Thursday, 29 October 2015

Book Review: Fashion Victims

As Halloween is fast approaching, I'm wondering if you are in the mood for something a little more macabre today?  If so, I have a book that may be right up your street.  It comes with a warning though: reading this book may result in you never again wearing lipstick, corsets, and vintage clothing.  Who knew that such horrors lie beneath items of glamour and beauty?

Fashion Victims

You may have heard of lead in face powder and arsenic in green Victorian dyes, or of the deadly mercury used in hat making.  Fashion Victims, by Alison Matthews David, adds to this list extensively, detailing the dangers of germs, flammability and unsuitable clothing in industry.  Each chapter introduces a new sartorial horror.  The first chapter made my skin crawl, looking at how clothing is a haven for pestilence.  If you can get through this (or skip it if you really can't stand anything about germs and bugs) then the next two chapters on poisoning by arsenic and mercury are a morbidly interesting treat, from the perspective of interest in historical fashion that looks incredibly gorgeous (but that would give you a horrible death eventually).  Finally, the book gets into the really dramatic and instantaneous deaths by fire and brutal injury that hooped skirts and flammable hair combs caused.

Fashion Victims

Fashion Victims

Fashion Victims
Above: some of the more beautiful illustrations.  I chose not to share here the severed hands and such...

There are many original illustrations and medical photographs throughout each chapter to deepen your sense of disgust and scare you senseless that your husband's vintage hat collection could be slowly killing him by mercury poisoning so that you subject him to an interrogation before bedtime about what exactly his hats are made of and how old they are (the panic quickly subsided - apparently it was the steaming process that milliners used that led to them being poisoned; hat wearers were protected by a coating on the outside and linings on the inside).

Academically written, each chapter is heavily referenced.  My only critique is that the introduction is more personal opinion, with no evidence cited by the author on the harms of lead in modern cosmetics to back up her sweeping statement that she'll never wear lipstick.  I did my own research on this and found that tap water has higher levels of lead than modern cosmetics do, so while I had a slight scare I'm not giving up the lippy just yet.

An unusual coffee table choice that will no doubt repulse and fascinate your guests in equal parts - it's a very, very interesting read, but not necessarily an easy or pleasant one!

Fashion Victims is out now from Bloomsbury in hardback (£25) and e-book formats.
I received a copy for review.  All words and opinions my own!


  1. How interesting! I had not even considered the dangers, I reckon I would enjoy the more gorey parts. Just perfect for Halloween.

  2. That sounds like fun! At £25, though, I think I'll wait for the price to drop.

    1. This sounds fascinating. Wasn't here a TV series about this? I remember watching something on BBC4.......

      On the subject of pestilence when I first started working at the library there was a chap there close to retirement who had started work there as a boy. His job then was to spend all day every day picking 'creatures' out of the manuscripts! We always used to joke that with some of the very old and never used manuscripts that the last person using it may have died of something terrible that as the next person to touch the book we might catch...

  3. What an interesting read!


  4. That sounds exactly like Hidden Killers on BBC4 which was a fascinating watch. The celluloid in corsets combusting and burning the wearers to death and arsenic in the face creams. A great read, I bet! xxx

  5. I have to agree it does sound like an interesting read !

  6. Terrific review, sweet lady. I adore the history of fashion as much as how it actually looks and can't wait to delve into this book (I have a copy, too) soon. It's going to make for such fascinating chilly fall evening read.

    Big hugs & happy Halloween weekend wishes,
    ♥ Jessica

  7. Oh what a wonderful subject to write about! I would definitely love to own a copy. It's funny though after all this years and years and we're still absolutely ready to suffer in the name of fashion.


Comments from readers make my day!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...