Jan. 16th, 2016

labricoleuse: (safety)
I recently finished reading the excellent new book from fashion historian Alison Matthews Davis, Fashion Victims - The Dangers of Dress Past and Present, and my advice to the readership of this blog is, in short, get your hands on a copy. It's fantastic.

I'm not sure which came first, he book or the eponymous exhibit which ran at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto recently--the book is much more than an exhibit catalogue, though it does contain a substantial number of illustrations (129 full color ones!). So perhaps the book begat the exhibit? Regardless, it's an imminently readable volume, hardcover, full-color, a coffeetable book of sorts, well worth the $40 retail price. I'll defer to a quote from the press release for an excellent summary:

A boldly gory and thoroughly illustrated history of death by clothing, from blazing crinolines to mercury-laden fur.

As a major proponent of safe work practices and an instructor who incorporates OSHA/EHS compliance topics into my classes, i found this book at turns fascinating, heartbreaking, gruesome, inspiring, and at times downright disturbing. Yes, the example cases mentioned within are sometimes horrible on their own, but more horrifying are the bits where the author discusses having lab techs at her university run tests on modern-day products easily bought in stores in your own neighborhood--lead content in lipsticks, for example, or radioactive metal used to ornament imported studded belts.

The book is structured so that each chapter focuses on a different class of danger--there's a chapter devoted to the hazards of the hatting industry, then one on flammable tutu net and flannelette, etc. As a sometime-hatmaker, the hatting chapter was particularly sad--one illustration showed examples of hatters' legible signatures as young apprentices contrasted with the unreadable trembling scribbles they signed with after a decade in the trade.

I highly recommend the book in general, but it's a particularly significant read and reference volume for those working in costume archives and in vintage clothing houses, as well as those in academia with study collections or large stocks of antique/vintage clothing.

December 2016

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