question–at least in my area of the US, the hunters needn’t try to keep the deer overpopulated. They do it on their own! Some state parks even decided to open limited hunting because the deer were destroying everything (really–even to killing trees by gnawing all the bark off and such). I don’t know that it rebalances the population, necessarily–it seems to end up being more of a control than a long-term solution. Until we get bears and cougars back, of course (it could happen!).

          Is it odd that I’ve always wanted to pet a possum? I mean, that fur! Then you get a look at the long snout full of teeth…

        • All spot on.
          Yes, the predators have been driven out and killed off by humans, and now they’re being slowly re-introduced. With more success with smaller species, like otter, I think. With the big species, there’s always the bad popular image, like the one wolves have.
          The situation is tricky, because now the hunters themselves – or forest keepers, I never quite understood the difference, because it’s not that obvious in Czech – want the big predator species (wolf, bear, lynx) to be re-introduced, but farmers (especially sheep farmers) protest. At least that’s the idea I got from a presentation on the re-introduction of lynx I was at several years ago.
          There are some hunters who also hunt the lynx, but that’s illegal at this point and the general consensus is that it should be re-introduced to keep the natural balance. I suppose some hunters would want the high numbers of roe to be kept for hunting reasons just like some hunters hunt lynx (except it’s not so strictly illegal with roe), but generally I think it’s more of a nuisance. And I think it’s the same thing with pheasants, which actually are an introduced species, originally only kept in aristocrats’ enclosures.
          Catch 22 for sure.

          That breeding pests for bounties was made fun of in a Lucky Luke album, only there it was in American Wild West and the pests were rats. 🙂

          • P.S. One more explanation and expansion: We Czechs are, historically, a fish-ponding nation, and otters were, at one point, completely killed off as pests. I suppose fur also played a role there, but there were “advertisements” that promoted killing otters as pests. It always reminded me of the way Native Americans were seen as pests. 😛 I suppose I should stop here.

          • This is the emoticon you wanted probably: :-/

            That’s so sad about the otters. I love otters. I would buy an annual subscription to the zoo just to sit and watch the otters play every day.

  3. P.S. How on Earth did people come up with something like astrakhan? It’s right up there with using baleen in corsets, although that one *sort of* makes sense if you’re a whale-hunting community. (But then, how many women in whale-hunting communities wore fashionable corsets? I mean, people like Inuits.)

    • I wonder if it was an accidental discovery. I hope so. It’s all a bit icky otherwise…well it’s already icky!

    • Astrakhan seems perfectly normal as a discovery (you just have to find one naturally stillborn lamb, or try to get some use out of an ewe that died in childbirth) compared to beer. I mean, really, who said “Let’s burn some wheat and combine it with some weeds in a barrel of water and wait until it goes stagnant and then see if we like it?” That, I don’t get. And I still don’t get it.

      • You’d have to be hungry. Really hungry to try the two-week-old-barley-broth-that-now-smells-a-bit-funny. About as hungry as you’d have to be to try the well-it-used-to-be-milk-but-now-it’s-got-lumps-in, or the slimy-thing-off-the-rock.

        Unborn lambskin was available here as recently as the 80’s, and I believe it was an attempt from farmers to get some value out of stillborn lambs or ewes that died while pregnant. I don’t know if it is still done at any scale as I don’t think there are any commercial tanneries left in NZ, and I don’t know whether it would be worth collecting them if you had to ship them overseas for processing.

          • Intriguing that they specify that their slink skins are ‘principally’ natural casualties. What about the ones that aren’t?

          • Lynne says

            These I do approve of. One of the sad things about sheep and cattle farming is that the new-born animals can die in bad weather. Sometimes just still-born, but mostly the weather. When I was a child, the dead lambs were just thrown down the disposal pit, or if we were trying to mother a lost lamb onto the ewe with the dead lamb, the skin from the dead lamb would be put on the lost one so the mother would accept the smell of her own lamb. Worked. Then some clever person thought of collecting the dead lambs and processing their skins. The farmer made something from what would have been a dead loss, and the tourist ‘expensive fashion’ industry got this really lovely product for making glove linings and coat linings etc. So the lamb is not bred for the skin, like astrakhan sheep. Just a way of using something that otherwise would have been destroyed.

            Complicated, this whole eco-fur thing. I’m personally all in favour of killing as many possums as we can (n.b. they are the Australian possum, not the American possum.) because they are causing so much destruction to our native plants and birds.

          • Ah now I think I am talking at cross purposes. I know slinky and it is not like astrakan – I thought there was an extra hideousness about that process. My over active imagination. Slinky is gorgeous, and a naturally occurring thing – unfortunately some lambs don’t make it. Sad though.
            I will now shut up before I confuse anyhone else as well as myself hehehe.

      • Cornelia Moore says

        lol. no, it came around from early farmers storing grain, having a heavy rain or flood, and probably not realizing the storage got wet. the lower grains firmented, then more rain or a flood, more water, and what do we do with this ruined grain? either fed it to their stock and saw them get drunk, or noticed it smelled ok to them, so cooked it up and got smashed on mash…that’s a general guess, no-one knows exactly how beer became a staple, but, but that’s the likely anthropology. people ate whatever they had, even if it was a bit turned, including grain. nothing got wasted.

