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Deadly Vanity – History’s Most Dangerous Fashions


Earlier this year, skinny jeans were slapped with a health warning after an Australian woman developed ‘compartment syndrome’ – swelling within compressed tissues – which was enhanced by her skinny jeans. She had to be cut out of her pair in order to save her legs. We may consider this literal fashion disaster a rarity – but in fact the fashion industry has been responsible for a great many hazards. Here are just a few of the tortures people have put themselves through in the name of beauty:

Foot Mutilationfash fads chinese foot binding

The lengths women have gone to in order to fit the perfect pair of shoes are astonishing. Anyone familiar with older versions of the Cinderella tales will be aware that the Ugly Stepsisters take knives to their heels and toes in order to fit into the famed glass slipper – to no avail. Only Cinderella’s foot slips neatly into the (by now no doubt rather blood-smeared) slipper. Traditional fairytale gore, you may think. However, this has a degree of historical precedent. In eras which have seen pointy-toed shoes achieve the height of fashion, some women have had their little toes cut off in order to wear their dream shoes. In less medically advanced times, the deadly dangers associated with open wounds and foot bacteria need not be explained in detail. Of course, the Chinese famously took this further with the horrific practice of foot-binding – the evidence of which can still be seen today.

(Image right: Chinese foot binding slippers)

fash fads corsets


Corsets always feature when the dangers of fashion are brought up – but in fact it seems that they probably weren’t as deadly as they seem. In fact, the less publicised crinoline was perhaps more of a hazard due to its cumbersome nature and its propensity for catching fire in an era before electric lighting. Responsible corset-wearers may have lived with shortness of breath and restricted movement, but they weren’t doing their health any serious damage. However, irresponsible corset users did reap the dubious rewards of their cinched waistlines. Corset deaths were reasonably rare – but they did happen. Those who did not die could develop lesions on their organs or other internal troubles from lacing their corsets too tightly.




fash fads stiff collarsStiff Collars

Here’s one for the gentlemen. The Victorians invented starched, detachable collars in order to save on washing. However, these items swiftly became desirable for their tall, stiff nature. Indeed, they were stiffened to such a degree that they became sharp – so sharp that the Germans began to refer to them as Vatermörder, or ‘father killer’. Falling asleep in a chair with your head drooping (as Victorian gentlemen were wont to do of an evening) could result in the collar cutting off the blood supply within the carotid artery, or slowly choke the man to death during his snooze.

(Image right: Victorian stiff collar)



fash fad cigarettesCigarettes

Cigarettes were marketed as fashion accessories for decades, and the association still holds strong (despite the efforts of many in the fashion industry to distance themselves from smoking). Of course, however chic, cool, and fashionable posing with a cigarette dangling languidly from the fingers may be, the health risks associated with smoking are numerous. Several forms of cancer, emphysema, ischemia, vascular disease, reduced fertility, and increased risk of stroke are just a few of the problems which may arise as a result of smoking. Now, ‘healthier’ e-cigarettes are coming in to replace traditional smokes, and these are fast becoming fashion accessories in their own right. However, some health commentators have advised caution, pointing out that e-cigarettes are certainly not totally safe, and may be hiding health complications of which we are not yet aware. It may be too soon to be embracing e-cigs as the non-deadly fashion statement of the future.



Plastic Surgery

fash fads beauty surgery illustrationPlastic surgery is the vanity-craze of the moment. As with all of the aforementioned beauty disasters, if undertaken sensibly, rationally, with forethought, and with more concern for your health than your appearance then there is no reason why plastic surgery should not give you a perfectly satisfactory result. However, there are a lot of horror stories out there of plastic surgery which has gone disastrously wrong and even killed the patient. We may think that deadly fashion crazes are a thing of the past – in fact, we’re more likely to die from a fashion and beauty related incident today than our ancestors were. It’s always worth remembering to temper your adoration of fashion with a little common sense!

By Gemma Benson


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