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Plague, Spanish flu, tuberculosis: how epidemics have affected what we wear today



The worldview of entire peoples is capable of changing under the influence of external circumstances. Whether it's an important scientific discovery, military conflict, climate change or social fluctuations: all this is reflected in popular culture, part of which is fashion, writes a strategic image specialist and fashion editor. LADY.TUT.BY Ekaterina Gordeeva.

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New trends are a fashion reaction to a changing social or cultural agenda. Considering that the news about the coronavirus does not leave the front pages, it will be especially interesting to trace what fashionable innovations appeared during other high-profile epidemics.

Plague epidemic

The second plague pandemic peaked in 1346-1353. Tens of millions of people became victims of the "black death": according to various estimates, 30-60% of the population of Europe died from the disease.

The catastrophic mortality among workers and peasants caused by the epidemic has led to a sharp rise in the price of manual labor. The lower classes quickly realized that it was they — the people who could cultivate the land, watch the farmstead and tinker with — the main wealth of the aristocrats.

Realizing the new role, the working class wanted to improve its material position and tried to achieve certain political freedoms. The vassals, however, responded to the Narodnaya Volya sentiments with new, tougher laws. Employees were forbidden to pay more than before the epidemic. Also, the nobility tried to raise taxes in their domains and increase their influence through massive repression. The confrontation between the nobility and subjects resulted in a chain of popular uprisings.

The need to contain mercenaries who can curb the stronger spirit of the villagers and artisans, a lack of labor, a general economic decline hit the nobles even more. The prestige of a high birth was losing the appeal of a tight wallet.

The impoverished nobles tried to find salvation from poverty by marrying "money." Such morganatic marriages further undermined the prestige of the noble class. Hierarchical boundaries were erased. The vassals had to look for new tools to help them maintain their privilege.

The elite came to the aid of "sumptuary laws (laws of luxury)". For the first time, the state began to control fashion on a large scale. Under the new rules, the lower classes were prohibited from using expensive fabrics and certain styles. Now it was enough to look at the clothes to understand that in front of you is a Very Important Person, and not a simple prosperous hard worker. The "laws of luxury" became an outlet for the nobility after years of fear and awareness of their helplessness in the face of the epidemic and its consequences. People wanted to live to the fullest, especially since the position of "boasting" was supported by the authorities.

The mood of society can be traced to common engravings of the time. "Dance of Death" was massively depicted on the walls of churches. In the paintings, skeletons and death danced interspersed with dressed-up princes and common people. Often, all this "company" was drawn by those participating in an orgy that took place right at the cemetery. “Eat, drink, love, for tomorrow you will die” - the motto of the first years after the plague.

This is how the "erotic component of the plague" appeared in fashion. The outer dress now served not only as a distinguishing sign of "friend or foe", but also as an assistant in demonstrating the beauty of the body. What was previously intended to hide the sexuality of a person, now flaunts all the shameful places, infuriating clergy and moralists.

The focus of the public has shifted to man and his nature. Antiquity was in fashion, life as a holiday, open sexuality became the norm.

In pursuit of fashion and fun, women tightened their corsets at the waist, because of this, the dress at the top was loose. It happened that during a dance at a ball a woman could have her breasts exposed, but this was not considered shameful.

Around this time, a codpiece appeared in the men's wardrobe - a bag that was fixed on the causal place in men and showed the value of its dignity.

So the "black death" gave Europe the Renaissance, a love of bright clothes, a deep neckline and naked sexuality.

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Syphilis Epidemic

An epidemic of syphilis plagued Europe from 1495 to 1543. According to the theory of Morbus Gallicus, the epidemic of the "French disease" began in 1493 and quickly spread to Spain, the Mediterranean islands, Italy and further throughout the continent.

Scientists are still arguing over what caused the epidemic. According to one version, the disease was spread by loving sailors from Columbus ships who contracted syphilis from the natives of the island of Haiti and later joined the army of King Charles VIII of France, who was just picking up soldiers to participate in the First Italian War. According to another, the soldier of Charles was "awarded" the disease by Neapolitan concubines, tirelessly appeasing the French conquerors.

There is only one result: in 1495 an unknown disease began to mow the multinational army of the French. In just one month, a third of the powerful army of Charles VIII was killed. In horror, the king decided to leave the conquered kingdom.

In retreat, French troops attacked villages and raped local women. So the disease spread first in Italy, and then, when the soldiers returned to their homeland, the epidemic swept over France.

The chain reaction was launched by numerous mercenaries of Karl: returning to their home, they transmitted the disease further throughout Europe.

Just two years later, by 1497, Austria, Hungary, Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were infected. A year later, the disease appeared in Russia. In 1500, the epidemic reached Turkey, Iran, North Africa, Egypt and even China. Vietnam was defeated in 1503, and syphilis reached Japan in 1512.

According to scientists, about 5 million people died from syphilis in Europe alone, and about 6 million more became victims in other countries.

It soon became clear that promiscuous sexual contact was the main mode of transmission.

People freed up by free life after the plague epidemic were constrained by fear. An unknown disease quickly passed for God's punishment for general debauchery. In search of salvation, the people turned to the church and began to atone for sins.

The worldview of people turned upside down: antique cheerfulness was replaced by Puritan chastity. Of course, the new agenda was reflected in fashion. Sexuality was censured. The neckline was no longer welcomed, and the waist ceased to tighten tightly.

By the way, it was during the era of the syphilis epidemic that the first underwear appeared - before that, ladies wore two dresses.

The dress suit has also changed: from the genital area, the emphasis has shifted closer to the face. Massive collars came into fashion, which, as it were, hindered intimacy. Ceremonial outfits became dark, dark brown or black. Yes, the trend for black is not Madame Chanel's discovery - this color has been in fashion for several centuries.

