And you don’t have to take my word for it. Whole books have been written on the subject!

But in case you don’t want to read three books—or even one—here are some highlights.



Underwire bras can kill you by acting as conductor if you are struck by lightning. Not likely, but possible. On the other hand, underwires digging into your body is common, and can be painful, cause skin irritation, even bruising.

Regularly wearing a push-up or padded bras, on the other hand, constantly pull the breast against gravity and put pressure on the delicate tissues of the lower breast. If these tissues separate from the main body tissues, it causes sagging.

Ill-fitting bras, especially for the well-endowed, can lead to pain in the neck, shoulders, back, and chest. Research by Rouillon on women 18-35 showed that women who did not wear bras developed more muscle tissue to provide natural support. Hmm… One study in 1991 suggested that premenopausal women who went bra-less had half the risk of breast cancer.

Thongs/ G-Strings

To avoid another embarrassment, remember that UNDERwear is meant to be worn UNDER.

Thong panties increases the likelihood of getting urinary tract infections. Thongs that have a tendency to slide forward transfer bacteria to the genitals. And these panties have been linked to the development of hemorrhoids. (To avoid embarrassing confusion, remember that “thongs” in Australia are flip-flop shoes. Scanty panties are called “G-strings.”)

Boxers or Briefs?

In 2018, NPR reported on research that showed that men who wear tight-fitting briefs had sperm counts 17% lower than boxer wearers. This is probably an effect of heat: men’s testicles hanging below the torso stay cooler by 4-6 degrees. By extension, should men who want to father children wear no pants at all? Kilts or kimonos?


Available in Maternity and Children’s Sizes!

“Corset” probably brings to mind the lace-up garment of the 1890s, in ads that claimed they could reduce a 27-inch waist to 18 inches. The resulting displacement of internal organs caused constipation and weakened a woman’s back muscles, sometimes to the point of being unable to remain upright without the support of the corset.

This style of corsets today are mostly relegated to dress-up, sex play, or limited to occasional use.

A modern version would be shape wear. When worn daily, it puts unwanted and unnecessary pressure on internal organs, resulting in acid reflux because of pressure on the stomach, and possible nerve damage by constricting your sides and thighs.

As an interesting historical side note, both lace-up and compression corsets have been marketed to men as well as women.

Petticoats and Slips

Even back then, people thought they were silly.

In addition to trying to shrink their waists, American and European women wore big cage-like devices under their skirts to make their waists look even smaller. The hoop skirt (aka, a cage crinoline) was made of a fabric petticoat with channels to hold thin strips of wood, whalebone, or other stiffenings, and a tie to secure it at the waist.

The bigger the hoop, the more it inhibited women’s mobility. In addition, they were very flammable, making them particularly dangerous around candles, lanterns, fireplaces, and all those other commonly burning things found in the average 19th Century household. In England in the 1860s, as many as 300 women a year died this way.

Bathing Suits

By exposing large amounts of skin to sunlight, a bathing suit can contribute to some types of skin cancers.

For women, the lack of support in bathing suit tops can contribute to the same problems as ill-fitting bras.

Sitting around in a wet bathing suit for hours on end may lead to a yeast infection or UTI, plus anything associated with bacteria in the water.

Advice: change out of wet suits ASAP and use plenty of sunscreen. Swimsuits with long sleeves or pants provide better sun protection but increase the risk of fabric filled with bacteria.

Yoga Pants

For all that they are comfortable and versatile, yoga pants are susceptible to all the problems listed for compression clothing. You might get chaffing from running, inflamed hair follicles (from bacteria) or ingrown hairs (from compression), as well as fungal infections.


High Shoes

High heels misalign one’s posture, often leading to long-term damage to knees, spine, hips, and leg muscles. They also increase the risk of tripping, falling, and rolling one’s ankles, sometimes with fatal results. Wearing designer shoes (e.g., Jimmy Choo, Manolo Blahnik, or Christian Lououtin) that cost a fortune still inhibit a woman’s mobility.


In 16th century Italy, aristocratic women wore tall platforms called chopines, made of wood, covered in leather, and decorated. The women were essentially walking on short, fat, stilts and unable to move freely. But then, there were few occasions for them to go out, unless it was to display the wealth of the family.

