The History of Green Dye Is a History of Death

One of the first green dresses ever, from around 1778, at the Bata Shoe Museum. The dress tests positive for arsenic in the dye. Photo: Roberto Machado Noa/Getty Images

"In 1814, a company in Schweinfurt, Germany, called the Wilhelm Dye and White Lead Company developed a new green dye. It was brighter than most traditional green dyes. It was bolder. The shade was so jewel-like that it quickly began being called “emerald green.” And women loved it. Largely because it was during this time that gas lighting, rather than candlelight, was being introduced. When women went out to parties at night, the rooms were considerably brighter than they had been only a few decades before. These party-goers wanted to make sure they were wearing gowns that stood out boldly — gowns in a shade like emerald green. People also began using it for wallpaper and carpeting. Victorian Britain was said to be “bathed in… green.”

Unfortunately, the reason that dye was so striking is that it was made with arsenic, as it a topic that Alison Matthews David covers extensively in her book, Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present." -Jennifer Wright

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