Dressed to Kill, Literally: When Victorians Were Obsessed With Green

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Dressed to Kill, Literally: When Victorians Were Obsessed With Green


There is a saying that claims "beauty is a pain," but the people who lived during the Victorian Era took that saying to the next level. In fact, they were willing to literally die in the name of beauty and the color green.

During the 19th century, there was an outbreak of deaths among Londoners, but unlike most crimes, the culprit couldn't be jailed because the victims perished due to a pigment that was first developed in 1775.

Known as "Scheele's Green," it was a bright and attractive green hue unlike anything of its kind. Re-developed in 1814, when it became widely known as Paris green or emerald green, it was coveted by many artists and nobles because of its attractive tint. There was a catch, though. It contained a huge amount of arsenic, a known poison.


Victorian Era Green fashion / Photo by: Buzzfeed News


Most people today would shy away from any product that has been revealed to contain poisonous substances, but not Victorian-era people. Even though emerald green was known to contain arsenic and high levels of toxicity, it still became so popular that it was even used in the production of other materials such as clothing, wallpaper, carpets, tapestries, paints, etc.

During those times, the production of the dye was thriving as noblewomen loved how their green dresses and clothing glimmered under the lamps, and it didn't help that Queen Victoria herself was into the said fashion trend.

Of course, the factory workers who were creating these items were the ones who were directly at risk since they had to be in close contact with the poison every day. Painters who often licked their brushes to get a fine tip ended up with poisoned mouths.


Green fashion designs / Photo by: Buzzfeed News


One of the most popular cases of arsenic poisoning was of Matilda Scheurer, a factory worker who was in charge of dusting flowery hairpieces, such as flower crowns and other hair ornaments, with the said pigment. Because she had been in close contact with the pigment for too long, the poison eventually infiltrated her body that she developed green-tinted eyes and fingernails and ended up vomiting green. 

On her deathbed, she was unable to see anything but green, according to reports. She was only 19 when she died. The same fate was most likely to have happened for the noblemen and women who wore green clothing and inhabited green-painted rooms since they literally inhaled poison or had close physical contact with the poison every day. 

Arsenic was found everywhere during the Victorian Era as it was an ingredient in pesticides, medicines, cosmetics, and even toys, not just anything dyed with green.


A political cartoon depicting the danger of the "green fashion" / Photo by: The Welcome Library via Buzzfeed News




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