Ali Mermel, 22

Ali has a platinum smile that lights up the dusk in front of the Cha Cha. But it takes a lot of work to look so effortless. After moving to Seattle from Chicago two years ago, Ali eased off on the more severe punk rock look she'd put together. Though her tattoo--six guns sprouting outward from a broken heart with wings in the middle of her sternum, by Gilbert at Apocalypse--is a reminder of her wild youth, her sights today are set on something a bit more individualized. "Once you see something cute in the shops," Ali laments, "everybody's got it." Her solution calls for a mixture of vintage, thrift, and new clothes--but shopping is only the beginning.

Black cotton modified dress top, no label, $2 at Goodwill (1400 S Lane St, 325-6808). The best example of Ali's hybrid fashion is her top, which began as a two-dollar dress from Goodwill. A few minutes behind the sewing machine, however, and Ali transformed it into a half-slinky/half-casual sleeveless shirt that accentuates her offhand sexiness.

Studded vinyl belts, $5 at downtown belt cart (Pine St, between Second Ave and Third Ave). The studded fake leather belts wrapped loosely around her waist were purchased new, from the nameless belt cart outside of Pike Place Market, for five bucks apiece. Carts like these began popping up downtown after rising rents effectively squeezed small entrepreneurs out of Seattle's retail core.

Jeans by Sergio Vallente, $12 at Loose Change Clothing Outlet (2920 Arden Way, Sacramento, CA, 916-972-1659). The jeans, however, are vintage Sergio Vallente--a gift from a friend who picked them up for $12 at a Sacramento thrift shop. Ali prefers vintage designer jeans for their contours, unusual cuts, and ironic glamour quotient.

Boots by Nine West, $15 at Loose Change Clothing Outlet. These sleek, pointed-toe, high-heel boots came from the same second-hand shop, the result of a trade with the same friend who got her the pants.

Purse by Nordstrom, $3 at Value Village (1525 11th Ave, 322-7789). Accessories don't have to break the bank when you're building a look on a budget. This bag would go for $40 new--more than her top, jeans, and shoes put together.

Hair by Helmet Head (5622 Corson Ave S, 763-5945). Impeccably white blonde, with no trace of a darker root, Ali's do would be prohibitively expensive under normal circumstances. But thanks to her job as a stylist at Helmet Head Salon in Georgetown, the high-maintenance hairstyle is "a perk of the job"--she and her fellow stylists work on one another's coiffures for free.

Rabbit fur coat, no label, $25 at Goodwill. Almost as striking as Ali's blinding locks is her waist-cut, high-collar rabbit-fur jacket ($25). Another result of a trip to the South Seattle Goodwill, the coat works on three levels: as a street-fancy outer shell (note the elastic waistband); as a self-reflexive commentary on ritzy excess (that's real fur, yo); and, most practical, as a way to stay warm without sacrificing all the energy that went into the rest of the outfit.

Ali's coat is not only the most complicated of her garments, it's also the most dead. Though rabbit is thought to be the most "humane" of the fur skins--the assumption being that the animals were killed for their meat--the Angora breed, whose fur is most common in the manufacture of jackets, hats, stoles, and linings, is raised exclusively for its hide. According to The Rabbit: Husbandry, Health, and Production, a report produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, annual worldwide mink production yields between 25–35 million pelts a year; more than double that number of rabbit skins is annually produced by France alone. The report estimates global rabbit-skin production at approximately one billion per year. In addition, the FAO report makes it clear that "intensive meat-rabbit production techniques… are incompatible with production standards for quality fur pelts." Many factors demand the separation of the meat-rabbit and fur-rabbit industries. The main one is relative age suitability: Baby rabbits--age 10–12 weeks, before the coat is fully formed--have the tenderest meat, whereas adult rabbits provide the only acceptable fur. Another is that the rabbit's skin is integral both to a rabbit coat and to a rabbit stew.

The animal is killed with a blow to the head. Ideal production methods will leave a rabbit carcass skinned, but not eviscerated, the better to preserve the integrity of the coat, which is then cured (the fur equivalent of leather tanning), a multi-stage process that includes rehydration, "fleshing" away a subcutaneous membrane specific to rabbits, dressing the pelt with chemicals, thinning, greasing, and "finishing," before the pelt is ready to be made into a coat and sold--first wholesale, then retail, and finally, second hand at the South Seattle Goodwill. *