One doctor, after examining the gown of a fashionable London hostess, found 60 grams of the arsenic based dye per square yard... enough to kill 12 people!
Since I'm hosting an Intuitive Painting and Color workshop here in my home studio Sunday, March 24 with painter and musician, Vessna Scheff, I decided to have some fun and focus on color. With Saint Patty's Day right around the corner, this weeks obvious choice is the color green.
There's so many associations with regards to green: spring, growth, the environment, money, greed... the list goes on, but green has a much darker past in the footnotes of fashion history.
Although green may seem so readily available in nature, before the 18th century, the only way to achieve green cloth was to either layer yellow on blue, or the other way around. In 1775 Swedish chemist, Carl Wilhelm Scheele invented a stand alone green pigment. The only catch was that his formula contained copper and arsenic and was toxic as all get out. No surprise that he died at age 43 since he would not only smell but often taste his creations and concoctions in the lab.
The wearers of these killer dresses would suffer from rashes, headaches and other illness but the real fashion victims were the poor young women who worked in the garment industry. Besides the ulcers and sores on their skin, this "perfect shade of emerald" would cause their hair fall out, vomit blood and eventually shut down their livers and kidneys. Pretty gruesome.
But it took a while for the fashion to fade. Victorian London was literally bathed in green. From wallpaper paper to rugs to tasty, sugary green confections, the actual death toll is impossible to determine... or fathom.
As early as 1857, Doctors began talking about the "slow poisoning going on in Great Britain" but regulations were not put in place until 1895!
The stigma of green lives on to this day. Green dye has a bad reputation among seamstresses and is considered to be bad luck.
But for one day a year, I'll risk that and count on the luck of the Irish to keep me safe in my Saint Patty's Day green!
PS: We need to limit the size of the workshop, so register now if you'd like to join us Sunday March 24th.
I'm particularly partial to this shade. These satin boots are colored with the arsenic-based dye. (c.1840s) (Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, photograph by Ron Wood)
Here's a pound of the deadly stuff