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Deadly Clothing

Our clothing is supposed to keep us warm, protected and safe. Unfortunately over the years, and with surprising regularity, it has done just the opposite.

Foot binding, corsetry, high heels, extremely narrow or extremely wide skirts, fur hats, beautiful fashion colors, pretty hair pieces have all been attributed to sickness, bodily injury and death.

Corsetry – For the sake of fashion, women would squeeze themselves into impossibly small waisted corsets. The average Victorian waist size being 22 inches, compared to 34 for the modern female. The resulting deformities caused by a lifelong habit of tight corseting contributed to all manner of medical problems. I.e.: digestion, breathing, musculature. Fortunately, when the wearer refrained from tight lacing, her body recovered and was none the worse for wear.

Hobble Skirts and Crinolines - Extremely narrow or wide skirts have been the cause of many injuries. Oscar Wilde (well know Victorian poet and author) lost two of his sisters (Emily and Mary) to their fashionably wide crinoline skirts catching fire. The impossibly narrow Hobble Skirt of the early 1900’s was also responsible for many injuries and even deaths. A US newspaper article in Massachusetts talks of a Miss Ida Goyette – who tried to step over the locked gate of a bridge, lost her footing, fell into the river and drowned. All because of the constricting nature of her skirt.

Men’s and Women’s Fur hats – mercury and acid were brushed into the fur pelts that made up the Top Hat of the fashionable Victorian gentleman or lady. Mercury exposure causes skin sores, paranoia, madness and eventually death. It is thought that the mad hatter character from Alice in Wonderland was inspired by the effects of Mercury on the millinery workers.

Beautiful colors – Many of the beautiful colors so prevalent in Victorian clothing are also deadly poison. In the early 1850’s, the very first chemical dye was produced by distilling the tar that was left over from burning coal, into a gas. That gas, when mixed with another chemical produced beautiful blues and mauves. The color green – was obtained with the mixing of copper and arsenic. All highly toxic and deadly mixtures. The dyes would cause skin irritations to varying degrees and even death to the textile workers.

Exploding hair combs – one of the earliest plastics to be developed was called Parkesine. Parkesine was inexpensive and easy to mold, making it a popular alternative to tortoiseshell and ivory combs. Unfortunately, when mixed with cellulose and exposed to high heat, it has a tendency to explode. In 1910, a gentleman from Pennsylvania lost his life as a result of using his cellulose comb. Seems the cellulose comb exploded while he was grooming his beard. Whole factories have gone up as a result of mixing the wrong chemical with Parkesine.

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