My old black leather gloves were falling apart, so when the sun came out for a couple of hours the other day I drove to T.J. Maxx, which is not too far from where I now live.
Lined with car dealerships and fast-food restaurants, the road between my house and TJM is not what I think of as the real Vermont, but I reminded myself that in the decade I spent in my beloved, store-free village, I had to shop for most of my clothes at the church rummage sale.
None of the leather gloves at TJM fit me. When had women evolved five-inch-long fingers? Might this be a sign from the universe that I should forego leather in favor of artificial fabric? After all, if I refuse to eat a dead cow, it makes no sense to clothe my fingers with the skin of one.
Luckily, the non-leather gloves on the rack weren’t all fuzzy and bulky. I found a sleek pair that fit perfectly. It even had a frivolous little strip of black faux fur (no rabbits harmed) around the wrist.
At home, I got scissors and went to separate the gloves, which were tightly bound together with those annoying bits of plastic filament. (One end is always easy to grasp, cut, and throw in the trash–you can’t recycle the things–but the shorter end invariably springs out of my hands and disappears into the carpet.)
Attached to the gloves by more plastic ties were four labels of various thicknesses. One announced, in gold-embossed letters on stiff black cardboard, that the gloves were weatherproof. Another assured me that the strip of fur around the wrist was faux. (Wouldn’t it be great if the manufacturers of faux news felt equally obliged to describe it as such?)
The third label stated the price, $14.99 (compare at $20). And the fourth explained that those reinforcing bits on the tips of the index and thumb made the gloves “touch screen compatible,” so that, should I need to check my Facebook page while standing in the middle of a blizzard, I won’t have to take them off.
By the time I had disposed of the four labels, I was feeling less sanguine about my purchase. Sure, neither cows nor rabbits had perished for the sake of the gloves, but some tree somewhere had been amputated to make those tags.
That wasn’t the only reason I felt guilty, however: I had bought more than gloves on my shopping trip.
We all know about the environmental cost of the clothing trade. I once heard a researcher describe the rivers near the manufacturing centers in China, which run all the colors of the rainbow with the dyes used on the fabrics. Every time I walk into a clothing store, I think about those rivers.
But as I pushed my cart along the aisles of TJM, the profusion of colors, textures, and shapes made my head spin. And the prices! When did clothes get so cheap? When I was a teenager, getting a new sweater was a memorable occasion, but now sweaters, unaffected by trumpian sanctions, are practically a dime a dozen.
Outside, there was snow on the ground and the wind was blowing. The old sweaters in my closet had all sprouted a crop of pills, while here in the store, at easy reach of my hand and wallet, hung hundreds of sweaters, unpilled, just my size, just my colors, fresh all the way from China.
Reader, I caved. I bought not one, not two, but three.
At the checkout, I handed the clerk the sweaters and gloves, and my canvas New Yorker bag.
“What is this?” the clerk asked, pointing to the bag.
“It’s my bag,” I said.
“You want me to put your things in there?”
She sighed. She folded the sweaters and began stuffing them and the cruelty-free gloves into the bag. “It’s hard to get it all in,” she said, as the line of customers behind me grew.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
But I really wasn’t. I felt guilty about the sweaters, but at least I’d saved a plastic bag.