It’s not often that a sartorial choice lands someone in hospital. Usually, it just invites ostracisation by the trendy crowd. But new research published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry chronicled the woeful tale of a 35-year-old woman whose legs went so numb while she was wearing skinny jeans, she had to be carted to an emergency room. Doctors have been warning of the dangers of tight pants for years, and one even named a syndrome after them. They can apparently cause abdominal discomfort, nerve compression, bladder infections, digestive problems and even reduced sperm count.
But snug denim is hardly the first item to land on hazardous style lists. Men and women have a long history of trading away comfort to embrace potentially perilous trends. Consider, for instance, the persistence of high heels. Putting on a pair could arguably make a woman feel on cloud nine, but reaching stratospheric heights comes at a price — bunions, hammer toes, stress fractures, ankle sprains, Morton’s neuroma and Freiberg infraction. But then, women today are at least spared the indignity of wobbling on treacherous stilettos while struggling to breathe due to a cinched corset.
In Europe, from the 16th century to the end of the Victorian period, the preference for tiny waists manifested most cruelly in the tightly laced garments designed to squeeze them into submission. In China, the equation of beauty with dainty feet led to a custom of painfully tight binding of young girls’ feet to prevent further growth. And derma-obsessed India might identify with Japan’s love for pale skin, which its geishas achieved via application of zinc and lead makeup.
Our modish desires have made fashion victims of us all — even the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I, wasn’t immune. She is said to have used ceruse, a mixture of vinegar and lead, to lighten her skin. And, the story goes, she might have paid the ultimate price for its prolonged use.