Fashion Lunacy, as Explained by a German Alienist: 1913

Perhaps an example of a woman who refuses to dress her age?

Perhaps an example of a woman who refuses to dress her age?


People with Passion for Violent Clothing Are Three-Quarters Mad, Declares German Alienist

People with a passion for violent clothing are three quarters mad. This is the discovery of the distinguished German mental alienist, Dr. Bernard Holz, and he is backed by other investigators. Generally, he declares, fashion and clothes have a direct influence on insanity. Dr. Rudolf Forester of Berlin has been investigating the same subject and he has just published a book on “The Connection of Professions and Fashions with Mental Diseases.” Dr. Forester says it is a sign of progressive paralysis when a man of plain life takes to dressing himself up like an Unter den Linden dude and wears a silk hat. And Dr. Holz says it is a sure sign of paranoia when elderly persons show a minute zeal about their clothing, and particularly when two elderly members of the same family copy one another’s garb.

“A certain proportion of lunatics,” says Dr. Holz, “probably three percent, owe their troubles to the influence of fashion, that is, to women’s fashions. This does not include the vast number upon whom fashion acts indirectly in an injurious sense, for instance, to tight-laced women who suffer from hysteria. Hysteria is essential a fashion nervous disease. Also it does not include thousands of indirect victims whose nervous systems are undermined through disappointment with their dressmakers, jealousy of the women’s clothes and inability to pay modistes’ bills. If these cases are counted, then a third of women lunatics are victims of fashion.”

When fashion is an indirect or contributory cause of insanity, Dr. Holz finds that it chiefly produces functional disturbances of the mood, such as undue exaltation, undue depression and diseases of the will. The commonest form of indirectly caused fashion insanity is maniacal depression. Fashion lunacy seldom appears early in life.

“The greatest of all dangers for women of between 40 and 50,” says Dr. Holz, “is a too minute attention to clothing and to changes of mode. When a young woman is unreasonably keen on fashion, that may mean mental disease; but when a woman getting on in life does so, that almost certainly means a mind unbalanced.

“One sign of all half-lunacy is an entire lack of sympathetic and human interests and a fussy self-concentration on ones’ own petty, often insignificant, needs and imagined needs.  This concentration is petty and insignificant when in an elderly woman it takes the form of dress. Women with grown-up children, perhaps grand-children, who persist in leading fussy, ‘worldly’ lives, who think only of their complexions and their hats, are nearly always half way towards insanity.” With this view Dr. Foerster’s book agrees, for it notes that insane women often collect vast quantities of useless clothing, spend extravagantly, and show an unnatural desire to shine in society.

“The first sign of a normally healthy brained organism is,” says Dr. Holz, “a considerable decline of interest in clothes after one passes 30. When a woman has passed 60 a craze for clothing may mean premature demetia senilis. A client of mine, the brilliant and admired Baroness A., who spoke five languages and wrote attractive verse, suddenly began at the age of 70 to study fashion papers. At first, she discussed the fashions with the brilliance which she showed for every other interest, and she began to design her own dresses. For several weeks she was entirely concentrated in this petty work. Six months later she was entirely imbecile, lost interest in everything except brightly colored clothing, and within a year was dead.

“In such cases,” says Dr. Holz, “the craze for fashion may be merely a symptom of insanity which already is well under way. But insanity may be caused in perfectly healthy persons who pay too much attention to clothes. Concentration of the mind on one subject; the sight of unattainable furs and gems; and, above all, the consciousness of a woman of small means that she appears badly dressed at social gatherings—these things have a distinctly disorganizing effect upon the nervous system.

“A woman of strong mind escapes this peril by keeping to her own class, but if ambition is stronger than common sense the ceaseless struggle for fine clothing and perpetual self-consciousness may undermine sound mental health. Probably there are other causes. But it is not necessary to assume inherited or constitutional mental weakness in every case of madness brought on by fashion.” Dr. Holz’s experiments with patients and animals indicate that possibly colors may have something to do with insanity. He holds that blue and violet are “insane,” that is, nerve-disturbing colors, and adds that the lunacy rate may be affected by fashion when the prevailing mode compels a particular color to be worn.

Dr. Holz tested the pulses and nervous reactions of seven women patients when handsome colored articles of attire were unexpectedly placed before them. He found that, contrary to current belief, red and orange do not excite. Green soothes, but purple, violet, and blue have disturbing effects. The craze for violet, which is common with South German women, may be one cause of mental instability.

The experiments with animals chiefly consisted in dressing dogs and rabbits in violently colored jackets. In most cases violet and blue caused a more violent revulsion and stronger desire to get rid of the jackets than any other color. Rabbits, in particular were bewildered when dressed in blue.

Dr. Holz thinks that pyromania, the passion for setting fire to property, may be a fashion disease. He says he treated three women victims of pyromania, all of whom showed a craze for minutely careful dressing. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 8 November 1913: pg. 13

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  One has certainly heard the phrase “fashion-mad,” but one feels that perhaps the foreign alienist’s command of the English tongue was imperfect, for him to have taken the idiom at its most literal. Mrs Daffodil can scarcely repress a smile at a man who dresses rabbits in coloured vests and then denounces ladies whose pulses rise at “handsome colored articles of attire.”  Mrs Daffodil would beg to draw the alienist’s attention to his Kaiser’s mania for military uniforms—some 600 at last count, many designed by the Emperor himself.

Mrs Daffodil recognises that women of a certain age who dress as if they were still ingenues of nineteen have always been figures of fun, yet she is incensed at this dashed foreigner condemning her sex. If Dr Holz does not care for mutton dressed as lamb, he should keep to his own swinish cuisine. Mint sauce has no place among the sausages and beer.


3 thoughts on “Fashion Lunacy, as Explained by a German Alienist: 1913

  1. Pingback: Bonnets in Limbo: 1883 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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