Killer Fashion: Poisonous Petticoats, Strangulating Scarves, and Other Deadly Garments Throughout History

Killer Fashion: Poisonous Petticoats, Strangulating Scarves, and Other Deadly Garments Throughout History

The main thing that surprised me about the various ways clothes can kill you that are shown in Killer Fashion: Poisonous Petticoats, Strangulating Scarves, and Other Deadly Garments Throughout History was the sheer number of them that involved catching on fire. Wigs, artificial fabric, and shirt cuffs were all surprisingly flammable.

While (as a fan of weird cultural history) I had heard of many of these before, though, I hadn’t seen them expressed in such a charmingly grotesque manner. Each item gets a paragraph or two of description by Jennifer Wright, accompanied by an illustration by Brenna Thummler, who appears to be influenced by Edward Gorey. The black-and-white illustrations are made more morbid with touches of red for highlight and a short, four-line poem under each.

You’ve likely heard of, for example, Isadora Duncan, killed by her scarf (and shown on the cover), or the radium girls, or Chinese bound “lotus feet”, or lead used in makeup, and it won’t be a surprise that corsets or neckties can be dangerous, but I had no idea that when the top hat first appeared in 1797, it caused a riot.

Killer Fashion: Poisonous Petticoats, Strangulating Scarves, and Other Deadly Garments Throughout History

Some of the history given is iffy. Although there are footnoted sources, many are internet articles, and a few pieces are wrong or misleading. For example, Wright writes of Jennie Jerome, Winston Churchill’s mother, “while wearing a brand-new pair of high heels, she slipped down a flight of stairs, falling to her death.” Except Wikipedia reports that the fall was in May 1921, and she died in late June of complications after an amputation caused by gangrene resulting from the broken ankle she suffered in the fall. I suppose that was too complicated to get into the 10-sentence page. I was similarly disappointed to see that Wright repeated the urban legend that Jean Harlow’s dyed hair was responsible for her death, based on an Atlantic article full of “maybe”s and “could have”s.

That said, this is a popular history, and in books of that type, I expect the better story to sometimes win out over the facts. Killer Fashion would make a wonderful gift for that teen interested in both fashion and death — of which there are more out there than you might imagine. (The publisher provided an advance digital review copy.)



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