Tuberculosis epidemic

Along with millions of unknown sufferers, pulmonary tuberculosis claimed the lives of Anton Chekhov, Vissarion Belinsky and the three Bronte sisters. Every day this disease kills about five thousand people - that is, a person every 20 seconds.

The entire history of tuberculosis can be divided into two periods: before and after March 24, 1882, when Robert Koch announced the discovery of the tubercle bacillus Mycobacterium tuberculosis. However, 160 years before Koch, the Englishman Benjamin Martin put forward the theory that consumption is caused by mycobacteria, but then the scientific community was not ready to accept the discovery.

Based on the theory of humors, which explained health and disease by the balance of four bodily fluids - blood, phlegm (lymph), yellow bile and black bile, the doctors of that time saw the cause of the disease in excesses and strong passions.

Any excess upset this balance and could lead to "thinness". The term "consumption" appeared in Russian medical use later, at the beginning of the XNUMXth century. The word is a tracing paper from the ancient Greek phthisis - "wilting, withering", this is a disease from which people wither.

By the middle of the 1880th century, tuberculosis became an epidemic. In 1890-XNUMX, every tenth city dweller in Russia died of pulmonary tuberculosis. In St. Petersburg, the death rate from consumption was five times higher than the death rate from typhus and three times higher than from Asiatic cholera.

The disease was so widespread that it soon became fashionable. Consumption began to be perceived as something sublime and aristocratic. The bloody handkerchief has become a symbol of heroic suffering, and not the embodiment of an infection that is dangerous to others.

Soon, the symptoms of tuberculosis began to be imitated: mods had to look painfully pale and thin, and good health was considered the lot of the working class.

But trends are short-lived. The growth of urbanization and the development of statistics showed an unattractive picture: it turned out that most of the victims of consumption were not pampered young aristocrats, but factory workers and prisoners. The disease has lost all attractiveness. The public more than ever wanted to get rid of the misfortune.

Doctors recommended that patients spend more time outdoors, breathe the sea or mountain air and contemplate landscapes that soothe nerves. So a new type of leisure came into fashion - trips to a sanatorium.

The first tuberculosis sanatorium in Europe was opened in the village of Gerbersdorf in Prussian Silesia in 1854, and by the 1890s hundreds of such establishments had already started operating in Western Europe. There were only two special sanatoriums in Russia, and both in the vicinity of Petersburg.

Wealthy patients who could afford a new treatment option needed a special wardrobe. The dresses should have been appropriate when walking along the promenades and hiking trails, which required a little shortening of the hem of the skirt.

But the main “innovation” of the era of the global fight against tuberculosis is that tan began to enter into fashion. It was by light tan that one could determine that in front of you is not only a wealthy, but also a healthy person. Since then, the trends for pain were no longer observed.

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Spanish pandemic

Spanish flu has become the most widespread pandemic in the history of mankind. Over a year and a half, about 550 million people became infected with the Spanish, and about 100 million became victims. For comparison: the victims of the First World War, according to various estimates, were 10 million soldiers and about 12 million civilians.

The Spanish virus was incredibly easy to spread, had a rapid course and severe complications. The sick people began to turn blue, then a bloody cough opened, pneumonia and pulmonary hemorrhages began - people literally choked with blood.

The disease developed rapidly: some of the infected died in a couple of hours, others in a few days. For this, a new type of flu has been dubbed “three-day fever.”

As the epidemic began at the end of World War I, warring parties tried to hide the spread of the disease. The first of the disastrous state of affairs was declared by Spain, which maintained military neutrality. By April 1918, 39% of the population were already infected in this country. Among the sick was the king himself.

The press quickly picked up the terrible news and consolidated the name "Spanish flu" among the people, although it was not possible to determine the country in which the infection began.

The severe demographic consequences of the war and the subsequent flu pandemic accelerated the process of women's emancipation. New time required changes in the foundations of society. Women had to fight for political rights and the ability to provide for themselves.

To fit the new lifestyle, women's clothing is being simplified, more comfortable. Ladies finally abandon multi-layered underwear and corsets. Elements "from the man's shoulder" penetrate into the women's wardrobe: pantsuits and sportswear. Thus, the worst known pandemic, played an important role in the formation of the modern image of European women.

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Coronavirus pandemic

In most cases, the COVID-19 virus is milder than the diseases described above, and following the rules of etiquette and hygiene can significantly reduce the rate of incidence.

However, the new virus is spreading unusually quickly, causing widespread panic.

It is not yet fully known what effect coronavirus will have on society and the economy as a whole, but it can already be said that the changes will be tangible.

Fashion houses recognize the need for protective masks and vying with each other to practice creativity. If bloggers pick up the trend, an unusual mask will become as ordinary an accessory as sunglasses or an elastic band for hair.

Massive closures of stores and the outflow of tourists will hit the pocket of luxury clothing manufacturers. A joint study by Bernstein and the Boston Consulting Group shows that due to the lack of demand from only Chinese buyers, the estimated losses in the premium segment will be between 30 and 40 billion euros. Colossal losses will force manufacturers to raise the cost of production or go into the segment easier.

So fashion can make another round and bring us back to a time when it was possible to determine which caste you were from by the quality and design of clothes.

Realizing the possible risks, fashion houses are forced to become more socially responsible. Dolce & Gabbana, for example, is sponsoring the development of a coronavirus vaccine and investing in research on the immune system at Humanitas University.

Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of American Vogue, responding to a question about the coronavirus, said: "During the crisis, we must think about a radical restart." What this "restart" will be is anyone's guess.

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