T Magazine: ‘A Diamond in the Roughage’

May 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

The New York Times Style Magazine:

On being fashionable, ethically, by Lynn Yaeger

Sometimes it’s wonderfully easy, sometimes not so very. Deciding to throw that dirty makeup towel on the floor of the hotel bathroom, despite the card detailing the environmental consequences of your wanton gesture in three languages? An ethical conundrum that can sully a whole day (or at least a morning). But slathering your visage with the wholesome-est creams, bedecking yourself in the finest ancient gems and even brooking controversy by maybe daring to don a few vintage pelts, all in service of saving, celebrating — even worshiping — the earth? Simple.

It’s already the second decade of the new century, and we are dealing with style questions, ethical and otherwise, that would have bedeviled our chic ancestors. We may pay lip service to sustainability and strive for a toddler-size carbon footprint, but who among us is considering the environment when our cupboards are stuffed with nonbiodegradable synthetic Marc Jacobs fetish frocks, shiny plastic Balenciaga houndstooth-check spring coats and truckloads of industrial-strength Spanx made of who knows what mysterious chemical compound? Not to mention the sheer quantities of merchandise that languish in our armoires, living as we do in a time when 30 pairs of shoes don’t raise an eyebrow, instead of the measly two (or maybe three or four, if they were really prosperous) that our forebears made do with.

Back then, life was so much easier. You didn’t need to worry about the ecological correctness of your cosmetics because they were made of good things like arsenic, which — fun fact! — some women in the 19th century used to drink in a vain (pun intended) attempt to look like the fair maidens of the Caucasus. Or — second fun fact — you could visit an “enameler” on lower Broadway who encased your face and neck with a lead-based coating; but bear in mind that if the enamel was applied with slightly too heavy a hand, the merest movement would cause hideous spooky cracks.

How delightfully times have changed! This morning, I doused myself with gluten-free vegan shower gel (odd when you think about it, since I didn’t plan to eat it); rolled on a deodorant made, at least partially, from chamomile and rice (though I didn’t intend to consume this either); and attempted to eradicate my under-eye circles with a soy/rice peptide (a third meal?). I lightened my coffee (yes, caffeine — I don’t want to hear it) with organic low-fat “happy” milk, which the bottle claims comes from a cheerful cow who has a name.

Want to know how much I care about a cow’s name? On the other hand, I do like to know the names of the people who once wore my jewelry. Of all the ways of keeping green, of embarking on the road that will make a responsible, socially aware person out of the gross, wasteful slob you fear you remain deep inside, wearing old jewelry is perhaps the most seductive path. I am actually thrilled to look inside a cameo ring and find it inscribed “For Darling Desdemona, Christmas 1887.” I even have a soft spot for the semirevolting subgroup of antique bibelots known as mourning jewelry, a Victorian conceit that employs human hair — the ultimate green material — woven in clever ways, and that is invariably decorated with the name and death date of the luckless soul commemorated. (Added bonus: If you fling a hair brooch into the trash by mistake, it will decompose delightfully in the nearest fetid landfill, unlike those big plastic and resin necklaces they’re selling all over town with four-figure price tags.)

So go ahead! Learn the name of that bovine whose teats were squeezed particularly for your delectation, coat your face with enamel, stick an 18th-century diamond tiara on your head, and sally forth confident in the knowledge that no aspect of our glorious planet was harmed in the process of making you so gorgeous.

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