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Eager reader of history, mystery, classics, biographies, steampunk, lit fic, science, scifi, and etc. My reviews are mostly positive--I rarely finish or write about books I don't enjoy. My TBR is too high for that.

Deadly Victorian fashions

Arsenic ball gowns?  "Crinoline fires” that killed 3,000 women between the late 1850s and late 1860s in England? 


Potentially deadly Victorian fashions are featured in the exhibition Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century which will open June 18 in Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum. There's an article about it Maclean's--here's what it says about the ball gown:


The “arsenic” ball gown sits on a headless dressmaker’s form in the basement archives of Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum as senior curator Elizabeth Semmelhack, wearing cotton conservators’ gloves, expounds upon its vintage (late 1860s), its provenance (Australia), its exquisite construction—and, most relevantly, its ability to kill.


The green of the shimmering silk, now slightly faded, was one of the Victorian era’s most fashionable hues; people, mostly women, wore it even after it was widely known that the arsenic-based dye responsible for the colour could lead to horrible physical suffering and early death. When asked if the dress poses any danger still, Semmelhack pauses. “We’ve been counselled not to lick it,” she says, laughing.


The prime risk, Semmelhack explains, was for the wearer who would sweat and absorb it. But the dangers of the dye didn’t end there: They extended to a long chain of people, from factory workers to seamstresses to fellow ball-goers.