Fashion has always been closely related to events of global relevance. Need, lack, disease, revolution of ideas, war, are just some of the reasons that always go hand in hand with the evolution of fashion. In the 1800's tuberculosis fiercely hit the United States and Europe. It became an easily spreading epidemic, in a period where there were no antibiotics to prevent damage to the lungs and other organs that caused the infection. As a result, thousands of people died. The disease was relentless. It left its victims extremely thin, with very pale skin, bright eyes with dilated pupils, flushed cheeks, and pink lips all the effects of the disease. As tuberculosis progressed, these traits became more pronounced, and the Victorians became more fascinated by it.
Men considered women to be stunningly beautiful under the influence of suffering. They looked weak, vulnerable, and as white as porcelain. This, unthinkably, became a standard of feminine beauty that they could not take advantage of for long because tuberculosis was so lethal. This is how the fashion industry began to produce the famous Victorian corsets that leave the waist as thin as a wasp. To further highlight the slimness, the corsets were combined with the classic dresses with bulging skirts to give the illusion that the upper body was much narrower. In 1882, bulky skirts began to be trimmed after Robert Koch discovered that tuberculosis was caused by a microorganism that made the disease contagious. As a result, several health campaigns were carried out suggesting that the long dresses collected bacteria from the street, serving as deposits to incorporate the infection into their homes. Regarding corsets, it was suggested that it was better not to wear them, as they aggravated the condition by putting pressure on the lungs and hindered blood circulation.
Men in the Victorian era also transformed their looks, they used to wear bushy beards in their elegant period costumes. It was not until the early 1900's that some agreed to keep their faces free of hair, precisely to avoid the transmission of germs. Doctors were the first to adopt the trend after discovering that beards stored germs that were contagious. In Victorian times, having pale skin was a sign of nobility. Women who worked outdoors were tanned, but those who had a lot of money did not need to work, therefore their skin was very white. To highlight that look, the women used zinc oxide (a powder of the mineral) to make their complexions look as white as possible. In addition, every time they went out they made sure to protect the skin with hats and applied vinegar, which acted as a protector. They also painted very fine blue lines on their skin simulating their veins and applied red lipstick to emphasize the contrast of colors.
In the early 1900's, as demand for the textile industry in the United States increased, working conditions worsened. Among other things, the sanitary conditions were deplorable and the tuberculosis disease was spreading rapidly. Conditions in factories were so unsanitary that in the early 1900's, tuberculosis was known as "the garment worker's disease." As a witness at the National Consumers League in 1901, doctor A.S. Daniel described treating "women in the last stages of consumption, lying on the bed, finishing their pants until death ended their suffering". This marked an important basis for what we now know as workers' health rights.
We talked last week about how the fashion industry will be transformed into a more ethical industry. The limitations that the Coronavirus pandemic is imposing will consequently bring collaboration, transparency and good practices between businesses, especially those practices related to the rights of workers in the industry that the sustainable fashion industry has been demanding. Here's the show from last week. Don't forget to like our video on YouTube and if you find the information interesting, please share.
Carolina Chávez clothing: Charter Club branded jacket purchased at Goodwill and Everlane t-shirt.