Decades ago, people used to do all sorts of things that seem crazy now thanks to advancements in science, technology and communication. I mean, people used to carry radium around in their pockets! They used to go to the dentist and not expect anesthesia. They used lead and asbestos when they built their houses.
Fashion seems like it would be a safe spot compared to radium and asbestos, but many antique fashion trends were just as dangerous – if not more so.
Considering how conscious we are of what we put on and in our bodies today, it’s wild to hear about the poisons with which people used to get pretty intimate. Check out some of the harrowing examples below.
#8. Killer makeup
Think your makeup is bad because it comes from animal byproducts? Well, at least you don’t live in a time when women were expected to have porcelain white skin — even if it meant using lead powder that caused everything from major skin issues to hair loss to intoxication that could lead to death.
Oh, and just for fun, some types of blush contained arsenic.
#7. Toxic dye on fabrics
This beautiful dress, dyed “Paris Green” contains arsenic and copper sulfate — the same combination that was later used to kill mosquitoes and wallpaper people’s houses. Yikes.
#6. Ornate hairstyles
You’ve seen the pictures of pre-Revolutionary France — the ones where Marie Antoinette looks like a superhero just because she can hold her dress and her hair up at the same time? Well, the hairstyles were not only heavy and awkward, they could attract bugs and rodents looking to nest.
Women would wear the same style for days, and sleep wearing large metal cages to keep themselves infestation free.
Sure, wearing a giant dress that contained a hoop might seem romantic now, but it was less so to women who didn’t realize how large their gown actually was before they stepped too close to a fireplace…
#4. Corsets weren’t just for wedding dresses
The first corsets weren’t made from pretty ribbons. They were metal, then wood, and finally a slightly more comfortable whalebone. They often seriously deformed women’s skeletons, displacing their internal organs. Some women began wearing them in childhood and never stopped, not even during pregnancy.
#3. Foot binding
In China, foot binding was a popular tradition among the wealthy until it was banned in 1911. It resulted in feet shaped like a lotus and women who were so crippled they couldn’t walk without assistance.
There are pictures of this out there, if you want to go looking.
#2. The highest heels
High heels are another form of torture that some women still refuse to give up — though the tallest stilettos of today have nothing on the chopines from Italy. They were invented so women wouldn’t have to walk in the muddy streets, but soon spiraled out of control, forcing them to need a servant’s hand if they wanted to walk anywhere.
Easy to fall and split your head? Yes.
#2. The pregnancy girdle.
As someone who is closing in on her eighth month of pregnancy, this one seems totally insane — a tight, restricting girdle worn during pregnancy. These “maternity belts”, designed to hide the pregnancy as much as possible, were heavily boned and zippered, tight to the point of being uncomfortable at best.
I’ll keep my yoga pants and leggings, thank you very much.
#1. Eyes shining…with poison
The toxic properties of belladonna were well known, but noble European women still dropped a distillation of it into their eyes to cause their pupils to dilate and their eyes to seem “brighter.” Many of them suffered severe eye problems and even blindness because of the practice, but it didn’t stop others from continuing to use the drops.