Deadly Fashion: A History of Hazards in Clothing

TLDR From flammable tutus to poisonous cosmetics, the history of fashion is riddled with hazards that have caused numerous deaths and health risks. This podcast episode explores the dangers of clothing throughout history and highlights the ongoing labor, environmental, and health problems in the fashion industry.

Timestamped Summary

00:00 The episode discusses the history of the post office and the memorial to heroic self-sacrifice in Postman's Park, which leads into a conversation about the dangers of fashion and the book "Fashion Victims" by Alison Matthews David.
04:58 The use of tutus in ballet costumes, made from flammable materials and combined with gas lighting, created a significant fire hazard on stage, leading to numerous deaths in theater fires during the 19th century.
09:49 The use of flammable fabrics in women's clothing, such as gauzy and layered dresses, combined with the popularity of crinolines, which were made from steel hoops and acted as fire hazards, led to numerous deaths and injuries, even among upper-class women.
14:20 The hobble skirt, a tightly fitting ankle-length skirt that became popular in the early 20th century, restricted women's movement and led to incidents of broken ankles and even drowning.
18:33 Footbinding in China was a practice that aimed to change the bone structure of women's feet in order to create small and attractive "lotus feet," and it was seen as a symbol of elite status and beauty.
23:08 The podcast discusses the concept of conspicuous display in fashion and compares footbinding in China to wearing high heels, suggesting that future generations may view high heels with the same astonishment as we view footbinding.
27:44 Hats were lethally dangerous due to the use of mercury in their production, which was used to soften the fur and turn it into a lustrous, waterproof material.
32:27 The use of mercury in hat production led to widespread poisoning of the environment and workers, with mercury still present in some areas and hats remaining toxic even into the late 1960s.
37:12 The use of arsenic in the creation of green fabric and dresses in the 19th century was widespread, with the arsenic posing a significant health risk to both wearers and makers of the garments.
41:46 The dangerous conditions and health risks faced by dressmakers and textile workers, particularly those working with arsenic, resulted in early deaths and chronic illnesses, with unions playing a limited role in improving worker safety.
46:13 The use of poisonous substances in cosmetics, such as lead, has been a long-standing practice and continues to be a concern in modern times, with lead found in lipsticks and other cosmetic products.
50:50 The fashion industry still has labor, environmental, and health problems, including sweatshop labor, that are often unseen by those in the global north.
Categories: History

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