Death by Fashion

by Daksha L.

Fashion is supposed to enhance one’s beauty, but sometimes this comes with an unwanted side effect.

The Crinoline

The crinoline was a sort of petticoat designed to hold out a women’s skirt. It was made from wire, horsehair, and cotton or linen thread. The crinoline was commonly worn by middle to upper class women in the Victorian era. The crinoline was very wide, which was very problematic because it caught big gusts of wind and frequently lifted its wearer off her feet. There have been accounts of women drowning because of wearing a crinoline.

Another cause of death was burns. Since the crinoline was so wide, women often knocked over things such as candles when walking. Crinolines are highly flammable. Guess what happens next.

But that’s not all! The crinoline often got stuck in the spokes of a carriage wheel, forcing its owner to be dragged across the road!

A comic poking fun at the highly impractical crinoline.

Detachable Stiff Collars

Detachable stiff collars were designed in the 19th century so men didn’t have to change shirts every day. They were very heavily starched. So much so, that the collars would cut off the windpipe and several arteries causing asphyxia. There is an account of a man almost decapitated by his collar. In Germany they were known as ‘Vatermörder’ or ‘father killer’.

A man wearing a detachable collar.

Arsenic Dyes

In 1775, Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele made a green pigment brighter and longer lasting than any other green dye at the time. It was also more toxic. The dye, called Scheele’s green, was made from arsenic. The dye was very popular, and was used for children’s toys, wallpaper, fake plants, and dyeing cloth among other things. If you were wearing a ball gown dyed with Scheele’s green, the danger arose when you sweat, opening your pores to the arsenic, which caused chemical burns, which let in more toxins. Another way to be affected by this dye was breathing it in.

A dress dyed using Scheele’s green.


An advertisement for a corset.

Corsets were used to make women’s waist appear slimmer. It did this, but also constricted organs, bent ribs, and did damage to the hips and spine. It prevented the lungs from fully expanding when taking a breath and sometimes caused internal bleeding. Common side effects of wearing a corset were, indigestion, constipation, and frequent fainting.

The Fontange

Queen Mary II in a fontange.

The fontange was a ridiculously tall headdress worn by women of the European aristocracy. The fontange was so high that it often housed unwanted pests such as mice, and lice. A cause of fontange deaths was fires. Imagine a woman in a tall, flammable headdress walking under candle chandeliers. There is a high possibility that the headdress might bump the chandelier, setting the fontange on fire, and thus the woman’s hair.

Mad Hatter’s Disease

The mad hatter, from Alice in Wonderland, actually has some base in reality. In the 19th century, hatters would use mercury nitrate to treat pelts in a process called ‘carroting’. This would expose the hatters to mercury, leading to mercury poisoning. The main effects of this were mental confusion and muscular weakness. These symptoms lead to the term “mad as a hatter”.

The Mad Hatter, from Lewis Carroll’s, Alice in Wonderland

These are just a few examples of fashion trends, that however stylish, you do not want to be wearing!


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