Ashley Davies: Fashion leaves room for improvement

SKINNY jeans now come with a health warning but sartorial hazards are nothing new for followers of fashion, says Ashley Davies

Skinny jeans might look chic, but they are unlikely to leave the wearer feeling free and easy. Picture:

I know someone whose trousers make me anxious. Not in the way that MC Hammer’s did; it’s because they’re ever so tight. It looks like they must really hurt the poor lad and I have no idea how he sits down, or even walks. Actually, I haven’t got a clue how he gets them on and off every day. Maybe he has a crack team of seamstresses sewing them on him in the morning, accompanying him, Formula 1-style, for pit stops, patting his bonnet when he’s good to go. Maybe they unstitch him when he comes home at night. Or perhaps the trews are disposable – each pair gets cut off and dropped like a worm cast after each wearing. I waste time wondering what would happen if he ever had to mount a horse in an emergency, and I hope they don’t affect his ability to one day become a father, if that’s something he wants to do.

Those of us who value comfort, the free flow of blood in our veins and the ability to go about our business without going cross-eyed with discomfort at the mercy of fashion might have had a little snigger when it emerged this week that a case study about a too-tight pair of jeans made it into a recent edition of the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry. A 35-year-old Australian woman collapsed and had to be hospitalised after her skinny jeans reduced the blood supply to her leg muscles, and the prolonged compression damaged nerve fibres below her knees.

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The woman had been helping a relative move house and, as a result, had spent a lot of time that day squatting while unpacking shelves, which compounded the problem. Like something out of a Lewis Carroll daydream, she started swelling up. Her jeans felt tighter and tighter and more curiously uncomfortable as the day progressed, until her feet became so numb that she tripped, fell, and was unable to get up until somebody found her lying on the ground several hours later. Staff at the Royal Adelaide Hospital had to cut her jeans off and put her on a drip, and she wasn’t able to walk normally for four days. So far there’s been no update on the state of her pride, though one imagines those bruises won’t shift for a while.

Thanks to advances in fabric design, young ‘uns these days probably don’t have to put themselves through the time-consuming indignities many of us did in order to be on-trend in the trouser department. Although I never did it myself, a lot of my friends as teenagers would lie in the bath wearing new jeans, then let them dry on their poor bodies in the belief that they’d shrink to fit their form. Me, I have very clear memories of having to lie on the bed in order to be able to do up the zip on my skinny jeans – sometimes having to use a coathanger to get a grip on the darn thing. It was silly but, as far as I know, not hazardous.

Health experts have issued frequent warnings about the dangers of too-tight jeans for men. They can cause bladder infections and weakness, not to mention fungal issues, and can have a damaging affect on sperm count. There have even been reports of testicles getting twisted (two “t” words you really don’t relish seeing in the same sentence), resulting in the need for immediate surgery and even removal – of the testicle, that is, not just the daft trews.

Dangerous fashion is nothing new, though. I have ranted on these pages before about the perils of high heels – bunions, fallen insteps, squashed-up toes, back problems, falling over, not being able to run away from predators, and depleted bank balances. The sickening extreme of this can be seen in the newly published book Living History: Bound Feet Women of China, for which Jo Farrell tracked down and photographed the last surviving victims of the practice that was supposedly outlawed 103 years ago. As a result of their deliberate deformities, some can no longer walk, and others fear their toes would break if they ever tried to move about unbound.

Historically, the less practical your outfit, the more it proved to society that your social standing precluded you from performing manual labour. Crinoline cages, so favoured by fancy ladies in the mid-19th century, were huge, heavy contraptions attached to the waist to give the impression that the wearer was in possession of vast petticoats and skirt fabric, and were therefore useful wealth flaunters. As well as impairing women’s movement, they occasionally displayed parachute-like qualities, and a sudden gust of wind could have the wearer carried off in a flash. They were also a serious fire hazard, as the women trapped inside could not always sense how close they were to an open fire, and often blocked fire exits during panics. In 1861, the wife of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Fanny, actually died after her dress caught fire, and there are other reports of crinoline-related fatalities.

Corsets also mucked about with physical wellbeing. While many of the claims about organs being crushed turned out to be myths, their impact on the digestive system – largely constipation and dyspepsia – is real. The contemporary version of corsetry, “waist training”, favoured by slebs such as those strange Kardashian women, involves the use of sturdy elasticated girdles to mould the stomach muscles into an hourglass shape. Utter nonsense, of course, but it does prevent fans from being able to eat very much, which presumably is one of their goals.

It wasn’t just women who put themselves in harm’s way in order to keep up with sartorial trends. The high, stiff collars popular among dandies in the 19th century were nicknamed “father killers” because they were often so tight and stiff that they could cut off the blood supply to the wearer’s brain – which might explain some of the poor judgment displayed back then. An 1888 obituary – certainly more forensic than those one encounters these days – for one John Cruetzi in the New York Times described his death: “His head dropped over his chest and then his stiff collar stopped the windpipe and checked the flow of blood through the already contracted veins, causing the death to ensure from asphyxia and apoplexy.”

It makes today’s ridiculous pixie-style jeans seem quite safe in comparison. Thank God for elasticated fabrics.