I am a vegetarian who wears leather, therefore, I am called a hypocrite. The people who say this seem to misunderstand either vegetarianism or hypocrisy. There are no rules to vegetarianism, it is just a catch all label for people who do not, under certain circumstances, consume meat. People who call themselves vegetarians have all made different decisions, for different reasons, about what they will and will not eat. Some consume fish, some eat eggs, milk, or animal by-products, and others still consume meat on rare occasions, but all of them can be labeled as vegetarian. Personally, I've found it to be the easiest way to convey to people that I may be inspecting my food, and questioning the ingredient list.
A proselytizing vegan who wears leather may be considered a hypocrite, but a person practicing her own brand of vegetarianism, while minding her own business... well, that's not a hypocrite, that is a person living her life while making personal judgments. Hypocrisy includes a note of dishonesty or disingenuousness. Since there are no set rules to vegetarianism, the vegetarian in question would have to define rules, then go against them, to be a hypocrite.
Someone claiming to be a vegetarian for animal rights reasons, but who sports leather, feathers, or fur is likely a hypocrite, but those items could be from his pre-veggie days, or vintage items, or gifts from well meaning loved ones, or any of a hundred other scenarios. With such a complex, and personal issue, it is difficult to accurately call someone a hypocrite, not impossible, but there will likely be a high level of error on snap judgments. But, that's pretty universal, isn't it Mrs. Darcy.
I loosely consider myself an environmental vegetarian, because I am a vegetarian, mostly*, over environmental concerns. What I do and do not eat is completely up to me, and sometimes changes due to circumstance, but for the purposes of this post, it is what I wear that is of issue. I owned leather items before I made a decision to be vegetarian, in fact, I became vegetarian before I made the decision to do so, I intended to add meat back into my diet in moderation, so in "the early days" I continued to purchase leather items just as I always had. As I think more about the impact I'm having, rather than the initial shock of, "Holy fava beans, I don't like vegetables, beans, or legumes, what the frak am I gonna eat !?!" I am making more deliberate decisions about my purchases.
I tend to buy leather in items that I intend to keep for many years or that I will wear regularly, such as a classic shoe, boot, or bag, and to buy man made when the item is trendy. Leather holds up better than any man-made material in my budget, so I will have to buy fewer items in the long run. For items I expect to be short lived, or occasionally worn, I don't need longevity, so plastic does just fine. When it comes to vintage items, I have no qualms about buying leather, I think its better to wear it out than to throw it in a landfill and replace it with a new, man-made alternative that will probably soon be in the landfill, too. I continue to wear the leather items I already owned for similar reasons.
I spend a good amount of time deliberating on this issue, and how I can continue my rampant consumerism in a semi-responsible way. I am not a hypocrite, at least not in this context, because I think I am rather successful in my attempt to be completely honest about my attempt at vegetarianism. I don't claim to have all of the answers, I am constantly confused as to what is the best decision, and my ideas and ideals are constantly evolving. I would love to hear other people's take on the issue, because I think when we stop calling names, and start a real, adult conversation we would find the differences of opinion thought-provoking. So, the next time you are inclined to proclaim someone a hypocrite, I hope you will stop to ask them, or yourself a few more questions, and to do a bit of thinking. I certainly will be attempting it. I will likely fail, but I will try.
*There is also a health component. I have had fewer migraines after making the switch, which is what led me to remain meat-free.