        • That’s the way I heard it, too. Which, as you say, does not necessarily mean it’s the way it went, but – well.

  4. I’m with MrsC on pests being fair game.. And not wasting stuff… I’d really REALLY like to eventually make an overcoat with a possum cull fur collar. There, I said it.. 😉

    The older I get, the less I like meat. I made a brace of roast chickens for Thanksgiving and the process nearly made me vomit. It was like washing baby bodies and rubbing them with butter and herbs.. I don’t know, it’s like a “vegetarian” switch went and flipped in my head. The more I think about it, the less I like the idea of eating the flesh of another living being. For some reason, Lila almost completely refuses meat and always has. We have to coax her to try it. I remember being the same when I was little.

    But then every once in a great while I want a burger. And I’m prone to anemia, so I *have* to watch my iron intake carefully. I know there’s vegetarian iron-rich foods but meat is easy.

    Interesting post. 🙂

    • Lynne says

      Dear StephC

      I’ve got the fur! I just need to make the coat. I bought the skins from a small processor in Glenorchy, I think. Google it – beautiful place in the back of beyond. The possums were a local menace.

      • I love it when they call possums a ‘local menace’. I always imagine them in armed groups down overgrown country roads, just waiting to jump on the unsuspecting old lady out for her evening ramble. Or carrying spray paint, tagging native trees with Australian slogans.

    • Cor Steph it’s a brave woman wears possum fur in Oz, where opossumes are protected – where my brother lives there is a cat curfew mostly to protect them. My nieces were horrified as only kids who are into nature can be when I told them we make clothes out of them over here! Crazy – the flora and fauna of NZ and Oz are so spectacularly, inexplicably different, so I guess it makes sense that the same animal should be a pest at one end and protected at the other 🙂

  5. Rachel says

    slinkskins.co.nzAs a recent inductee into the world of NZ agriculture, I’d have to say regardless of my feelings about meat production, knowing how hard it is to ‘produce’ liveborn offspring I can appreciate farmers getting a little money back on the death of a pregnant ewe (which is a huge loss) or a stillborn. Slinkskin and broadtail are still collected and processed in New Zealand – this website http://www.slinkskins.co.nz/products.aspx?categoryid=1 emphasises the source is natural deaths.

    I’m surprised by a couple of points in the posts above – firstly that the Dreamstress doesn’t eat meat because she doesn’t like the idea of something being bred to die – none of the vegetarians I know have put this forth as a reason, and to me it seems more valid than any other, from a moral stand point.

    Also, the person who cashed in on the possum trade by breeding them was obviously much smarter than me – it never occurred to me that people would ‘fake’ hunting possums! They do need to be eradicated though – the vegetation and native bird population destruction are tragic.

    • Thanks for the link to the Slinkskin company. I can really emphathise with their product, and do like that they are making use of something that wouldn’t otherwise be utilized. I’d imagine that companies that use their product probably advertise it in their garments – the ethical angle can be such a selling point.

      I’m glad that the main point that surprised you was a good surprise – not something that I do that is totally inconsistent. 😉

      And I also agree that the possum population must go. If I lived rural I would have traps all over the place. My parents live in Hawaii, which has the same problem with introduced mongoose, only, unlike possums, they have no use whatsoever. They trap at least one mongoose a week – sometimes one a day, and kill it. And I have no problem helping with that. The mongooses are not in the right place in Hawaii.

    • What are those reaseons people do put forth? I know of one which is related, but not entirely, i.e. the horrible conditions under which the animals are bred.
      I agree that the Dreamstress’s reason is more rounded-off. It’s one I would agree with, only I’m a cowardly carnivore.

  6. Cornelia Moore says

    I struggle with the meat issue. ethically, most of it is just wrong. physically, I have two altercating ailments, one which demands lots of protein and one which shouldn’t have any. so I am mostly vegitarian, occasionally eating free range chicken, wild north pacific fish (non-endangered) and occasionally pork, being raised on a classic mid-western diet. no beef, though, not for the past 2 years, and I’m not able to get deer, though I love it, it’s too high in demand here.
    I do nor wear fur and haven’t since I was about 13 and learned how unethical it is. the best place for a fur coat is on the animal who was born with it. it has no place on humans or their belongings. I don’t see a problem with using fur that would be tossed, but do not breed for it (unless you’re just shaving or combing the animal, not killing it) and don’t let me catch anyone being cruel, they’re likely to find themselves in misery. not that I’m a major activist, but I’ve shook a number of (human) cages in my time.

  7. Heh, I got to near the end of your post where you said what the terminology post would be about, and I kinda had a facepalm moment. In the middle of talking about astrakhans, I had no idea what it was and went ahead to Google it. I’m looking forward to the further (and surely fuller) explanation you’ll be giving.

    • My explanation takes a historical fashion and textile angle, which isn’t really available elsewhere on the internet. So hopefully it will still be interesting! And not too gruesome.

