Their fabrics had arsenic, and their hats had mercury, but you’d think at least their shoes were safe, right? Wrong. And how could your shoes poison you anyway? Well, never doubt a Victorian’s ability to take something innocent and turn it into an elegant death trap. Shoe polish from the 19th century had high amounts of nitrobenzene, a toxic chemical that caused men to pass out if they touched the wet polish.
Shoe shiners were doomed, and so was any impatient man that didn’t allow the polish to dry properly. The chemical caused nausea, vomiting, asphyxiation, and even death. And combined with alcohol, it was a sure ending.
The Choking Collars
This fashionable but deadly Victorian trend was detachable collars. Men of stature wore collars that were starched enough so they could stay stiff throughout the day. Normally, there would be no problem with a nice, crispy collar. However, most of these well-to-do dandies visited their local pub after work and drank silly with alcohol. (This is still a pretty common custom in some parts of England, minus the starch.)
Unfortunately, this meant that they often got quite drunk and ended up being choked to death by their hard collars. This happened so much that the collars got quite the dark nickname – “Father Killer.”
The Explosive Nightgowns
One generally likes to feel safe when sleeping at night, but apparently, Victorians weren’t big fans of it. Even at nighttime, these people prioritized beauty over comfort. They even prioritized it over their lives! The most popular pajamas and nightgowns back then were made of a type of cotton called flannelette. The fabric looked wonderfully elegant, but it was also extremely flammable.
This meant that many Victorians would suddenly burn to ashes in their sleep if the tiniest candle came into contact with their pj’s. Come on, people, no potential suitors are about to watch you in your sleep. And if they are, then they are more stalkers than suitors.
The Poisonous Socks
Perhaps it was the Victorian version of extreme sports to wear fabrics that could kill them at any moment. Not even the socks were safe! And we aren't talking about compression socks that were too tight. Nope, we're talking about the actual textile. The colorful dyes used to give socks their bright colors were made with acid that often caused chemical burns and sores.
In fact, one man reported having to have his boots sawed off because the acid from the socks had caused his feet to swell up abnormally. Basically, you had to choose between wearing fun socks and staying alive.
Spontaneously Combusting Combs
Just when a Victorian-era lady thought she’d cheated death by avoiding toxic makeup, arsenic and lead-filled gowns, and rib-crushing corsets, there was one more item she’d forget about – the exploding hair combs.
Yes, you read that right – because hair combs back then were made of celluloid, they would spontaneously combust if left for a minute too long under the sun. This meant a huge fire would break out in a woman’s dresser just like that. It obviously didn't help that the dresser was probably made of wood and full of makeup and other products that were also highly flammable.