Tengu Geta
British wooden pattens

Similar footwear has been worn for practical or ornamental purposes in many areas. Variations of Japanese geta kept fancy aristocrats and peasant farmers out of mud and snow. Sudanese Nuba wooden sandals, Dutch klompen, Korean namakshin, Cantabrian Spanish albarcas, and British pattens were all variations of risers worn over or clipped to the shoe.

Platform shoes are still with us.

Low Shoes

Flip-flops have been linked to foot, ankle, and knee pain. In addition, the exposed foot is vulnerable to falling objects, getting stepped on or rolled over, an well as tripping  or hitting one’s toes into whatever is around.

Crocs, rubber slip-on shoes, are very popular at the moment but with their own dangers. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, nearly 200 wearers (mostly kids) have been injured when their Crocs were snagged between the moving treads of an escalator.

Flat shoes that don’t offer proper support can cause abnormalities in how one walks and runs. 

Small Shoes

Marathon Feet

Shoes that are too small in any way are likely to cause discomfort, even if only worn briefly. Wearing shoes that are too small for extended periods of time can cause serious damage to feet. Marathon runners are advised to buy shoes one to one-and-a-half sizes larger than normal to account for swelling caused by hours of pounding the pavement. Not doing so is likely to cause ingrown toenails, lost toenails, cysts on top of the foot, and nerve damage in the toes and arches.

Pointy-toe shoes harm feet by squeezing and molding the foot into an unnatural shape. They distort individual toes, and swelling between toes three and four can pinch a nerve most painfully. 

Pointe shoes
Kabuki dancer wearing tabi

Dancers frequently suffer foot problems caused by shoes. Some dancers deliberately wear shoes slightly too small to allow for better grip with the floor or so the material conforms better to the shape of the foot. Tabi (somewhere between shoes and socks) worn by traditional Japanese dancers and ghillies (soft shoes) worn by Irish dancers are often worn a half size too small. Ballet pointe shoes, no matter how well fitted, force the foot into a cramped position while dancers balance their entire weight on their toes.

Bleeding through your socks is always a good sign

The Chinese practice of foot-binding is the most extreme example of shoes mangling women’s feet. Lotus feet were highly valued. For one thing it denoted wealth: the woman didn’t have to work in the fields and/or being carried everywhere implied she would always be rich enough for such service. Walking at all involved a sway of the hips that was thought to be sexy.

No toddlers were harmed in the making of this image. This is a display from the Foot-Binding Museum in Wuzhen.

Foot binding began in infancy or toddlerhood. It was painful at best, and if the feet became infected, could cause septic shock. The last factory producing lotus shoes didn’t close until 1999.



Big, heavy earrings may lead to inadvertently stretching or tearing one’s earlobes. They can get hooked onto objects or clothing, and even tear the earlobe.

Nickel allergy rash

Chunky, heavy necklaces and chains put pressure on your neck, back, and chest.

Oversized bracelets can cause wrist, arm, hand, and finger pain.
Avoid nickel, found in many pieces of clothing and accessories: it is the cause of one of the most common allergic reactions. Stick with stainless steel, silver, gold, or platinum, depending on your taste and budget.


Not the proper way to wear a helmet

Wearing a hat per se probably doesn’t cause hair loss, but any tight headgear could break hair follicles, creating bald patches known as friction alopecia. Wearing a hat while sweating can irritate your scalp.

Nothing says high fashion like a boat on your head.

In 1600s France, aristocratic women wore a “pouf,” something between a hat and a hairstyle. Elaborate piles of flowers, feather, ribbons, gauze, or whatever. At least one woman died when her enormously tall pouf hit a candle in a chandelier and caught fire.

Not exactly a hat, but a headpiece nonetheless, in the 1800s men shaved their heads and wore perukes. The lice lived in the wig rather than on the body, and the wig could be sent to the wigmaker to be boiled and deloused.


Isadora Duncan, shown here before her scarf got caught in the wheel of her car. The after-photos aren’t quite so graceful.

