Looks that Kill: Most Dangerous Fashion Trends in History
They say beauty is pain, but throughout history, it has sometimes meant death. For one reason or another, humans have always been willing to risk their health for whatever random fad is happening at the moment — whether that is extreme skinniness, impossibly tiny feet or unnatural paleness.
Which ridiculous fads have caused the most injuries and deaths? These are 10 of the most dangerous fashion trends in history.
Probably the most shocking fashion trend of all-time, foot binding was practiced in China for around 10 centuries. It was outlawed in 1912, meaning we have ample photographic records of the practice that consisted of breaking four toes and binding the foot tightly to deform it.
The ideal size for a foot was 3 inches. Women who underwent the excruciating process were rewarded with social mobility and better marriage prospects. And while it seems extreme, it modern women aren't completely against the idea. In 2012, it was reported that women were shortening their toes or even cutting them off to fit better into stilettos.
Corsets weren't nearly as bad as movies or misinformed general knowledge want you to think. Yes, they reinforced limited beauty standards, but women who wore them correctly were perfectly able to breathe, eat and even complete intense manual labor.
The problem was that some women took things too extreme. Blinded by an unhealthy obsession with small waists, they'd engage in tight-lacing or wear corsets too small for their natural body. In the worst of cases, some women suffocated, broke ribs, dislodged their internal organs and even died. However, this was not by any means common and was seen as extreme body modification at the time.
If you think stilettos are hard to wear, try walking around the flooded streets of Venice in chopines. These 16th-century shoes were designed to solve the problem of filth, sludge and water that plagued beautiful Venice.
But it's clear from their design that they were uncomfortable and impractical. Many people tripped while wearing them and were injured. When height became a status symbol, things got even worse. Reportedly, they were as high as 20 inches at one point. Eventually, people realized it wasn't worth the risk, and the style fell out of fashion.
Crinoline skirts are steel petticoats with light fabric that were worn throughout the 19th century, particularly in North America and Victorian England. Large hooped skirts that enhanced curves to unreal proportions were all the rage. And they caused countless deaths by fire.
Clothes are usually highly flammable, and metal conducts heat easily. Most households did not have electricity and were still illuminated with candles and chimneys. Tragically, it was very easy for a skirt to catch fire and be rapidly engulfed in flames.
Oscar Wilde's secret half-sisters (born from an illegitimate relationship) are thought to have died in this horrible way.
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Although people have suspected that lead was poisonous since ancient Greek times, humanity continued to add this chemical to everything from paint to cosmetics until the 20th century. One of its most common uses in western society was makeup, particularly powder meant to make the skin unnaturally white. Queen Elizabeth I is one of the most famous supporters of this fashion, though it is uncertain whether she knew about its consequences.
Similarly, women in Victorian England put arsenic on their faces to achieve pale skin that mimicked the look of people sick from tuberculosis. Both substances were banned from cosmetics in the early 1900s.
Women don't have a monopoly on dangerous fashion trends. Edwardian men also sacrificed their health for the sake of wearing popular stiff collars. The collars were detachable, so they could be worn with different shirts, making them practical. But they also were so stiff that they choked numerous men when they fell asleep wearing them.
As they dozed off, their head fell forward and the collar's rigid material blocked their windpipe. Other men also choked on their food when their collar was too tight. While it's impossible to know how many men died this way, there were enough cases to earn these stiff collars the nickname, "father killers."
The discovery of radium by Marie and Pierre Curi changed medical history. But while we now use the element with caution, people in the early 20th century didn't know how harmful it could be. As a result, countless everyday products were made with radium, including toothpaste, makeup and hair dye.
Marketed as the trend of the future, radioactive hair dye was exciting because it made hair glow in the dark. Women rushed to buy this product, excited to do something that would have been impossible merely a decade or two before.
Sadly, many of these women died of cancer caused by the product.
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Elongating the neck with a series of heavy rings is a practice that can be found around the world and throughout history. Many groups continue to do this today, including the Ndebele tribe of South Africa and the Padong people of Thailand.
While it has a long cultural legacy, it's undeniable that it's detrimental to health. Rather than elongate the neck, the rings push down on the collarbones and shoulders, causing the torso to be shorter than usual. This can lead to several health complications. That said, many people with elongated necks live well until old age.
It seems like the quest for unnaturally small waists isn't a thing of the past. Some women go as far as having some of their ribs removed or shortened in order to achieve this look. The sacrifice? Leaving important organs unprotected and risking a higher likelihood of damaging organs in case of an accident.
While many celebrities like Shakira and Kim Kardashian have been rumored to have this procedure done, these are usually rumors. The truth is that few legitimate doctors will agree to do this, and few people would be willing to go to such extremes. But there are recorded cases of it, the most famous of which is probably reality TV star Pixie Fox, who calls herself a "real-life Barbie."
Toxic Hair Removal
Although hair removal has been around for thousands of years, it wasn't really a global practice until the 20th century. Still, many techniques used throughout history turned out to be poisonous.
Arsenic reappears again as a sneaky beauty killer, being used in Europe as early as the 16th century to remove unwanted hair. Radium also bounces back into the spotlight, with x-ray hair removal in the 1920s promising women permanent results. Unsurprisingly, many women were slowly poisoned by these methods.