  8. This fits with my philosophy on reproductions. Some stuff is rightfully illegal to get new…ivory for one…and I believe whale bone as well. Some stuff is there but very expensive…who wouldn’t want to trim their dresses in diamonds and belgian lace. New fur is not needed. Especially if the rest of the animal went to waste. But, I personally think that it is a greater waste of the animal’s life if granny’s old coat gets thrown into the dumpster because of a hole or two or it is out of style so I’d use old fur. I’m ok with pest fur like rabbit simply because an over population of them creates hardships for every life form including themselves.

    I am a meat eatter. I believe that animals are put here for our use but we are responsible for their care and comfort while they live. We are responsible for a quick painless death. We are responsible to use as much of the animal after death as possible. The aborginal populations of North America were exceptionally good at this. We are pretty good at our use of cattle. We used the meat, the hide, the bones. I think we use a lot of the organs but I don’t want to think about that-organ meat is yucky.

  9. I’m a late poster on this one. About possums here in the U.S. I guess unlike possums in Australia and New Zealand, possums here are rather beneficial in that they scavenge and eat all the old rotting stuff. Also, they are harmless, and if you happen to find one in the daytime, they are dazed, almost drugged. We had one get stuck in the sunshine: he went under a bush and was still. We called animal control and I helped them get him in a cage to release in the countryside nearby. He was SOFT. I was so surprised.

    I have always rather liked possums and since rescuing that one, I really do.

    Very best,


    • Possums in the US are properly opossums, and are a completely different beast to the one down here. The possums in NZ are a noxious pest introduced from Australia, where (ironically) they are endangered and a protected species. So in NZ we try to eradicate, in Oz they try to conserve – it’s amazing how much difference being in your natural environment or not makes.

      I got to help rescue a baby opossum in the US once – it fell into a bucket and couldn’t get out. Unfortunately it was in California, and the SPCA told us they were a pest in the area.

  10. Natalie says

    I love opossums. I live in California and am sad to hear that the SPCA told you they were considered a pest. Now I want to know about this!

    Thanks for this post. Great discussion.

    • I think they overpopulate in urban areas? And they certainly aren’t native to California. I believe they were brought in from the South by settlers in the early 20th century. I guess anything out of balance could be a pest.

      The one we found was so cute! Just a wee little thing. They told us it would go to a rescue.

  11. Shell says

    Good to know how you feel about fur. I have a vintage piece from some ancestor or another (too small in the shoulders for any of us and not in 100% great shape because it’s so old) that I wondered if you’d be interested in.

    Even if you’re not interested in having it, are there ways to reuse it or incorporate it into a new garment?

    • There are definitely ways to incorporate fur into a new garment, but it does dry/deteriorate with age, especially if it isn’t cared for properly, so it may not be worth it. What kind of piece is it?

  12. Great article! It’s really interesting to think about how textiles/clothing/costume and ethics intersect. I think that my general stance as an “ethical omnivore” (it’s a silly term, so I find that I always put it in quotes!) applies to clothing as well as to food. We eat meat as well as plant foods, but when we buy meat (and animal products like eggs), we focus on all-natural/organic, free-range/grass-fed, humanely & sustainably raised products, local whenever possible. Even though we can’t really afford it! For our health, the planet, and the welfare of the animals & the people farming them, it’s just too important (to us) to try to keep things as natural, humane, and sustainable as possible. Whenever we can, we buy direct from farmers – we buy our all-natural, raw local honey from the beekeepers at the farmer’s market, and it’s a big relief knowing that our honey is being produced under ideal circumstances for the bees.

    I feel basically the same way about animal products in clothing, but with an added emphasis on usefulness and avoiding waste. Personally, I’m fine with using and wearing vintage fur (though I can certainly understand why some are not), either pieces that have been given to me or that I’ve bought at thrift stores (op shops). I’ve also accepted, when I’ve been offered fur that someone had around but didn’t want anymore (a vintage collar, and a box of rabbit pelts), because they were already in existence, and I would rather not have them go to waste when they could be used. I wear leather here and there, and I can only hope that the cattle who provided their hides were also eaten, and therefore not wasted. Far farming and overhunting are both dreadful, and I find the meat-waste of fur-farming especially frustrating. My philosophy is that I would be fine with fur or leather from non-endangered animals that have been humanely raised & slaughtered, or humanely & responsibly hunted, provided that the rest of the animal was used for sustenance. But since I don’t know that much about the source, it’s my policy to just not buy new fur – I’m not at all okay with supporting that industry.

    With fur, there are lots of great faux fur substitutes out there that I would consider perfectly reasonable for historical reproduction use, but I would worry about the synthetic fiber content and potential for melting. With leather, I really don’t feel that synthetic substitutes are comparable – they don’t hold up as well, they don’t mold to fit as comfortable (for, say, shoes or gloves), and they’re made of fossil fuels. But also, there are a whole lot of old, secondhand options for fur (and leather) – there are often fur and leather coats and pieces in thrift stores that, even when damaged or hideous, could be used for making costume pieces. And I’d much rather see vintage fur being used or worn rather than discarded and wasted – but of course, that doesn’t mean everyone needs to be wearing or using it!

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