While dressing in the morning may seem like a hassle (pajamas are so much more comfortable), few of us are worried about our clothes leading to our deaths. This was not the case in the Victorian era when fashion fabrics and accessories were sometimes offered to manufacturers and wearers at a high price. In Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Clothing Past and Present describes Alison Matthews David, a professor at the School of Fashion at Ryerson University in Toronto, the many toxic, flammable and otherwise highly dangerous high-style components in the 19th century. Century. Here are some of the worst offenders.
. 1 Toxic Dyes
Before the 1
Although fashionable women wore arsenic-dyed fabrics – Queen Victoria was also featured in one of them – these health effects were the worst among the textile and other workers who made the clothes and kept them warm with arsenic day after day impregnated rooms worked. (Some scientists have even suggested that Napoleon may have been poisoned by the arsenic-studded wallpaper in his home in St. Helena.)
Arsenic dyes were also a popular supplement for artificial flowers and leaves, meaning they were often pinned Clothes or attached to heads. In the 1860s, a report commissioned by the Ladies & Sanitary Association found that the average headdress contained enough arsenic to poison 20 people. The British Medical Journal wrote about the green-clad Victorian woman: "She actually wears enough venom in her skirts to kill any admirers she might meet in half a dozen ballrooms." Despite repetition, warnings in In the press and doctors and scientists, the Victorians seemed to be in love with emerald arsenic dyes; Ironically, they acted as a reminder of nature, which was then quickly lost to industrialization, says David.
. 2 Pestilential Fabrics
Soldiers of the Victorian era (and earlier) were plagued by lice and other body parasites that brought fatal diseases such as typhus and trench fever. But soldiers were not the only victims of disease transmitted through substances – even the rich sometimes wore clothing made or cleaned by the sick in sweatshirts or apartment blocks, which spread the disease as a result. According to David, the daughter of Victorian Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel died after her riding habit given by her father had ended in the house of a poor seamstress who had used her to protect her sick husband while lying down. Trembling with typhoid fever induced chills. Peel's daughter got typhoid after wearing the garment and died on the eve of her wedding.
Women were also worried about their skirts sweeping through the dirt and excrement of the city's streets, where bacteria were widespread, and some wore special skirt closures. Keep them away from ammunition. The poor, who often wore second-hand clothing, suffered from smallpox and other diseases spread by substances that were recycled without thorough cleaning.
. 3 Flowing Skirts
Huge, curly skirts with kronolin straps may have been fine for casual women, but they were not a great combination with industrial machines. According to David, a mill in Lancashire issued a sign in 1860 banning "that today's ugly HOOPS or CRINOLINE fashion as it is called" is "totally inappropriate for the work of our factories". The warning was wise: In at least one print shop, a girl was caught by her crinoline and pulled under the mechanical press. The girl had got away "very slim" and uninjured, but the foreman had nevertheless banned the skirts. Long, large or draped skirts were also an unfortunate combination with carriages and animals.
. 4 Flammable Fabrics
Flowing white cotton, so beloved in the late 18th and 19th centuries, was dangerous to manufacturers and wearers: it was produced on plantations in often brutal slave labor and was also more flammable than the heavy silk and woolen fabrics of the rich favors the past centuries. One type of cotton lace was particularly problematic: in 1809, John Heathcoat patented a machine that produced the first machine-woven silk and cotton lace or reel, better known as tulle, which could catch fire in no time. The tulle was often layered to increase the volume and compensate for its sharpness, and stiffened with flammable strength. Ballerinas were particularly at risk: British ballerina Clara Webster died in 1844 when her dress caught fire in London's Drury Lane theater after her skirt got too close to the sunken lights on stage.
But not only performers were in danger: even the average woman, who wore the then popular voluminous crinoline, was in danger of setting herself on fire. And the flannelette so popular for nightgowns and underwear (plain brushed cotton to take a nap and resemble woolen flannel) was especially flammable when hit by a scoop of straw or the flame of a household candle. So many children burned in household accidents that a company brought out a specially treated flannel called Non-Flam, which was advertised as "highly recommended by Coroners".
. 5 Arsenic Taxidermy
Dead birds were a popular supplement for women's hats in the 19th century. According to David, "fashion fashions killed millions of little songbirds and brought with them dangers that still make some historical women's hats harmful to humans."
But it was not the birds that were the problem – it was the arsenic used on them. The taxidermists of that time used arsenic-stained soaps and other products to protect birds and other living things. In some cases whole birds – one or more – have been mounted on hats. Some Victorian fashion commentators denied the practice, but not because of the arsenic content. A women's clothing and beauty writer, Mrs. Haweis, started a Diatribe against "smashed birds" in 1887 with the sentence: "A corpse is never a really pleasant ornament."
No Victorian-era upper-class man was complete without his hat, but many of these hats were made from mercury. David explains, "Although its harmful effects were known, it was the cheapest and most efficient way to turn stiff, inferior rabbit and rabbit fur into malleable felt." Mercury gave animal skins its smooth, shiny, matte texture. This velvety look was costly linked – Mercury is an extremely dangerous substance.
Mercury can enter the body quickly through the skin or air and have a number of terrible health consequences. It was known that Hatter suffered from cramps, abdominal cramps, tremors, paralysis, reproductive disorders and many more. (Karen Wetterhahn, a professor of chemistry, studied toxicology at Dartmouth College and died in 1996, after pouring only a few drops of super-toxic mercury on her glove.) Worse, hatters who drank while they worked (not uncommon practice)) only accelerated the effect of mercury by interfering with the liver's ability to eliminate it. While scientists are still debating whether Lewis Carroll's "Mad Hatter" should pinpoint the effects of mercury poisoning, his trembling limbs and crazy speech seem to fit the bill.
. 7 Lead
Pallor was definitely in the Victorian era, and a face laced with lead white paint was long favored by fashionable women. Lead has been a popular ingredient in cosmetics for centuries, writes David, because it "made colors even and opaque and produced a desirable whiteness that would provide both the freedom of hard work outdoors and the purity of the breed." One of the most popular lead laces Products cosmetics products were named Lairds Bloom of Youth; In 1869, one of the founders of the American Medical Association treated three young women who had used the product and temporarily stopped using their hands and wrists. (The doctor described the condition as "lead paralysis," although we now refer to it as "wrist drop" or "radial nerve palsy" that can be caused by lead poisoning.) One of the female hands was said to have been "wasted to a skeleton."  This article was re-published in 2019.