Shearling: Dead or Alive?

by Anthea on November 19, 2009

That was my Google search.  Well, not exactly.  My initial search word was simply “shearling”.

A client wanted to know.  She wrote: “Shearling is fine – animal does not die, correct?  And nice and warm.  Would love this.  But no fur collar.

I needed to know too.  I had two days to find her a warm yet politically correct coat for The World Economic Forum in Davos.

First up was a Wikipedia reference: “Contrary to misconceptions, shearling is not shorn wool; the term refers to the pelt of a yearling sheep that has been shorn only once by the process described above.

Huh? What process?

Adding the words “dead or alive” to the search revealed the source of the Wiki entry.  Damn – a Peta link.  This was not looking good.

Contrary to what many consumers think, “shearling” is not sheared wool; the term refers to the sheep. A shearling is a yearling sheep who has been shorn once. A shearling garment is made from a sheep or lamb shorn shortly before slaughter;

“Shortly before slaughter” were the words I dreaded.

Working in fashion, I should have known this.  But I didn’t.  Maybe it’s my age.  I know things on a need-to-retain basis only.  Clearly, I did not need to retain the knowledge that a dead sheep (maybe more) was the origin of my most coveted wardrobe item: A Gucci shearling jacket, from the Tom Ford days.  Seriously, it’s the sexiest garment I own. Trust me, it is. (More on that another time.)

It’s the jacket I don not for warmth but for sheer effect. (Groan, ignore the obvious pun, which I only now just noticed!) This is no ordinary outerwear.  It’s black, of course — but that’s not why.  Its tight fit hugs every inch of my upper body with the accuracy of a vice-grip perfectly placed to accentuate my best assets: a tiny waist and too-big boobs.  At the cuffs, shamelessly long yet delicately wavy hair grazes my slender fingers… at the collar it frames my face and along the placket, distracts from my somewhat less-than-slender torso.

It does what no other article of clothing I own does.  It makes my 5’3” body feel six feet tall and me, like I own the world, or at least the part of Manhattan I happen to be in at the time.  It evokes the exact opposite thrill of Harry’s invisibility cloak.  I know the effect feeling good in something has on someone – never underestimate the power.  And yes, that’s sexy.

Begs the question: Would I feel the same way in a faux-shearling coat?

I don’t know, never tried one on.  But I suspect not.  There’s a weight to this jacket; there’s life in it.

Look, I don’t condone slaughter of any kind.  It’s unconscionable.  I once wrote a letter to The Montreal Gazette condemning all hunters and their cruel practices.  Soon after it was published, I received a hand-written, eight-page letter back from an aging trapper (I still have it) who explained the necessity of population control and assured me leg-hold traps and other inhumane means of capture were frowned upon and becoming increasingly rare.  I was 9, and his letter had influence.  I’ve been a fur-wearing carnivore ever since.

Come on, we’re humans.  Top of the species.  I eat meat.  I wear leather shoes.  I’d be a hypocrite if I took a stand against fur.  Besides, I’m from Canada.  I grew up wearing fur.  We all did.  It’s cold up there.

When I moved to New York City in the late 80s, I packed the oversized raccoon coat I was given on my 18th birthday.  I wore it once on a freezing Friday in February and had to dodge the paint-spraying Peta-philes at Fashion Week.  I wore it once again, on a chilly March day and was yelled at by kids in cars. Forget that I was channeling Ali McGraw in Love Story (they were clearly too young to get the reference), I did not feel sexy.

What I felt was shame.   But was I really ashamed to wear it?  No, I was just shamed into not wearing it.  So I put it away where it lives, so to speak, to this day.

Where I’m from, raccoons are rodents — cute but menacing creatures who break into locked garbage bins, wreak havoc and leave a trail of rotting food.   As annoying as they are, would I ever think of laying a trap to kill them, then hire someone to skin them and make me a coat from their warm furry pelts?

Uh, no.  Just the writing of those words turns my stomach.

When I read of slaughter-house atrocities, I’m horrified.  But it’s fleeting.  That’s honest.  Same effect as that book Skinny Bitch – you know, the one that disgusts you into shunning the human consumption of all things once alive and bleating (or clucking, or quacking, or mooing).  Got half-way through it before handing it to my boyfriend for validation.  Two pages in, he tossed it back, explaining its sensationalist tone was designed to do just that: horrify.  To become a follower of the born-again vegan authors, he explained, I’d literally have to stop eating meat, not to mention burn all my shoes as well as purses and leather jackets.  Oh yes, and the fur of course.

Well, that’s just not going to happen any time soon.  I’m horrified only when I’m forced to think about it.  The rest of the time I live in a semi-blissful state of thinly-veiled ignorance.

Maybe if all those items at point of sale had hang-tags of origin, I might think twice before buying let alone wearing.  Colorful tags with a cute photo of the “source” animal, a large number beside it to indicate how many were used in the creation of the garment, a graphic symbol to show the method of killing — or if it died of natural causes, maybe even a freshness date-stamp, like the ones on a package of steak or chicken.  I’m thinking that could probably do it — kill the fur trade, that is.  But that’s not going to happen any time soon either because shoes and shearlings only come with price tags.

Unlike the transparent packaging of a steak or chicken which leaves nothing to the imagination, full disclosure labeling on animal-derived clothing items would, at the very least, raise our awareness and give us an opportunity to decide for ourselves – the way we do when choosing to buy that steak, if we eat steak.

Now there’s an idea Peta can push.

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