News Stories

Clothes Can be Dangerous

And not just if you take them off at the wrong time, either.

Fashion expert Alison Matthews David explains why the Hatter in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was "Mad." She says, "Hatters used to work with highly toxic materials that led to mercury poisoning. Their symptoms were pallor, anemia, trembling and disorientation. It's possible that Lewis Carroll, who grew up near a center of the hatting trade, would have seen people behaving as 'mad as a hatter.'"

The popularity of beaver fur felt hats led to overhunting of the beaver population, so 18th and 19th century hat makers substituted lower quality furs like rabbit, and in order to turn rabbit fur into felt, they had to be brushed with a mercury solution. A report from 1806 found that hatters only lived an average of 45 to 50 years, and their children often died by age 4, since they were exposed to the toxic element through their parents.

Matthews David also points out that neckties and scarves can cause strangulation and the long skirts that were worn a hundred years ago caught fire and impeded women's movement. They also "swept up" piles of dirt underneath them as the woman walked along, since streets and sidewalks were not very clean in those days.

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Art credit: Dreamstime.com

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