Dressing Vegan

There is an updated version of this post as of 6/18/2013 on Vegan for Her, over here!  Some of the links on this page are out of date but the content on the Vegan for Her site is updated.

*I tried to make this as short as possible so topics that had more to them are linked to additional information. But it's still very long! Thank you for all of your questions - hopefully the answers do the questions justice. But if they didn't or you have additional questions, let me know in the comments! I will mention some vegan resources in a future (short) post...shortly.
Am I really seriously truly 100% vegan?
[Is this a vegan? Y/N]
What is “vegan”, really? I use the World English Dictionary definition of “a person who refrains from using any animal product whatever for food, clothing, or any other purpose” and for the most part, I am.
Whether someone is vegan seems like a tricky question because if anyone claims to be 100% vegan…they are liars since so many things intrinsic to living these days aren’t vegan. But if we take just any definition I end up having these conversations with people I meet, the worst of it when they’re my waitperson at a restaurant:
  • “You don’t want fish? You’re vegan – my friend’s vegan and s/he eats fish!” (“That’s not vegan…actually.”)
  • “You don’t wear leather? My friend’s vegan and s/he wears leather.” (That’s not vegan…actually.”)
  • “You don’t wear silk? My friend’s vegan and s/he wears silk!” (…you get the point)
While I like that people are shopping according to their own values, and I want them to feel included, I do sometimes resent that more and more people are identifying as vegan but consuming a lot of standardly-unvegan things - it sends a muddy message that makes it harder for me to explain why, no, actually, I won’t have leather/wool/fish/cheese because I’m vegan and I don’t want to! That’s why I’m vegan – I abstain from animal products and by-products on purpose! But on the other hand, I like that people are participating in veganism as much as they are, and I don’t want to be the vegan police and tell someone they’re not vegan (even if they’re not, by the definition I use in the dictionary) and be a major downer! I’m happy that people are in the game. I’m glad people are willing to participate and take actions to reduce the suffering of animals – period. This post will be all about me me me me. Not about what others wear as they identify as a vegan.
Animal products I abstain from, new and old, while dressing are:

  • Fur
  • Leather
  • Suede
  • Wool
  • Angora, mohair, alpaca
  • Silk
  • Down
Are you guys wondering what my winter coat looks like yet? Picturing a burlap sack stuffed with cotton? (Don’t worry – it’s this one.)
"Leather's a by-product of the meat industry and we're just using its waste."
I feel like fur, leather and suede are easy for people to get why a vegan wouldn't wear them. One myth I run into frequently is the idea that leather is a meat by-product and we're just using what's there. Leather is a lucrative and environmentally bad business – it’s not like the leather industry found a pile of hides in the forest and decided they must make use of them in the most natural way possible; they paid for them. And the toxicity of synthetics is not the only earth boogey man out there; leather does its part, too. Click here for more on leather.

"What's so bad about wool? The animal doesn't lose its life and just needs to be sheared."
Wool is more complicated because you picture farmers in a serene field, shearing their peaceful sheep. What could be wrong with that? Wool isn’t just material sheared off sheep who produce it...normally. The sheep are bred/genetically modified to produce huge amounts of wool ($ ca-ching! $) – so much they have difficulty keeping hygienic and the process to shear them is incredibly gross and inhumane. Maggots and slicing skin off infected areas are common and wool sheep are usually sold off as meat when they are no longer “useful”. This is a really short to-the-point video about wool and YES, it's narrated by Pink and YES, PETA did it. But I swear it's the short skinny on wool.
On a more positive note, this is a sweet rescue story – Thistle the Sheep at Farm Sanctuary! If you ever have a chance to go to Farm Sanctuary (NY or CA) or Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, go! They’re pretty amazing.

I usually avoid all the other “hairs”, too! (Angora, mohair, alpaca.) I know there are some humane alpaca farms out there and once upon a time I did briefly consider it. But it came down to me not being comfortable with any situation where the animal is a commodity – because it can very quickly be lip service vs actually humane (like “free range” birds who still never see the light of day). When the animals are done being "useful", what happens to them?
And I just don’t need to wear animal hair that much. It sounds silly but I don’t mind a challenge here and there to avoid that stuff and find something else.
[Some Basic Vegan Winter-Wear Items]
12-10-09 Thursday:  Shortie

