Feathers have been a constant in the tradition of theatrical costumes, and our costumes have been no exception. People love them because their natural design is so elegant and ethereal. They make us feel special and give an unmistakable brilliance to our costumes and characters. They are dyed in every color we could ask for: purple, hot pink, light pink, boas that are black with silver sparkles, white with gold sparkles, rainbow color, and on and on. If you have any doubt about the feeling of importance and loveliness when wearing a fluffy feather boa, hand one to a 3-year-old and see how that child takes on a whole new persona of elegance and sophistication. But don’t do that, really; I think we can all picture that. You’ll understand why later.
When we grow up seeing this all around us and no one questioning it, it’s easy to accept that it must be okay. There couldn’t be anything wrong with wearing feathers if the people we look up to and trust are doing it, right? We see it in the movies, on celebrities, in dance recitals, and on stages. Then we see them in the stores and they look so uniform and nicely displayed and packaged. We might have fleeting thoughts once in a while such as, ‘But, where does the down in that warm coat come from? How do they get those beautiful Ostrich feathers to the store?’ It’s such a normal part of our society that the mental inquiry usually stops there. Sadly, I am speaking from my own experience.
Two years ago, I changed my diet and my lifestyle choices and became vegan. In the beginning, I focused solely on food. I was doing this on my own, so it was kind of like jumping in the deep end to learn how to swim. Once I got used to buying and preparing food that was free from harm and animal products, I started thinking about the rest of my impact on the lives of animals and the planet. Of course, leather isn’t vegan. I had leather shoes, leather bags, and leather furniture. The bags were easy to part with first. The shoes took some time because replacing them was more difficult, but I’ve managed to do it, and I no longer use any leather furniture either. Fur had already been a deal breaker for me for as long as I can remember. So, there was nothing to change at my home or my shop there.
Then, at work, I started to think about the feather boas and the feather headbands, the “Feather Dusters” from Beauty and the Beast. The “Bird Girls” in Seussical, the “Natives” in Peter Pan, and the “Pick-a-little Ladies” in The Music Man. Our angel wings in It’s a Wonderful Life. Oy. I was actually using a LOT of feathers in my shows. Like you, I think of myself as a passionate and intelligent person, and as a creative, I’m extremely sensitive, but somehow, my mind had overlooked the reality that these authentic bird feathers that can be bought so easily online to go with any of my costumes were definitely causing harm to the birds to which they rightfully belonged!
It really only takes a quick Google search to find out the cruel circumstances of where the feathers come from. If you are interested in learning more about that, I suggest checking out PETA’s posts about feathers.
I am done supporting the costume feather industry. After all, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. It really upsets me that it’s taken this long for me to face the music on this issue. I know that the feathers belong to these magnificent creatures in nature. When I think about the mystifying diversity of birds and why we love to imitate them in the first place, I know that these beauties should be wearing their regal ‘costumes’ they were born into and living long, glorious lives. They should be flaunting their feathers for us to admire so much that we find ways to replicate them with honor and respect rather than steal them with cruelty.
As for how this will affect our costumes at the shop and on your actors, I am going to be replacing all of the real bird feathers with imitations or designs that have the feather-like effect. As you know, in theatre, we can make magical things happen from pure imagination. “Wanna change the world? There’s nothing to it!” Simple for Wonka, since it’s written out for him. In the real world, it may take a little more work, and a little more time. I’m still aiming for Paradise on Earth.
If you would like to help support the amazing, compassionate efforts of those who work hard to save our feathered friends and other animals from the cruel harm and destruction of factory farming, consider donating to an animal farm sanctuary. During this month of May, The Costume Room is running a fundraiser for Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary, where more than 70 rescue chickens are living out their happy lives. When you make a donation, we will double your donation amount in credit toward your costume rental.