15 Ways That Fashion Can Hurt You
A friend recently told me about a “trip” she took to Spain. Making her way down the narrow steps of an elegant Barcelona restaurant one night, she lost her footing and landed wrong-side-up, flashing her red thong to a crowd rivaling that of a sold-out bull fight.
The culprits: her three-inch platform heels.
The fall required twenty stitches in her forehead and ongoing physiotherapy. And even though my friend still grimaces when she recounts the episode, she hasn’t sworn heels off yet.
Over the course of history, extreme fashion has often dictated unhealthy – if not downright dangerous – practices. The Chinese tradition of binding the feet of infant girls to ensure they remained petite and demure, for example, caused excruciating pain and disfigurement, as did tightly laced corsets in the 19th century, which could inhibit breathing to the point of causing some women to faint.
High heels may be the most glaring example of a treacherous fashion trend, but they certainly don’t stand alone. Platforms, oversized earrings and body art all present potential perils. Here are some of our favorite – and most risky – moments in fashion history.
Of Corset Matters
Though commonly associated with the Victorian upper class, corsets originated in the 16th century and, by the 19th, had become a hallmark of fashion for nearly all females. Practically compulsory for women of aristocratic birth, corsets were also adopted by working women aspiring toward similar ideals of fashion.
Many doctors warned women of the dangers of lacing corsets too tight; some simply advised not wearing one at all. An 1874 rant lists 97 diseases produced by corsets “according to the testimony of eminent medical men.” The alleged symptoms ranged from impaired breathing and circulation to heightened hysteria and melancholy to the inability to breast-feed properly and the danger of miscarriage or deformed offspring.
Though the most drastic claims against corsets have never been proven, they did contribute to a variety of milder ailments, including shallow breathing, shortness of breath, atrophied back muscles and potential difficulty in labor. The heaving bosoms and fainting tendencies of many heroines of Victorian literature were more likely caused by insufficient oxygen and upper-diaphragm breathing than by arousal in the embraces of mustached lovers.
So, what happened to the corset? In 1960, DuPont introduced Lycra to the manufacturing process, making whalebone or metal-framed corsets obsolete, and transforming the corset proper into the girdle. Then the 70s (and bra-burning feminists) brought cries for less restrictive, more natural feminine fashions.
But the corset never completely vanished (fetishists aside). Rather, some anthropologists say the tools for achieving the feminine ideal seem simply to have changed and, perhaps become internalized through the concepts of diet, exercise and plastic surgery.
The crinoline made its first appearance in the 1840s. With its excessively large skirt, the crinoline made women’s waists appear comparatively small and, as a result, allowed for corsets to be loosened. Considering the low comfort-level of the corset, this could be considered a good thing. But crinolines were lined with bands or braids of horsehair (“crin” is French for horsehair) and hemmed with straw. Worse than the rashes women must have suffered from wearing crinolines, was the fact that they easily caught fire from candles, grates and carelessly tossed cigarettes.
Some Historians say the improvement in crinolines came with the 1856 patent of the “Cage Americaine” crinoline – a cage-like frame of steel and/or whalebone hoops, often measuring 10 yards around.
Crinolines became nearly obsolete in the late 1860s, when bustles replaced them. Truthfully, the bustle was just another form of the crinoline, but with the rows of whalebone running only from the sides round the back, grossly accentuating a woman’s derriere and making it extremely awkward to maneuver. In 1887, a Lillie Langtry lent her name to a bustle with springs, which folded up when a lady sat down. It was even said to spring back to its normal position when she rose again!
In the late 16th century, the paler your skin was, the better. Tanned skin meant a life of hard labor working outdoors. The aristocracy, therefore, went to extremes to achieve a porcelain-white complexion.
Among the various powders and ointments used to create pallor, the most popular was ceruse, a mixture of white lead and vinegar, which was applied to the face, neck and bosom. Once the ideal shade was achieved, delicate blue lines were added to imitate veins and add to the general effect of the delicacy of the skin. Unfortunately, the lead in the white base would poison the wearer slowly, causing skin lesions, rotting teeth, hair loss and, eventually, death.
The use of poisonous makeup continued into the 17th century, when beauty was seen as fleeting. The effects of these products on the skin, coupled with poor health and hygiene, often meant a woman was thought past her prime at 20 and old at 30.
By the mid 18th century, powdered wigs were a part of daily life, and they became excessive in both height and decoration. The lack of general hygiene at the time, however, meant the wigs often became infested with lice and even mice, resulting in the necessity for scratching sticks.
Falling for Footwear
In the late 90s, shoes with brick-sized soles – some measuring as much as 8 inches high – were all the rage. Women who fell for this fashion believed the towering shoes made them seem taller, their legs longer and their faces smaller. Walking in these stilts proved quite the chore; besides their precarious heights, the shoes weighed two to three times as much as normal footwear. Needless to say, they posed an extra burden to the legs and made for unsteady footing.
Reports filed by consumer centers and hospitals in Japan said, of the 203 accidents involving women’s shoes reported in a five-year span, eighty were caused by thick-soled shoes (that’s almost 40%). Some examples: A 25-year-old Japanese woman died from a skull injury suffered when she fell in her new platform sandals. Another woman required twenty stitches in her forehead and ongoing physiotherapy because she fell in her platform heels.
As for treacherously tall stilettos, even Manolo Blahnik knows peril when he sees it. The infamous shoemaker is said to have removed a pair of razor-sharp three-inch stilettos from production because they could have been dangerous. The titanium-heels were as thin as the ink tube in a ball point and could have cut through most things the wearer stepped on.