Wearing scares may lead to strangulation, either intentional or accidental. (Think Isadora Duncan.) Thirty-five people a year are choked to death by their own scarves.

Edwardian dandies

Around the turn of the 20th century, men wore stiffly starched collars that were nicknamed “father killers.” They were so high and stiffly starched that if a man passed out wearing one, it would cut of his air supply.

Neckties are to men what scarves are to women, only less so: ten deaths per year are attributable to neckties.


On the other hand, a heavy purse can be very useful for beating up neo-Nazis, as photographer Hans Runesson showed in 1985. Beware the wrath of little old Polish grandmothers with very heavy handbags!

Heavy shoulder bags, handbags, and purses are typically carried on the same shoulder or arm, causing neck, shoulder, and back pain as well as throwing the body out of balance, forcing the other side to compensate, leading to all-over discomfort. 

Heavy backpacks without a waist strap and book bags can also cause neck, shoulder, and back strain, as well as long-term damage to one’s posture. Advice: lighten the load!

General Hazards in Clothing

Skin-tight clothing —everything from skinny jeans to shape wear and compression clothing—has been linked to all sorts of health problems: heartburn/acid reflux, testicular damage, and compartment syndrome (in which pressure builds up in constricted muscles, potentially life-threatening), and nerve damage. Such clothes can cause tingling in and numbness in feet and legs.

Any clothing that is excessively large presents a danger. A train on a skirt can be caught under bystanders’ feet, wrapped around wheels, or snagged by anything on the ground. Trailing sleeves have a tendency to knock things over or catch any open flames. Extra padding anywhere can put uneven weight on the body or cause the wearer to bump into things. Trouser legs or skirts that are too long are a tripping hazard. Tails always seem to have a tendency to be caught in doors.

Fabrics (including shoes) that don’t breathe often cause general discomfort, as well as dermatitis and fungal overgrowth (e.g., athlete’s foot). Stiff fabrics or scratchy ornamentation can cause chafing and abrasions.

Chemicals in Clothing

Skin is the largest organ of the body, and it’s capable of absorbing substances—not only from skincare products and makeup, but also from clothing. Chemicals absorbed through the skin go into the blood stream, which has access to all the internal organs. 

This isn’t the woman in the story. This is Jenny Buckleff, a bride who made quite an entrance at her wedding. (Don’t worry: everyone survived for the reception.)

Warning: the following story is disgusting on many levels. A woman bought a black dress at an upscale shop in Fredericksburg, but returned it a few days later. Another woman bought the dress, and developed such serious health problems that she nearly died. It turns out that the first woman’s mother had died and the black dress was put on her for her viewing. It was thoroughly contaminated with formaldehyde.  Formaldehyde and p-Phenylenediamide (in black clothing and leather dies) are in the products of 14 big-brand clothing manufacturers.

Daldykan River in Siberia after an apparent chemical leak from a textile factory

Formaldehyde—used to prevent mildew growth and inhibit wrinkling—is particularly harmful, and the U.S. does not restrict its use. (Sri Lanka and China two of the worst offenders, and major sources of inexpensive clothing.) Formaldehyde has been linked to an increase in lung cancer, difficulty breathing, and itchy eyes/nose/throat.

Ouxia Clothing Co recalled school uniforms made with carcinogens.

Side effects run from mild dermatitis to disruption of the endocrine system to cancer.  However, different chemicals can affect different organs.

Green dye, made with lead and mixed with arsenic

The U.S. doesn’t require disclosure of any of the chemicals used during production even though, according to Emma Loewe of MindBodyGreen, (How Worried Should You Be About Chemicals in Your Clothes), “…by some estimates there are upward of 250 ‘restricted substances’ used in textile manufacturing that pose potential health concerns.’”

Avoid Being Poisoned by Your Clothes

Be especially careful of irritating or poisonous chemicals in children’s clothing.
  • Because synthetics carry a heavier load of harmful chemicals, necessary to produce them, choose organic, natural fibers such as cotton, linen, jute, silk, and hemp.
  • Also avoid clothing labeled flame retardant or as wrinkle, stain, odor, or water resistant because these effects are achieved through chemical additives.
  • If you need synthetics, choose brands that use “rPet” or recycled polyester (e.g., Adidas and Athleta do this).
  • Choose clothes colored with natural dyes. If you don’t know, go for lighter colors, which contain less dye.
  • Wash before wearing to remove any surface chemicals picked up during packaging and shipping.
  • If you notice any kind of reaction to your clothing, discontinue wearing and consult a medical professional as warranted.
  • And last but not least: don’t wear anything that makes you feel self-conscious or nervous just because it is “in.”