“What about when you thrift shop? I am semi-vegetarian, and I think it is okay to wear wool second hand, because I am still saving the environment in a way.”
At some point in my 15 years of being vegan I had started buying used wool from thrift stores because I liked the idea environmentally, although I struggled with people not visibly knowing the difference between old wool and new wool and people thinking I thought new wool was fine (I didn’t)...and then I began to be desensitized to wool. I ended up buying a new wool jacket. So I realized it was much better for me to just cut out all wool so I wouldn’t confuse people about where I stood. And I wouldn’t start thinking of wool as something innocuous, which is the way I began to think about my old wool and how I rationalized buying the jacket. Sneaky brains.
Over the course of 4 years owning that jacket, the more I thought about it, it was like my old leather stuff that I had to give away because it just grossed me out so badly to think about what those animals had been through and where that wool came from that there was no way I could stick that next to my body. (And I was a metalhead/punk kid - that was a lot of leather.) For a while I would wear that wool jacket on and off, and get pissy and defiant about it. I think I was just really angry at my mistake and didn’t want to admit I made such a bad move and bought directly opposite of my values. But I did.
[The New Wool Jacket]
10-13 - Outside Layer, also Last Day of Wellness

I also don’t do animal products when I buy vintage/thrift because I can still find a lot of non-animal stuff at thrift and vintage stores – it’s pretty easy overall. But I think if this fits in with your value system and you feel comfortable doing it, you should do it.
[Last (Vegan) Thrift Store Haul]
$15 Queens Salvation Army Stuff

“Do you wear faux fur or faux leather? Why/why not?”
This is a really great question! Because I wear one and not the other – I wear faux leather and not faux fur.
Faux leather (aka pleather or synthetics) is what most of my shoes and bags are made out of. It’s not the greatest environmentally depending on who’s making it but I’ve filtered through the brands that are most durable so I buy less, although god forbid any of them have a pair of standard black ballet flats (Matt & Nat, Melie Bianco, Novacas for the most part, and I’m currently testing out Neuaura and Hearts of Darkness). Also, some of those brands have a mission statement that includes workers’ standards and/or eco-parameters; I’ve linked to the ones who do.

So many companies have leather and pleather lines that I don’t think people make the assumption that when I’m wearing pleather I’m wearing leather. And about 40% of my pleather is re-use/vintage. Frankly, I think sometimes you can tell the difference anyway. And I do think it's important to support the brands who are actively and purposefully vegan.
[Matt & Nat (P)leatherBag]

matt nat diaper

I don’t wear faux fur because I’ve ended up with some fur trim that I think was real fur. I ended up having that jacket tailored so the hood was removed and the trim is gone. But my cats were way way too in love with that faux fur trim for me not to be suspicious, suspecting it was real. And, as you might know, many a real poor-dude raccoon-dog is sourced from China and sometimes Finland, skinned (alive) and passed off for faux fur. And sometime in the recent past cat and dog fur was being passed off as faux fur. How f’d is that? I don't know if you recall the Burlington Coat Factory debacle re their coats containing dog fur, and thereafter a bunch of brands were called to the table re their faux fur being real fur - but the companies thought they purchased faux fur. So - after that I avoid! Like crazy! (The CA bill to accurately label fur, faux or otherwise, was vetoed by Schwartenegger just last month.)
Jacket Hack
I do have a reversible jacket that has black pile faux fur inside; it looks very fake. But I just don’t like the look of it so I don’t wear it that way. I’ll bet if I did like the look of a faux fur that was convincing I’d probably skip it -- it’s technically vegan but it’s outside my comfort zone with people’s assumptions of what I’m wearing.
The first thing that made me want to go vegan

I actually tried to go vegan when I went vegetarian when I was 16 (20 years ago) due to our family dog, Diablo. His face had been severely scratched due to an accident and my uncle needed someone to put the medicine on Diablo's face while he held him. I remember applying the medicine, and being surprised at how much his raw face looked like steak. And that was it. I was reading a lot of punk zines at that time and I already knew "there's a veal calf in every glass of milk" -- so I knew if I was going to go vegetarian, I had to go vegan. In New Jersey. In 1990. You can smell the failure, right?

I was 16 and useless as far as feeding myself went and magically didn’t feel well after a month of soft pretzels and iced tea so I switched to just being vegetarian to make it a little easier. This was also around the time that you were lucky if you saw one veggie burger at your supermarket. 5 years later I easily transitioned into veganism.

