Currently Reading – Fashion Victims

I think we are all very much aware of the problems and dangers associated with the production of textiles and clothing. They range from unsafe working conditions to pollutants caused by dyes and other processes. But what about the clothes themselves? Can our garments be dangerous to our health?

According to author Alison Matthews David, the answer is an unfortunate yes. There is a long history of poisonous colors, flammable fabrics, and plastics that combust. But this is all in the past, one might say. Today there are laws to protect us. Don’t be so sure!

When thinking of the dangers of clothing, a good starting place is with the producers of fashion. This cartoon from 1863 shows that little has changed when it comes to how fashion is produced. It is the makers who toil in dangerous conditions and who must work to exhaustion just to make enough money on which to survive. While we’d like to think such practices are firmly in the past, all we have to do is watch the news to see that abuses in the clothing industry continue.

Perhaps we have overcome one danger from the past, that of catching disease from our clothes. When skirts dragged the ground, all sorts of trash and microbes were gathered just from walking on the street. This 1900 cartoon in Puck magazine helps illustrate the problem.

Sometimes the dangers from clothing have been part of the deliberate act of manufacture. People knew that arsenic was poisonous, but the fears of it were set aside when it was discovered that arsenic made a lovely shade of green dye.

People knew that the dye was dangerous, but we all must suffer a bit for fashion. The above cartoon was published in Punch, 1862.

Problematic ingredients have also been used in cosmetics. The chemicals in hair dye and mascara could lead to blindness.

Probably the most famous example of death by fashion is that of dancer Isadora Duncan. In 1927 as she sped off in a car, she wrapped her long silk scarf around her neck, the ends streaming behind her. The fringe became entwined in the wheel, and Duncan’s neck was snapped.

One of the most mocked skirt fashions, the hobble skirt, was also a dangerous fashion. There were examples of women being trampled and drowned while wearing the style, which was fashionable from 1910 through 1914.

Fire was one a major danger. In the days before electric light, stages were lit with gaslights, and especially dangerous where the footlights. Ballerina costumes were highly flammable, being made of gauze and tulle, and fires were common.

Women wearing the cage crinoline were also at risk for burns, as the space under the cage acted as a chimney, allowing flames to quickly race up a skirt.

Today we have all sorts of laws and regulations that are meant to keep us safe from the clothes we wear. It would be foolish to think that our clothing is without danger, however. It may be safer to wear, but what about the safety of the makers? What about the toxins used in the production of clothing? The clothing industry needs quite a bit of improvement before our clothes are truly free from dangers.


Filed under Currently Reading

12 responses to “Currently Reading – Fashion Victims

  1. I read about this book awhile back, meant to hunt it down and ended up forgetting – thanks so much for the reminder!! πŸ˜€


  2. jacq staubs

    YES! Sadly enough YES dyes / chemicals have plagued the fashion industry for years. The F D A under caring less greed driven administrations within OUR government – under supervision – of intelligent caring / less greed driven administrations is very effective in safeguarding / protecting us. These positions currently (many director level) are vacant. As a long time resident of DC i knew many people in government agencies . Fashion is just one industry now in extreme danger. I have personally known people who have developed cancer from foreign chemical dyes! Greed / Graft have overshadowed common sense ! Soon there will be no labeling of COA! The 18th. Cent. cartoons are all too real!


  3. Pal

    I just listened to a TED talk on sustainability and fashion waste that talked about the use of harsh chemical dyes


  4. Girl in the Stix

    In the 19th century, the crinoline/hoop skirts were a fire danger. In fact my great-grandmother died of burns received from her skirt getting too close to a fire. She panicked and ran, incurring fatal injuries.


  5. That TED talk is terrifying. Fashion the second largest polluter behind oil and gas! I’m cooking up a pot of turmeric today. Good thing I already love cotton.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have wanted to read this book for awhile! But also terrified!



  7. Sherry Elliott

    I enjoyed reading your information from the book “Fashion Victims”. In just the short information you shared I learned so much! Thank you for your continued teaching,
    I guess we all know now where the expression “fashion victim” came from.


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