Although fashion trends come and go, a constant thread can be found in the hazardous pursuit of beauty. The need to dress to impress stretches like spandex throughout history — and even includes Adam and Eve accessorizing with itchy fig leaves.
Here’s a closet full of more crimes of fashion that are not only cruel and unusual but should have been against the law.
Italians know shoes. Perhaps it’s because their country resembles the shape of a boot. Gucci, Prada, and Salvatore Ferragamo all hold court in the pantheon of leather gods. However, Italy is also responsible for the 15th-century footwear fiasco called Chopines.
As a precursor to the high heel, chopines were platform clogs typically made from wood or cork that protected wearers from mud and filth in the streets of Venice. Functionality would eventually give way to form as the shoes grew both in popularity and height, reaching as high as 20 inches.
Like many fashion trends, chopines also reflected social status in which members of the noble classes reached new heights. The added elevation led to frequent accidents as Venetians tripped, stumbled, and fell, resulting in more than just their shoes dirty.
7. Tudor Ruffs
Unlike pet cones that prevent your dog from licking his wounds, the Tudor Ruff served no real practical purpose other than making necks of the Elizabethan age extremely uncomfortable. The ornamental garment favored by Queen Elizabeth I would become one of the most iconic fashion symbols of the period, but also potentially hazardous because of the numbers of pins required to maintain the rigid shape.
Originally worn like a lace necklace, the ruff grew in size, rapidly expanding in concert with its popularity. Tudor ruffs also limited one’s peripheral vision, forcing the wearer to awkwardly twist or turn move his or her entire body to see.
The suffocating collars were constructed from several layers of either stiffened or pleated frills made from materials such as lace and linen. More elaborate designs featured jewels and gold threads to cover the neck and shoulders of a man and the neck, breasts, and shoulders of a woman.
6. Foot Binding
Practiced by women in China for over a thousand years, foot-binding involved deforming the feet of young girls to permanently fit into a tiny Lotus shoe. Fetishizing small feet also held far-reaching social and economic implications in Chinese culture. The prospects of marriage often depended on it — in which the most desirable bride possessed a three-inch foot, known as a “golden lotus.”
The process, however, involved excruciating pain that sounds more like torture than beautification of the female form. To achieve the desired shape, feet were tightly wrapped daily for two years. But first, all the toes (except the big toes) were broken and bound flat against the sole to create a triangle shape. Heavy pressure was then applied to bend the arch using gauze bandages.
The binding would often cut off circulation, resulting in gangrene. The process also required the girls to walk long distances to hasten the crushing of the arches. Over time, the wrappings also became tighter, and the shoes smaller as the heel and sole were fused.
Despite the discomfort and life-threatening effects, the crippling ritual endured until finally being officially banned by the new Republic of China in 1912.
5. Stiff High Collar
The detachable collar, made from highly starched fabric, provided the convenience of not having to change their shirt every day. But the stiffened material also threatened to cut off the blood supply to the carotid artery in the neck. As a result, this seemingly benign fashion accessory turned into a deadly weapon, killing scores of men in the Edwardian era.
Nicknamed “Father Killers” — the victim would nod off and be suffocated when the head tilted forward. The simple act of eating a meal also led to incidents of choking to death before removing the collar in time
In 1888, The New York Times ran an obituary with the headline: ‘Choked by his collar.‘ A man named John Cruetzi had been found dead in a park, and “the Coroner thought the man had been drinking, seated himself on a bench, and fell asleep. His head dropped over on his chest, and then his stiff collar stopped the windpipe and checked the flow of blood through the already contracted veins, causing the death to ensue from asphyxia and apoplexy.”
4. Powdered Wigs
For many men, premature hair loss at a young age can be a traumatic experience. But if you’re King XIII of France, you simply start a new trend by covering your dome with a peruke — better known as a wig. His son would later elevate the fashion as an esteemed status symbol while creating several unintended health risks.
An epidemic of syphilis ravaged Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, resulting in hair loss as one of its many unpleasant side effects. One of its most prominent victims, Louis XIV (“The Sun King”), responded by donning increasingly flamboyant coiffeurs during his 72 year reign, making Cher look downright dowdy by comparison. But as the popular fashion spread to the masses, so did lice and vermin inhabiting the horsehair-made hives.
The zeal for more creative styles by both sexes led to lard-infused curls and an assortment of powders made from lead. Since candles provided the only form of artificial light, those with particularly extravagant doo’s risked setting their heads ablaze.
Although the wigs were no longer en vogue by the end of the 19th century, today, many judges and barristers in British Commonwealth still wear them to honor the monarch.
3. Hobble Skirts
The term “slave to fashion” certainly applies to the hobble skirt, replicating the same effect as wearing leg irons. Nonetheless, this early prototype of the pencil skirt enjoyed a brief but popular run in the early 20th century despite severely restricting movement.
The ankle-length design featured a narrow hem, forcing women to walk in small, measured steps. The sleek silhouette, however, helped drive sales, but eventually, a series of accidents involving women falling led to its demise.
Even Pope Pius X joined the debate, launching a crusade against women’s styles of the day that included condemnation of hobble skirts. In a 1911 report in L’Osservatore Romano, the daily newspaper of Vatican City State, the Pontiff declared, “The fashions of these women — women, not ladies — would have had a most unfavorable judgment from pagan Roman matrons.”
As the de facto queen of women’s undergarments, corsets have maintained a long, celebrated history, possibly dating back as far as the Minoan Civilization. Today’s wearers, however, can at least enjoy the bodice without suffering the same life-threatening consequences endured by the tightly-laced women of the Victorian era.
From shattered rib cages to internal bleeding, the coveted “hour-glass” look came with a hefty price. The most common side effect resulted in difficulty breathing as well as fainting — a condition depicted in a memorable scene from Pirates of the Caribbean where Elizabeth Swann falls into the water after lacing up too tight.
Corsets are also responsible for adding to the lexicon of the English language. The term “strait-laced” connotes upright morals, whereas corset-less “loose women” implies the opposite. It should also be noted that men are equally guilty in the dangerous quest regarding physical standards of beauty. Violet Chachki, the season 7 winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race, relied on her trademark corsets — not to mention charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent — to snatch the crown in triumphant fashion.
By the 1860s, crinolines (also known as panniers or hoop skirts) had reached the height of popularity for women of all social statuses. The garment also had an alarming tendency to catch on fire, giving the term ‘fashion victim’ an unfortunate literal meaning.
The skirts were designed to exaggerate a woman’s hips with a flattering silhouette and typically consisted of a steel-reinforced petticoat layered in fabric. Demand for extended sizes and more elaborate shapes and styles would eventually produce deadly consequences. Women sporting these cumbersome costumes tended to knock over candles or stand too close to a fireplace, accidentally setting themselves on fire.
Other potential hazards included getting snagged by machinery or pulled under fast-moving carriage wheels. Although some reports claim the buoyant skirts helped save women from drowning, the excessive weight could have just as easily sent Victorian ladies Davy Jones locker.