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The History of Hazardous Clothing, in Pictures

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The Arsenic Waltz or The New Dance of Death (Dedicated to the Green Wreath and Dress-Mongers), relating to the use of arsenic as a green pignment, from an 1862 issue of Punch. (Photo: Wellcome Library, London/Courtesy Bloomsbury)

Green ball gowns tinted with arsenic. Top hats made of mercury. Flammable crinoline. These are just some of the lethal fashions covered in the new book Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present, which details the history of death by clothing.

Focusing on the mid-1700s to the 1930s, the book is an astonishing and sometimes gory account of the ways in which clothing has killed, either by accident, by design, or through treacherous manufacturing conditions.

This dark history is presented alongside a series of illustrations from the era, which show just how dangerous dressing could be. Below, a selection of images from this startling and fascinating book. 

A cartoon depicting the diseases a trailing skirt can collect, as death hovers close-by: ‘Typhoid Fever! Consumption!’ (Photo: The Art Archive at Art Resource, NY) 

Half skeletal, half fashionable memento mori, c.1805.  (Photo: Wellcome Images, London/Courtesy Bloomsbury)

The Haunted Lady, or ‘The Ghost’ in the Looking-Glass, from an 1863 issue of Punch. A fashionable woman standing next to her dressmaker looks in the mirror and sees the figure of the exhausted seamstress who died to make her clothing. (Photo: Toronto Public Library/Courtesy Bloomsbury)

‘Fire’: The Horrors of Crinoline and the Destruction of Human Life, c. 1860.  Hoop skirts made from crinoline were popular but also a hazard, with media reports of them frequently being set alight.  (Photo:Wellcome Library, London/Courtesy Bloomsbury)

Henry Tetlow’s ‘Harmless’ Swan Down Powder containing lead, ca.1875-1880. (Photo: Emilia Dallman Howley/Courtesy Bloomsbury)

Advertising postcard for Perkins Non-Flam Flannelette, ‘so strongly recommended by Coroners,’ c. 1910. (Photo: Courtesy Bloomsbury)

Arsenical Green Fashion Plate, 1840. The green dress is likely to have been colored using a pigment derived from arsenic. (Photo: Courtesy Bloomsbury)

Chromolithograph showing the effect of arsenic used in artificial flowermaking on workers’ hands, 1859. (Photo: Wellcome Library, London/Courtesy Bloomsbury)

Revolving Hat, 1830. The use of mercury in hat-making persisted for over 200 years because it was not seen as a threat to the wearer, despite the damage it caused to the workers who produced the hats. (Photo: Wellcome Images, London/Courtesy Bloomsbury)

The cover of Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present.