Garment Sustainability Analysis

Dress containing Arsenic kept in Met Museum.


For my garment sustainability analysis, I have chosen to look into the impact of poisonous dyes  and the effect that they have had on past men and women from the toxic chemicals that have been used in the production.

For much of the 19th Century the damage that everyday items of clothing such as day dresses were causing to the wearers was widely unknown. One of the main dyes associated with this was Arsenic which gave a vivid green colour to not just clothing but other everyday items including the dying of wallpaper which had a lethal effect to those who lived in its surroundings everyday. (GORDON, FARLEY, HILL, COLLEEN, 2014)

Arsenic is a tasteless, colourless metal that  an be found in soil and well water, and can have life threatening consequences when in contact with for a substantial amount of time. The dangers of Arsenic were even known before the chemical was used for dying, however it continued to be used for years before the realisation of the dangers it caused to human beings once they had been in contact for long periods of time. (MOSEBY.2007)

The dress which I have decided to analyse is one kept in the costume department on of the Met Museum in America, the dress was produced between 1868 and 1870 and is made from silk which has been dyed in different shades of arsenic dye, the most popular being “Paris Green, Emerald Green and Sheeles Green”.  From the image above you can see that the garment has many quantity of shades used and due to the shape of the dress it is certain that a large amount of dye has been used.

Cartoon of which shows the consequences of arsenic used in dresses and artificial flowers, illustration in Punch magazine.


There are many reported cases of those who death was caused by this toxic dye and this included Matilda Scheurer who worked making artificial wreaths. Matilda’s death was particularly unpleasant as she, “convulsed, vomited, and foamed at the mouth. Her bile was green, and so were her fingernails and the whites of her eye.” (LITTLE, B, 2016) This shows that the symptoms and death from Arsenic were prolonged and often incredibly painful.

Since the discovery of the dangers of some dyes there has been much a greater effort made to ensure that the clothing we wear is both safe to produce and will not cause damage to us. For example William Morris experimented with using vegetable dyes, followed by many others who continued to develop them so that more yarns could be naturally dyed.(MULHOLLAND, R, 2013) There are companies such as Greenpeace who continue to protest the use of dyes which contain poisonous toxins. For example on the website there are easy to access news articles highlighting the dangers of dyes in children’s clothes and the use of them by worldwide respected brands such as Burberry. (GLIENICKE, A, 2014)There are also ways in which the public can take action to ensure that the use of these dyes are eliminated and swapped for environmentally friendly alternatives.


GORDON, FARLEY, HILL, COLLEEN. (2014) Sustainable Fashion: Past, Present and Future. USA, Bloomsbury Publishing, GORDON Page 89-91.

LITTLE, B. (2016) Killer Clothing Was All the Rage In the 19th Century [Online] National Geographic, Available at:

Arsenic Dress. [Online]  The Met Museum , Available at:

MOSEBY.(2007) Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Volume 56, Issue 2 [Online] Science Direct, Available at:

MULHOLLAND, R (2013). [Online] Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Available from

GLIENICKE, A.(2014)In pictures: the toxic truth of your children’s clothes [Online] Greenpeace, Available at :


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