Do you know your lipstick probably has lead in it and there’s a pretty high chance our clothes could light on fire? Neither did I, until I read Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present by Alison Matthews David. The book catalogs fashion foes and threats from the Victorians until present, dividing the dangers into sections such as “Poisonous Pigments” and “Inflamatory Fabrics.” There are evidently many ways to die, and so many of them have to do with the manufactured clothing of the Victorian era.
Alison Matthew David does what I wish more academic writers would do; she makes the subject materials accessible to the non-collegiate reader. David takes the detailed material and her careful research and expresses it in a way that is (strange to say) fun to read and fascinating. Some of the tales are fairly grisly and are cited from well-researched sources, making them all the more terrifying. There are tales of women dying from dresses set alight while dancing ballet on stage and both sexes developing painful lesions on their legs in stripped patterns from fashionable stockings. There are also cautions for the reader about modern makeup. I did not know that my particular brand of hair dye (and 90% of them) contain a chemical that was banned from clothing due to dangers. I’m starting to wonder if it’s time to swear off most of my beauty regimens.
The images in the book are often period advertisements or photographs of real dresses and clothing items found in museums from around the world. There’s even a picture of a hat in a bag labeled “Toxic” at the Victoria and Albert museum. Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present does a great job with presentation and visual representation for the reader.
I found myself devouring Fashion Victims and I’m recommending it to all those who love Victoriana and the History of Fashion.
Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present is now available from Bloomsbury Press