‘Fashion Victims’: The Morbid Madness of Fashion’s Deadly Past in Pictures

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Women dying from arsenic gowns and lead makeup sounds like a plotline from a Guillermo del Toro gothic horror film, but fashion trends were killing women during the 19th and early 20th centuries in France and North America. And the occupational hazards for the factory workers were just as deadly. Alison Matthews David’s Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present (Bloomsbury) examines fashion’s fearful past, when crinolines were a serious fire hazard (Oscar Wilde’s half-sisters found out the hard way) and the aniline dye in eyelash and eyebrow tinting was blinding style-savvy users.

The popular and lead-filled “Swan Down Powder” women patted on their faces emitted a toxic dust that collected in their teeth and bones. Laborers suffered from debilitating skin conditions (read: eruptions) after handling aniline-dyed stockings. And that must-have green, nicknamed “Paris Green,” was all the rage on 19th-century ball gowns (as well as “green wreaths” women wore on their heads) — at least until wearers suffered from arsenic poisoning. It was used in the pigment.

Fashion Victims features over 125 fascinating images in its morbid collection, which we preview in our gallery.

A male memento mori figure used for spiritual contemplationCredit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome ImagesPhotographc.1800 PublishedCopyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

A humorous image of two men wearing revolving top hats with several attachments for optical aids and tobacco etc. Coloured etching.Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images1830 Published: 1 January 1830Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing

Courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing

Courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing

Courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing

Two skeletons dressed as lady and gentleman. Etching, 1862.Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images1862 Published: February 8, 1862Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 2.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing

Courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing

Courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing

Courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing

Courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing

Courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing