Killer Style: How Fashion Has Injured, Maimed, and Murdered Through History by Serah-Marie McMahon & Alison Matthews David. April 15, 2019. Owlkids, 48 p. ISBN: 9781771472531. Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 8.3; Lexile: 1060.
The clothes we wear every day keep us comfortable, protect us from the elements, and express our unique style―but could fashion also be fatal? As it turns out, history is full of fashions that have harmed or even killed people. From silhouette-cinching corsets and combustible combs to lethal hair dyes and flammable flannel, this nonfiction book looks back at the times people have suffered pain, injury, and worse, all in the name of style. Historical examples like the tragic “Radium Girl” watchmakers and mercury-poisoned “Mad Hatters,” along with more recent factory accidents, raise discussion of unsafe workplaces―where those who make the clothes are often fashion’s first victims.
Co-authored by a scholar in the history of textiles and dress with the founder of WORN Fashion Journal, this book is equal parts fab and frightening: a stylishly illustrated mash-up of STEAM content, historical anecdotes, and chilling stories. Nonfiction features including sidebars, sources, an index, and a list of further reading will support critical literacy skills and digging deeper with research on this topic.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discussion of injuries
Booklist starred (March 15, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 14))
Grades 5-8. Fashion historians McMahon and David serve up looks that kill in this riveting exploration of the perils of fashion through the ages. Between lead paint, mercury-mad hatters, and exploding combs, this book is a succinct history of the hazards of fashion and cosmetic trends. But don’t be fooled; this book isn’t just macabre titillation. Though there is a healthy dose of the morbid and a quirky incorporation of myth, the authors give equal weight to the rightful debunking of tall tales. They also zero in on the dangerous business of fashion: the corner cutting and poor working conditions that caused factory fires and collapses, radiation exposure, and silicosis poisoning, all reminders of the hazards of “fast fashion.” The authors give well-researched consideration to non-Western fashion history, an inclusive take that is all too rare in surveys of this kind. Readable and well organized, the book incorporates primary-source illustrations, advertisements, and photographs into the information-rich pages, while Wilson’s quirky woodblock prints add some texture to the sleek design. The authors do an especially seamless job of using contemporary parallels as practical proof that even fashion history repeats itself. A fun, yet thoughtful look inside fashion perils past and present.
Kirkus Reviews (March 1, 2019)
From lead-based cosmetics to radioactive wristwatches; from arsenic-green gowns to sandblasted denims: Fashion’s victims are sometimes the wearers and sometimes the creators. The introduction references Oscar de la Renta’s coining of the phrase “fashion victims,” noting that the pages to follow, while not ignoring his definition, will expand it to include more literal victims: “people who have suffered physical pain, injury, and worse, attempting to look more attractive, or to make others look more attractive.” Three luxuriously illustrated chapters tackle heads, middles, and legs, respectively. The first leads off with one of history’s more-famous tales of fashion-related occupational hazards: the use of mercury-cured felt by hatmakers from the 1730s into the 1960s. The text mentions the disturbing fact that, despite compelling evidence of mercury poisoning, England never banned its use; the dearth of currently ill milliners comes instead from felt’s having lost its fashion cachet. After exploring three other head-related tales, the book moves on to an entertaining history of corsets and their reputations, including a note about the 2016, Kardashian-promoted “waist trainer.” There is also an excellent double-page spread comparing two factory catastrophes: the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York and the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh. The text uses puns, alliteration, and a conversational tone, but it never crosses the line into disrespect or sensationalism. Colorful, original silkscreens, historical photographs, and vintage art complement the magazine-style format. Accessible and informative. (bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 9-14)
About the Authors
Dr. Alison Matthews David is an associate professor in the School of Fashion at Ryerson University. She holds a PhD in Art History from Stanford University. Her research on fashion victims examines how dress causes bodily harm to its makers and wearers. She has also published on military uniforms, and on representations of fashion in literature, notably in L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. She is also interested in colour theory and the aesthetic movement.
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