Basically, my dog and the phrase “there’s a veal calf in every glass of milk” made me vegan. (Dairy cows need to be pregnant once a year to continue producing milk and their calves are taken away from them primarily for the veal industry. They’re weaned often in really stressful ways for both the mom and baby.)
For the record, my family told me for the first DECADE that being vegetarian/vegan was a phase. Eat it, suckers!
A Note on Other Values:
While the environment and workers’ rights are not directly applied in that definition above, most vegans I know do try to take that into account also. Will each item we buy be the holy trinity of such standards? Probably not. We all have our own value systems to uphold – but I have noticed that vegans often get ripped a new one if they are buying synthetics because they “don’t care about the environment”. I’d hope that being vegan means we all do care about the environment because uh, it’s where we and animals live! But it’s true you can’t always uphold all your values and my default value is “was an animal harmed in making this?” (See Andi’s post about vegan shoes and how a commenter tried this tired argument again - which I think the plastic-y Melissa shoes ironically inspired; they're almost zero-waste and have higher worker standards.)


  1. This is really a great post. Thanks for taking the time to answer questions, and for posting the links.

    "Will each item we buy be the holy trinity of such standards? Probably not." What you say is true Vegan or not, I think we all just need to be educated on what we are purchasing/supporting.

    Also, I've had a vegetarian diet since I was in elementary school (thank you farm living) - but never made the transition to being vegan until college (and it was a slow one, as I too got sick at first from eating a college students diet) But yeah my family thought it was a phase as well - I honestly feel that the reason I didn't 'grow' is because my 'rents never made any special dishes for me as a kid and lived off of salads and bread. Not good!

  2. What an awesome, comprehensive post! I especially appreciate your sections on thrifting and faux--they are definitely vegan grey areas, and you addressed them with a lot of sensitivity!

    On a really shallow note, is the vaute couture coat warm?

  3. Ok I didnt have time to read this all (at work... probably should do some WORK) but the part about cats and dogs as faux fur... wow I had NO idea. I can't do fur - new or old - but i do do leather. I don't eat meat (except fish occasionally) and obviously id like to perfect these things. maybe some day.

  4. @ La Fille - thank you! I plan to include your suggestions in the next post. Salads and bread! I guess it sounds better than soft pretzels and iced tea but not by too much!

    @ WIW - thank you and YES, it's a warm coat. It doesn't seem that heavy when you pick it up but it is. It's at least as good as my Spiewak ones. While I'm glad I could support her the first season, I think the fit of the coats might be better this season so I'm kind of bummed I didn't wait. I might see if I can buy a Belden off-season and sell my original one!

    @ Tomorrow - right? It's seriously gross! Perfecting these things is sometimes impossible but it's always fun to try? :D

  5. I am drooling over that coat. And the shoes that Andi linked to. Thanks for sharing all this. I had no idea about the dogs. You should send this in to IFB.

  6. this article is really good! I am writing a post on the issue myself, is it ok if I link to this for further reading?

  7. @ Miss N - please feel free!

    @ Rad - good idea! Which reminds me; I haven't posted Links a la Mode in a while!

  8. Thanks for shedding so much light on a previously murky subject for me. Dense of me, perhaps, but I never considered that silk might be off-limits for vegans, either. While I don't share your specific convictions, I'm respectful of the effort you put forth to uphold yours. And I really enjoy your writing, anyhow. Thanks again!

  9. Thank you for this. As a non-vegan, I always find it really hypocritical when a proclaimed vegan will wear fur, leather, angora, silk, or eat honey. Because I admit-- I'm not vegan because those are sacrifices that I'm not willing to make in my life (and I beg anyone not to judge me for that). But I appreciate those who are willing to 98% put their money where their mouths are, because as you mentioned, it's impossible to do it 100%.

  10. Ashe Mischief - agreed! Thank you for commenting!

  11. This was really really informative. I didn't know about the veal/milk process; or the faux (real) fur debacle. I'm not vegetarian or vegan....I'm eco-conscious (manic recylcer/composter and only buy truly eco friendly household products) but not perfect by any means (i'm still a consumer and I drive a car); thanks for putting the thoughts out there though. This post will replay in my memory over and over again I think, so that I will at the least seek better choices.

  12. WHOOOOOOOO, thank you! What a stash of great links; I'm saving this for reference.

  13. Another well written and informative post! Girl- You are answering so many questions I had about syn/real leather. Unfortunately, I knew about the China fur / dog/ cat trade and how they were passing it off as fake fur to American companies. I remember feeling so much anger about that, back then.

    I also did NOT know Arnie vetoed the labeling of fake/real fur on all items. Damn it. I love him...adore him...and that's a bad move on his part. Boooooooooooo Arnie, Boooooooo.

    Once again, I'm asking permission to link back to you, this entire awesome post, in a post I'll be writing.

    Much Love...

  14. Hey, I love your blog. Do you have a Facebook so I can follow daily? :)


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