Though beautiful, it is a fact that fashion can sometimes be dangerous. From moments like Naomi Campbell’s iconic fall at Vivienne Westwood in 1993 while wearing gigantic platforms to Abbey Lee Kershaw’s fainting backstage at Alexander McQueen Spring 2009 due to a too tight corset, there are more than enough examples of the hazards fashion presents in the name of beauty. But a new book takes this one step further, focusing on the truly deadly side of fashion.
Fashion Victims by Alison Matthews David takes its title quite literally. In her book, she looks over decades of fashion with a historical eye, examining the perils and fatalities of creating or wearing a garment through the years. Hats laden with mercury took many lives in decades past, as did arsenic infused clothing, which was used to create a brilliantly green hue. Poisonous hats, toxic dresses and deadly shoes are expounded upon in David’s book. Beyond harm in creation, David also spends time discussing harm in style. Gigantic hoop skirts and fashionably high hair caused countless problems, as did flowing scarves and other garments that weren’t harmful in their creation, but rather in their execution.
David’s publication begs that we collectively examine the lengths we will go to for personal style. Unknowingly donning a deadly poisonous hat is one thing, but willingly putting on restrictive or painfully uncomfortable clothing is another. David probes this idea, noting that fashion has long been a marker of social status as well as moral compass, two things that were taken very seriously in times like the 19th century. Even today this still rings true, as we still make judgments about a person’s values based on their clothing choice, and luxury clothing and labels still act as a status signifier to separate us.
Though we have moved past the times of arsenic imbued garments and lethal dyes, David also notes the deadly dangers of the creation of fashion of today. Workers in unsafe conditions with little other options but to take jobs working long hours doing the same thing day-in and day-out, with disastrous long-term effects, are not looked over by David.