Feathers have been a fashion accessory for thousands of years, as far back as Neanderthal time. By the late 1800s, not only feathers but also whole birds (stuffed and mounted) could be seen fluttering in the breeze on women’s hats.
In the early 1900s, in one London sales house alone in one year, 1.5 tons of heron’s plumes represented the death of 193,000 herons killed in their nests along with the collateral deaths of nestlings and eggs resulting in a devastating loss to the heron population. Eventually, enactment of the Migratory Bird Treaty of 1918 protected many species of birds. The feathers of herons, egrets, and all other native migratory birds could no longer be bought, sold, or bartered.
While today we see few feathers on women’s hats, except on fashion runways, we do still see feathers used in fashion in general and for costumes—think Las Vegas showgirls. But there’s an interesting new niche for the use of feathers as adornments—fly feathers. Traditionally, fly feathers are part of fly-fishing tackle; however, today they have become a fashion statement.
Regardless of the use of feathers, whether as a boa wrapped around the neck of a model, as part of a costume for a parade, or dangling from one’s head, feather fashion represents violence. Of course, feathers aren’t used just as adornment. Feathers are also used in pillows, comforters, and clothing. When you hear “down filled,” the product carries with it years of torturous living for the birds who produced the down to fill the manufacturer’s need.
Feathers aren’t merely plucked from the ground where they have fallen during a bird’s normal molt. They are plucked directly from the skin, which is rich in nerve endings. The pain these birds—ducks, geese, chickens, roosters, and others—feel goes on several times a year for several years until the bird no longer produces useful feathers.
Make no mistake, these birds aren’t just wandering around the barnyard waiting for their feathers to be plucked. Think of the production of feathers for fashion on the same scale as factory farming—thousands of birds crammed into limited spaces. They are fed special diets to stimulate feather growth, their wings are clipped so they cannot fly, and their beaks are often chopped off to prevent them from feather plucking, a condition in which birds, usually under stress, will attack themselves to the point of drawing blood as they pluck out their own feathers. Naturally, once they are no longer producing feathers of a quality and amount necessary to make the feather farmer a profit, they are slaughtered.
When you think about it…feathers belong on birds, not on us, or in our clothing or bedding. Let the caged bird fly.