5 Fashion Trends That Created Highly Stylish Corpses

You’re positively glowing (in the dark)
5 Fashion Trends That Created Highly Stylish Corpses

For better or for worse, pain is forever a part of fashion. Although we might have moved away from the pomp and circumstance of the past, the continued existence of high heels, skinny jeans and people wearing Chuck Taylors past the age of 30 show we’re still willing to suffer. Looking good and feeling slightly bad are so intertwined that calling someone’s clothing “comfortable” is a passive-aggressive swipe meant to infer an outfit should have stayed locked to a couch.

Thankfully, we’ve at least come to the agreement that genuinely dying for fashion might be a little much. Because in the past, picking up the latest and greatest look wasn’t guaranteed not to kill you. Sometimes, it was due to using fun materials that no one had figured out were medically very unfun, and other times it was more of a shoulder-shrug and “but look at my waistline!” sort of deal.

Here are five fatal fashion statements from the past…

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Arsenic Dye

Public Domain

To be fair, these skeletons look incredible.

Nothing sets off an outfit like a pop of color. In Victorian times, among the most beloved colors was green, and one specific dye offered a beautiful emerald hue that was, literally, to die for. That dye was made from something you’re probably familiar with: arsenic. Now, if you saw “arsenic” listed on the tag of a fast-fashion piece on the H&M rack, there’s pretty much zero chance of you touching it, much less trying it on. But apparently in the Victorian era, they had no such qualms.

Which isn’t to say that they had no idea it was poisonous. Doctors did point out that arsenic was highly uncooperative with human health, and that wearing clothing drenched in it might not have been wise. After all, they were already using arsenic as rat poison at the time, so they had to know it wasn’t exactly innocuous. Regardless, a lot of people just figured they were fine as long as they didn’t put the clothes in their mouth, something that’s still sadly believable today. One can hope that when their limbs started tingling and they filled their beautiful outfit with vomit and diarrhea, they’d know enough to take it off, but by then it might have been too late.

Radium Makeup


Just look at that healthy yellow tone!

Our next highly unhealthy bit of haute couture is slightly more forgivable, as it wasn’t fully understood at the time. This was the miracle material, now a tightly controlled resource, known as radium. Yes, as in the highly radioactive kind. Like I said, most households and trained professionals weren’t as aware of the dangers of radium as they were with dresses dyed with rat poison. After all, Marie Curie was still huffing the stuff all the live-long day in her lab, and she was the one who was going to win a Nobel Prize about it.

The idea of handling radium without proper safety precautions today, much less smearing it on your face, sounds patently insane. That’s all through the benefit of hindsight and modern science, however. At the time, all the layman understood about radium was that it was full of energy and it glowed, which was, admittedly, very cool. Who wouldn’t want to be the showstopper that entered a party with their face lighting up the night? They just didn’t realize that the cost of their radioactive contouring was the density of their bones and their jaw staying attached.

Lead Makeup

Public Domain

We can probably give them a break going back this far.

I’m not quite sure what part of the human brain hates the natural hue of human skin so much that we’ve been smearing stuff over it for as long as we could see, but apparently it’s an age-old annoyance. The second bit of mystery is why we seemed to keep gravitating toward stuff that would actively poison us in order to have the perfect tone to accentuate our facial features. Along these lines, for an extended amount of time, makeup contained one very important unintended active ingredient: lead.

Now, before we get too haughty about calling the dandies of old idiots for smearing lead on their face, let’s acknowledge that the entire human race seems dead set on repeatedly discovering lead is bad for you. We may have kept it off our skin, but we were still cramming it into our paint, pipes and gasoline long after we should have known better. Plus, if I’m stuck on some twisted two-door game show where I have to choose my form of makeup poisoning, I’ll take lead over radiation. Hell, I drank out of public school water fountains for over a decade, so I’ve probably got a touch of it already.

Crinoline Dresses

Public Domain

Crinoline answering the question, “Can you look too hot?”

The first few entries were bits of fashion that started gnawing at your life expectancy the very first moment you tossed them on. Some others didn’t inherently threaten your medical status, but definitely decreased your chances of ending the day alive any time you wore them. One of the most deadly of these was the crinoline dress. Now, a crinoline dress posed absolutely zero threat to your health about 99 percent of the time. The 1 percent where it got really, really dangerous was anytime you were around fire.

Unfortunately, given that they were popular in the 1800s, and that electric lighting wasn’t widely adopted until the 1900s, there were no shortage of open flames even inside the home. Flames that, when they got a chance, were happy to jump to the extremely flammable crinoline fabric and rip through it with the speed of a stoned college frat house at a Golden Corral. Oh, and of course, as was the fashion at the time, these dresses had massive hoops, meaning their proximity to anything wasn’t really easy to control. An estimated 3,000 women were killed when their dresses went full Midsommar without permission.

Isadora Duncan’s Scarf

Public Domain

If this is your preferred fashion, I would just stay away from spinning motors altogether.

The last entry isn’t an ill-advised general bit of fashion, but one single horrible stylistic decision. If you’re on a factory floor, you’re probably well aware of the forbidden love between loose clothing and heavy machinery, but you can forget how quickly the same deadly meeting can occur in day-to-day life. 

In 1927, famous dancer Isadora Duncan, found this out in the most grotesque way possible, thanks to what I’m sure was a gorgeous, long silk scarf she unwisely decided to wear for a ride in a convertible. Anyone with the smallest bit of anxiety can probably connect the dots here, as her swirling scarf got pulled into the wheel of the car, and nearly decapitated her. 

If you’re going touring with the top down, maybe go for a turtleneck.

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