English footballer David Beckham has ignited many fashion crazes among his admirers. But, while previous Beckham-fuelled trends have mainly resulted in overly groomed men, his latest fashion statement actually threatened permanent physical damage to some gullible youth. When Beckham damaged a bone in his foot and was forced to cover the area in a hard white substance know as plaster, young fans started going crazy over the new footwear. Some doctors feared children would actually try to break bones in order to be more like their hero.
A new trend worrying doctors and social services is facial tattoos. Spotted on everyone from teens to gang members to boxer Mike Tyson, the tattoos may prevent people from finding work and, in some cases, be hazardous to their health. Besides the fact many employers won’t hire someone with bright orange or purple hair, let alone an inked-up face, there’s also a risk that facial tattoos will harm veins that go straight to the brain.
It’s also a question of sense. Are teenagers who run out and get the same tattoo their favorite rapper has tattooed across their foreheads really thinking 20 years down the line? Will they really want a tattoo in the middle of their face when they’re 40? And, for those who say they’ll simply get the tattoo removed when they tire of it, dermatologists warn your skin is never the same after harsh laser removal.
We should all be weary of a dangerous new trend, last popular in the 1980s: incredibly long earrings. Lauren, a 32-year-old dancer from Toronto, Ontario, painfully remembers her high-school obsession with the dangling dangers: “I had these ridiculously long earrings on, and when I went to brush my hair away from my face, my rings caught the earrings and tore them out of my ears! My earlobes split in half and I had to have them surgically repaired.”
Toe-shortening procedures – another potentially dangerous trend – are being sought among some fashion-conscious women who wish to wear stylish, pointy-toed shoes. But doctors who advice against the surgery say people who get the procedure in their 30s may very well suffer the consequences in their 60s.
Vanity contact lenses resembling cat and reptile eyes are now available on the Internet without a prescription. Some sites only sell “fire” and “wolf” eyes to customers with a doctor’s prescription, but others will sell lenses to anyone with a credit card. Eye specialists say people need to be aware that contact lenses should only be used under a doctor’s care. Some doctors even report patients who have bought colored contact lenses over the counter, slept with them in their eyes overnight and developed sight-threatening infections on the surface of their corneas.
In 2004, Katherine Keith of Cape Coral sued Procter & Gamble, claiming the manufacturing giant’s Clairol Natural Instincts hair dye (in a chestnut shade) caused her a long list of medical problems, including hair loss, a burning scalp, swelling, a rapid heartbeat, vomiting, back pain, decreased nerve sensitivity, eye inflammation, motor and sensory changes, depression, and post traumatic anxiety.
The Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org), a watchdog organization that examines consumer products, recently issued a report entitled “Skin Deep,” analyzing hair dyes and other cosmetics for hazardous chemicals. The products were rated on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the most dangerous. One shade of Clairol Natural Instincts (Level 2, Sahara 02) got the worst rating of all hair dyes analyzed with a score of 10. The report found many hair dyes contain carcinogens (known to cause cancer), chemicals with “harmful impurities” and chemicals that haven’t been subjected to enough study by the industry.
Another potentially dangerous source of toxins is your wardrobe. Synthetic leather or waterproof clothes, as well as those labeled “easy care” or “easy iron,” contain many harmful chemicals, and permanent-press clothing is a source of formaldehyde. These fabrics release toxic fumes throughout their lifetime.
The most widely used solvent in dry-cleaning, percholroethylene or “perc,” remains in clothing and can contaminate your home and body. Perc, known to attack the central nervous system, can lead to headaches, nausea, dizziness and reproductive problems. The International Agency for Research in Cancer (www.iarc.fr) classifies perc as a “probable human carcinogen,” and it’s already known to cause cancer in animals.
To be fair, not all piercings are dangerous. If you get them done by a qualified person in a hygienic place and keep your new piercing clean, you’re unlikely to encounter any problems. The dangerous part of this trend, however, involves people who pierce themselves and their friends. In fact, over 100,000 teens worldwide are estimated to mutilate their own bodies or a friend’s with piercings annually! Piercing your own or a friend’s body may not only cause incredible pain and suffering, it could also damage blood vessels or even cause paralysis (the ear, for example, contains vital nerves which, if penetrated can cause paralysis).
OK, maybe this doesn’t strike you as particularly dangerous, but it can cause just as much damage as the others. (Personally, I feel this is the most dangerous trend, as it can harm you mentally and emotionally – damage that’s hard to undo.) Showing too much skin can draw the wrong attention.
Now, it’s certainly not a woman’s fault if she’s attacked or raped, and it can’t be totally blamed on how she chooses to dress, but I think part of what women need to do to protect themselves from violence and abuse is cover up, so as to not draw the wrong kind of attention to themselves. I’m not talking about little tees or short skirts; I’m referring to girls who wear micro minis that expose their butts and boob tubes that leave absolutely nothing to the imagination. If you disagree, consider this: last year, over 500 young women worldwide were murdered on their way back from a night out clubbing. And besides, you’ll draw the right kind of attention by being a total package: beauty and brains. So, what’s the solution?
Nudists argue wearing no clothing at all is the answer, and has many health benefits. In terms of mental health, a 1984 study showed nudist females have higher body confidence than non-nudist females. As for physical health, nudists say clothing interrupts and prevents the natural function of the skin, encourages the growth of body-odor organisms, and may cause serious illness; for example, some researchers believe there are direct links between tight pants and infertility in males, and bras and breast cancer in women.
Oh, the things we do in the name of fashion…