Victorian era etiquette was rigorous, and the rules and rituals one had to follow after a death in the family were particularly strict, even though they were only enforced by social pressure. A widow was expected to grieve for two and a half years, with her activities, dress, and demeanor proscribed in every detail. That included wearing black crape, a stiff, heavily-dyed type of silk, with a veil to hide her tears. These requirements made some fabric and clothing manufacturers rich, but they weren't so great for the widows who had to wear the veils. They were hot, heavy, scratchy, restricted one's vision, and were full of toxic chemicals.
By the 1880s, medical journals had begun a discussion about the health effects of heavy crape veils. The New York Medical Journal decried “the irritation to the respiratory tract caused by minute particles of poisonous crape,” while a syndicated column from the North-Western Lancet declared the mourning veil “a veritable instrument of torture” in hot weather, staining the face and filling the lungs with toxic particles. Doctors speaking of poisonous fabric were not being hyperbolic: Many of the substances used to color and treat crape were seriously toxic, and as the 19th century progressed, the dyes in use only became more dangerous.
Read about Victorian mourning veils and the dangers they posed at Racked. -via Digg