Dressing Responsibly

March 21st, 2012 by Andrea Bennett

How the decisions you make in front of your closet could affect your health.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

Podiatrists have been warning of the health hazards of stiletto heels as long as there have been, well, podiatrists and stilettos.

But lately, the medical community has targeted other items in your closet as ticking health time bombs.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, 52-year-old Baily Steinman first noticed numbness in her leg on a trip to Israel last year. The area from her knee to her pelvis was so numb it was painful to walk. After a an exhaustive examination back home by a Brooklyn neurologist, it turned out that Steinman had been compressing a major nerve – the lateral, femoral cutaneous nerve – resulting in a painful condition called “meralgia paresthetica.” The culprit: the tight belts with which she held up her pants.

“Of course, modern sartorial trends aren’t nearly as punishing as Chinese foot binding or Victorian-era corsets, which could crush women’s ribs and displace internal organs,” the WSJ explained. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of dangers hanging innocently in your closet.

Take the skinny jean. According to the same WSJ article, in 1993, internist Dr. Octavio Bessa of Stamford, Conn., coined the term “tight-pants syndrome” in the Archives of Internal Medicine after seeing patients with abdominal discomfort, distention and heartburn from shoehorning themselves into too-tight jeans.

And of course, back to those stilettos. New York City podiatrist John E. Mancuso said in a MORE Magazine article that the narrow toe box and high heels of stilettos cause bunions, hammer toes, nerve damage, stress fractures, ankle sprains and – frighteningly – bone death (or “osteonecrosis” – bone collapse brought on by poor blood supply to a joint). The higher the heel, the more a person’s weight is thrown forward onto the balls of the feet, causing imbalance and pain.

But even your comfy sheepskin boots aren’t blameless: On one hand, Mancuso says, “They’re loose, warm and comfortable. On the other, they’re completely unsupportive,” and can lead to foot arch collapse. As the arch lowers, the rest of the foot elongates and widens, exacerbating bunions and arch injuries.

According to TIME’s Healthland blog, men aren’t exempt from the vagaries of fashion. Nearly 70 percent of men buy shirts that are too small at the neck, which can cut off circulation to the head, causing blurry vision, headaches and tingly ears. And since neckties aren’t washed as frequently as other clothing, they could be carriers of disease-causing germs.

Does all this news about our fashion self-victimization mean that to dress responsibly, we’re limited to a wardrobe of muumuus and orthotics? Not necessarily, says Tarrytown, NY neurologist Dr. Orly Avitzur, who told ABC News she started warning about skinny jeans in her consumer reports blog in 2009. It may just be that fashion – like so many things – is healthiest in moderation.

Do you have a dangerous fashion addiction you can’t give up? Or have you already changed the way you dress in the name of health? Speak up here.