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.

Winter Made in Canada

November 29, 2010 § 2 Comments

Since I determined in the summer that I would try my best to buy clothing made in Canada, the USA and other countries that have protective labour laws, I’ve avoided buying much.  I did end up at H&M because I’d been given gift certificate for my birthday. I’m not sure how I feel about shopping at H&M. Their website has a whole section devoted to corporate responsibility that explains the steps they are taking to make the company more sustainable, as well as their involvement in improving worker conditions using the company’s financial power and influence. I’m still pretty skeptical about H&M’s claims, but I wasn’t going to let the gift certificate go to waste!

Other than that, I’ve avoided buying clothing. One reason for this is the realization that I have way too much stuff already. The other reason is that I was afraid of the commitment I had made. I made the commitment in the first place not only because supporting companies that avoid sweatshop labour  (like American Apparel) is important, but for me simply knowing that the clothing on my back was not made by a woman or child who was abused and exploited while working in slave-like conditions is important for my mental and spiritual well-being. My purchasing power may not change the world, but like I’ve written in earlier posts, I do believe that all of this goes back to my responsibility to God, the Judge of all things. However, although I’m not a big shopper, I do love nice clothes and I’ve been afraid of entering the mall only to fall in love with clothes that were off limits to me because of my resolution.  Therefore, I’ve simply stayed away. It has been a good thing so far because I’ve saved money I’ve earned and thought a lot more about my consumption.

Then winter hit. I have a winter coat but it’s not warm enough for the dropping temperatures. I couldn’t put it off any longer; it was time for a trip to the mall. I know that God blesses good intentions, so I set my intention to do something good, and put my trust in Him that he would guide me to what I needed. I then laid out a plan in my head: I would only shop at the stores that had items that were made in Canada, and if I couldn’t find anything there, I’d go to H&M as a last resort. I knew three stores, Le Chateau, Tristan, and Jacob, manufacture some items in Canada so that’s where I would start.

I made the mistake of going to the mall on Saturday, the day after Black Friday (the official beginning of Christmas shopping season) and people had come out in droves for the Christmas shopping pilgrimage. I became frustrated within minutes of entering the building, but knew I had to get this coat or freeze this winter. I first went to Le Chateau and was surprised to find that half of their large winter coat selection was made in Canada. I tried things on, but didn’t like anything I tried on. It frustrated me because I couldn’t believe that I would be this superficial as to pass up these coats for the sake of fashion! I decided then to check out the other stores and return later to resolving this internal dilemma if need be. The other stores didn’t in fact have any ‘made in Canada’ coats, and I couldn’t even find anything I liked at H&M. I was ready to (temporarily) give up on my resolution at this point and get a coat from any other store.

But I realized I was being stupid, and that it would be better to go back to Le Chateau and just pick something; my principles are so much more important than fashion! This time a store clerk helped me, and suggested I try a particular coat. He told me he really liked how it looked on me, and then it dawned on me that it was the first coat I’d tried on when I got to the mall. It did look good, I don’t know what had prevented me from seeing that earlier.  Before I could change my mind again, I purchased the coat and headed home.

I wondered about this frustrating trip and thought to myself, “If I had just bought a coat at Le Chateau in the first place it would have saved me a lot of trouble.” My experience may seem like no big deal, but it’s important to me because I learned a few things about sticking to my principles. I was also so proud of myself because, while others at the mall lost themselves in the race to buy the latest products that are commonly mistaken as the keys to happiness and fulfillment, I had set myself apart by setting out only to buy something I needed that was manufactured by workers that were fairly paid for the items they made. I also didn’t fail by buying another coat I liked a lot better (I did like other coats a whole lot better than the one I purchased, but they were made in China) resisting my own mental slavery to fashion.

I know that the One sees into my heart and I pray that His witnessing the good I tried to do will lead to my happiness in His happiness with me.

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