Sacrificing for fashion

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One only has to look at the annals of history to see the changes in fashion. Styles have dictated the lives of both men and women for as long as we have chronicled human accounts.  Hemlines have gone up and down, fabrics have gone from cotton to synthetics, and all the while we have been addicted to what the fashion designers have charged as “in style.” However, our intentions of being “fashionable” have created a negative impact; our desire to look our best has often been at the expensive of the most vulnerable creatures that share the planet…the animals.

The use of bird feathers in fashion had become an established trend for women in Europe and the United States. The millinery industry in the past centuries supported and encouraged what was vogue. In the 1880s on average, the millinery trade’s demand for plumage and skins resulted in the destruction of as many as fifteen million American birds annually, from songbirds to waterfowl.

Around 1900 it could be said to be the pinnacle of glove-wearing. To satisfy all the varieties from evening gloves, winter gloves, and even driving gloves, they were made from wool, cashmere, silk, kid, doeskin, and cape (a sheepskin leather) for both men and women.   The 1600s was nothing short of devastation for beavers; Europe had all but extinguished their population. Its fur was used to fashion hats and trim coats. Hunters turned to North America to supplement the appetite of the fashion mongers creating the beaver to become nearly extinct here too.

Boots, shoes, belts, jackets, coats, handbags, hats and wallets produced from reptile skins were supplemented for the fashion industry. By the 1950s, demand for hides and uncontrolled hunting in the southeastern United States had almost wiped out the species of alligators.  Even the whales were not left behind. In the 19th century, “whale baleen” (the plates in the whale mouth used to sieve food) was an important fashion tool. Flexible and strong; dried baleen was used in the manufacturing of “tight structure” in clothing, such as corsets.  And we all know the impact furs have had on the extensive array of animals; seals, fox, vicuna (relative to the llama), otters, spotted cats (such as jaguars and tigers).

Sadly, the list goes on and on. So the next time you are in the Florida Everglades consider yourself very lucky if you happen to see a Roseate Spoonbill. Although it is slowly making a come-back, it is a rare site since its ancestors’ beautiful feathers once adorned so many hats.

Today’s esteemed thinker is not relegated to one person in particular, but to those who uphold and protect the Endangered Species Act of 1973. When it was passed by Congress “it recognized that our rich natural heritage is of “esthetic, ecological, educational, recreational, and scientific value to our Nation and its people.” The law prohibits any action that causes a “taking” of any listed species of endangered fish or wildlife. Likewise, import, export, interstate, and foreign commerce of listed species are all generally prohibited. The act provides a program for the conservation of threatened and endangered plants and animals and the habitats in which they are found.