During the 19th Century deadly dyes were used to colour shoes with the era’s current popular shades. In respect to the Adelaides boot shown in fig 1, (Museum, n.d.) described how it tested positive for arsenic‐based dye, the deep colour in the boot was just one of the many shades of green that could be produced using arsenic. During this time Victorian England were using the same dyes and as explained by Whorton (2010) that the great majority of fatalities from arsenic in the nineteenth century came not from intentional poisoning, but from accident. Thus, suggesting people were not aware of the risks associated with being in contact with products such as clothing which contained the deadly chemical.
Fig 1– Green satin Adelaides Boot, European, c.1840s. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum. Photo credit: Image © 2015 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada (photo: Ron Wood)
For the people who wore any garment containing arsenic based dyes they were putting their lives at risk and in most cases unknowingly. In Fig 2, two skeletons are shown dressed in evening wear and preparing to dance with each other. The source suggests that the people who wore these arsenic dyed clothing were potentially killing themselves to look good. The same goes for anyone who purchased and wore the Adelaides Boot. This is further supported in an article by Ceja-Galicia (2017) who stated arsenic exposure has also been linked to increased risks of internal cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, adverse pregnancy outcomes, and a decrease in children’s intellectual function. All of these, would impossible or difficult to treat in the 19th Century.
Fig 2- Two skeletons dressed as lady and gentleman in “the Arsenic Waltz,” Etching (1862) (courtesy Wellcome Library, London)
For the fabric to be dyed the deep green shade, workers ‘brushed emerald green paste directly into the cloth with their bare forearms’ described by David (2015). As explained by (Facts, n.d.) exposure to arsenic in the workplace by inhalation can also cause lung cancer. The likelihood of cancer is related to the level and duration of exposure. Meaning the health of workers who handled the arsenic dyed satin material for long periods of time would have been effected, more so than those who wore it.
The shoe itself is made from satin a form of silk. From the 1400 to the mid-1800, silkworms were used across Europe. The process involves the use of silk cocoons made my silk worms, the method can be seen an unethical due to disruption of the life cycle of the animal. Before the new silk moth could hatch from its cocoon, it is ‘baked, steamed, gassed or refrigerated’ Parker (1992) thus killing the developing animal. As stated by Parker (1992) the British were not successful at breeding silkworms meaning they would have to import them from other countries or purchase pre-made fabric, both of these would have been costly. Suggesting the price of the Adelaides Boot would have been costly, meaning the shoe would have been more targeted at Higher Classes.
Ceja-Galicia, Z. A., 2017. Molecular and Cellular endocinology. 452(c).
David, A. M., 2015. Fashion Victims. London: Bloomsbury Visual Arts.
Facts, G., n.d. Arsenic. [Online] Available at: https://www.greenfacts.org/en/arsenic/l-2/arsenic-7.htm [Accessed April 2018].
Museum, B. S., n.d. Fashion Victims. [Online] Available at: http://www.batashoemuseum.ca/fashion-victims/ [Accessed April 2018].
Parker, J., 1992. All about silk: a fabric dictionary & swatchbook. Seattle: Rain City Publishing.
Whorton, J. C., 2010. The arsenic century : how Victorian Britain was poisoned at home, work, and pla. s.l.:OUP Oxford.
Fig 1- Museum, B. S., n.d. Fashion Victims. [Online] Available at: http://www.batashoemuseum.ca/fashion-victims/ [Accessed April 2018].
Fig 2- David, A. M., 2015. Fashion Victims. London: Bloomsbury Visual Arts.