There is some debate on when the term “fashion” really started to apply to how we seek and view clothing today. Like any good origin story people remember key points, but get fuzzy on the details. Some believe that fashion was a means to separate the aristocracy from the poor from as far back as clothing was worn for more than just physical protection. Did cave men have a hierarchy in the types of pelts they wore? No one really knows the answer to that. Others believe that fashion as it exists today, with the need to show off wealth with luxurious duds started during the Italian Rennaisance. Some people are adamant that fashion as we know it doesn’t start until the Baroque era, but in my humble opinion this is way late to finally acknowledge a burgeoning profession.
Whenever Fashion as we know it arrived, both Men and Women have been doing absolutely absurd things to their bodies throughout history just to keep up with the times. From busks, corsets, cod pieces, stays, farthingales, bum rolls, crinolines, high heels, mercury lined hats, and arsnic based dyes to hair plucking, shaving, tanning, piercing, dieting, we’re all part of the large wheel that is a societal need to fit in.
So you say okay, duh, get on with it. Well this super awesome, The Bata Museum has put together a little exhibit called Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century. It follows some of the crazy things people wore and did to themselves back in the turn of the 20th century. You can see the video by clicking the photo below.
Here’s another article about this amazing exhibit!
Arsnic in gowns, crinoline’s that led to many women being burned alive, mercury in hats, the list is astounding and we may read this with a sense of piety that “at least we have come a long way an know better than to do some of these things now.”
The truth is, that the FDA and other governmental agencies make sure that things like arsnic dyes don’t make their way into your house anymore, and that your children’s toys aren’t full of lead. But are the dangers really gone from fashion?
Think about it! We still cultivate dangerous fashion trends all the time. Anorexia was a huge deal in the fashion industry and for a brief stint in the 90’s was encouraged. Then you have Models like Isabelle Caro (seen above), who actually died due to complications because of her anorexia. It’s why we ended up with a million PSA’s about eating and not stuffing designer drugs up your nose. (Don’t get me wrong, some women, are naturally this thin, it’s usually linked to some health problems. So don’t just assume because you see a very skinny woman she is anorexic. I think this is just as rude as someone assuming you eat too much because you have a big behind.)
We have tanning, which is a huge debate among those who love to keep a tan all year round and those who are very concerned with the potential it has for causing skin cancer. The dangers of too much tanning have even been subject to court litigation and law making. In response to this need for a deeper complexion, many have turned to safer alternatives such as bronzers and spray tans. A similar path has been taken with smoking cigarettes. It used to be an image, a fashionable pastime, and now we see it’s juxtaposition to the types of health issues it causes. In efforts to get rid of tobacco millions of dollars are poorer into anti-smoking campaigns. So fashionably smokers have responded by moving to e-cigarettes.
I think that these are all immediate things that come to mind when we think of deadly habits in fashion, however, not all of our bad fashion habits are in your face and not all of them are deadly. But think about it, how many times have you crammed you feet into uncomfortable shoes because they complemented an outfit. Have you ever gotten an eye infection from wearing your contacts too long? What about the need to have a smooth figure? Do you own spanx?
Just some food for thought. In the end, fashion is driven by consumers and designers. It is generally intended to be a means of self expression for the wearer. You should do what makes you happiest and most comfortable. But the next time you poke yourself in the eye with a mascara brush, or cut yourself while shaving, remember that these “deadly fashions” aren’t as far away as they seem.