This book was recommended to me by my pinup pal Velvet DeCollete, because she knows how deep I like to dig on the subject of ethical and healthy fashion practices, through my What In the World series. Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present by Dr Alison Matthews-David, mixes in-depth historical research and anecdotes with current-day fashion commentary. Some of it flows with the thoughtful conversation of the author, while often delving into graphic and highly-medical examples of all the illnesses and deformities that makers and wearers suffered throughout known textile history. Sometimes my stomach turned a bit, but I pushed through, because no matter how off-putting, knowledge of the terrible is as important (if not more-so) as knowledge of the pleasant. Tough topics were not shied away from in this book, that’s for sure!
The singular line that ran through all the different issues experienced by historical makers of clothing, shoes and hats, was that the increased use of man-made chemicals to dye and treat textiles caused all sorts of health problems. Progress was not always for the benefit of the people involved. People were actually killed by the items they wore; whether it was an arsenic green pair of gloves, an arsenic magenta pair of shoes, or a mercury treated hat, people were taking their lives into their own hands by following popular fashion trends.
Similarly with the development of a new celluloid plastic, used to make hair combs out of, which would burst into flames with little prompting. Or the advent of cotton flannelette, where the very features that made it warm and cuddly, also made it highly flammable.
While many of the problems’ root-causes were discovered by curious doctors, the truth of the dangers were often kept from the general public; covered up by good marketing, and protected by governments who didn’t want to negatively affect local commerce with ‘too many regulations’. These familiar stories of cover-ups and profit-before-people really boil my blood! To me, ruining people’s lives, health and environments never seems worth the short-lived ‘thrill’ of owning the newest and shiniest thing on the market.
And it was the increase demand of lower-priced goods, that resemble higher-priced goods, that led to chemical-laden manufacturing shortcuts. The growing consumer demand and expectation that everyone should be able to afford and own pretty things, led to the destruction of local environments, waterways, and the health of local communities and wildlife in manufacturing areas. Let alone the illnesses (and sometimes death, meep!) experienced by the wearers of these new and affordable items! To me it seems ludicrous (and even more-so when the risk information is available), but yet the consumer monster persists to devour and destroy, even in this ‘enlightened’ age.
Fashion trends also need to answer for dangerous historical silhouettes that put lives in danger; like the hobble skirt which allowed very little movement in the legs, crinolines and tutus which were highly flammable due to the great oxygen flow they created with their layers and shape, and long trailing scarves and loose clothing that got caught in machinery and vehicles, subsequently killing their wearers. Horrific stuff, which could have been avoided if fashion trends hadn’t dictated a desire for these risky styles. If you don’t feel comfortable in something, and in fact feel a bit unsafe, flip the bird at fashion and do without. Don’t be the ‘cool guy’ at the cost of your life; fashion isn’t worth THAT much.
If you’d like to know more about all of these historical fashion faux pas, then I highly recommend sticking your nose into Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present as soon as possible! It will give you a great base to know what to look out for in your own clothing, to make sure you stay happy and safe in the clothes that you’re in. And most especially if you’re a lover of vintage clothing and accessories; please do make sure your items are safe for wearing!
Better living everyone!