Writers Note: Surely at least some of your characters make hazardous clothing choices!

  • A cunning murderer who makes it look like an accidental suffocation or poisoning
  • An advocate on behalf of someone who has suffered long-term effects of harmful dyes or chemicals
  • A character knowingly wearing harmful clothing in an effort to look fashionable
  • A character who refuses to wear harmful clothing and is shunned
  • A lower-class or impoverished character without the money to wear organically made or custom fitted clothing


Finger Hands made by Archie McPhee

The first thought to come to mind is probably American Sign Language. Important as it is, that isn’t a big part of this blog, primarily because I know next to nothing about it. For information from experts in Sign Language and Deaf culture, check out these other sources:

Instead, I am going to take a look at the hand language that people pick up without really thinking about it. In spite of humans developing amazing verbal language, we still engage our hands to enhance communication of our emotions, thoughts, and meaning. Think of how hands are used by effective speakers (e.g., Hitler), magicians, and orchestra conductors, for example.

Talking Hands are a Gift for Writers! 

Use hands to show rather than tell how a person is feeling, whether anxious, scared, frustrated, or confident. Mismatching words and hand movements are invaluable for indicating dishonesty, lies, or at the least a situation undermining trust.

Hand slang is culture-bound. By hand slang, I mean gestures that convey a specific meaning in a particular culture. For example, in the United States, the following gestures are generally understood:

  • Rubbing palms together: anticipation, positive expectation; rubbing faster is more positive
  • Tubbing thumb against index finger or fingers: financial gain, expectation
  • Fist pump: victory, win
  • Fist bump: congratulations, casual greeting
  • Closed fist, middle finger extended: f*ck you, up yours
  • Closed fist, index and middle fingers extended: peace, accent for photos
  • Thumb to nose, fingers waggling: mocking, distain
  • Thumbs to ears, tongue sticking out: a childish gesture of disdain or insult
  • Hand over heart: sincerity, believe me
  • Right hand raised, elbow bent: believe me, I swear; stop
  • Clenched fist: anger, irritation, or tension
  • Crooking the index finger: come here, sometimes used flirtatiously 

Hand slang often changes in meaning over time, even within the same culture:

  • Historically, thumbs down means death; now, disapproval or disagreement
  • Thumb up: historically, let the combatant live; now, okay, good job 
  • Index finger curled to touch the thumb: historically, this meant “okay”; recently, this gesture has become a symbol that the wielder is a white supremacist.

Writers note: The same gesture often has different meanings in different cultures. Use the confusion your advantage when there is a cross-cultural element to your story. Touching the index finger to the thumb means different things all over the world:

  • You’re a zero – France and Belgium
  • Money – Japan
  • @sshole – southern Italy
  • Sexual invitation – Greece and Turkey

President Nixon caused a scandal in Brazil when he deplaned with both hands overhead in the American peace sign, which in Brazil is equivalent to flipping someone the bird.

Gendered Gestures

By middle school/early adolescence, gender differences in the use of gestures emerge. Some gestures are used equally by both males and females.

  • Thumbs protruding from pockets: dominance and self-assuredness
  • Gesturing/pointing to someone with the thumb: dismissive, disrespectful, ridiculing
    • Women more likely to use this gesture with people they dislike
  • Males
    • Give “the finger” 
    • Give the finger with an upward arm more to convey “up yours”
    • Pound the table
    • Pound a fist into the opposite hand
    • Display clenched fists
    • Use expansive, powerful hand movements
    • Use adaptors less frequently (see below)
    • Holding jacket lapel with thumbs exposed: dominant and self-assuredness
  • Females
    • Put their hands in their laps or on their hips
    • Tap their hands on the table or on their leg
    • Pull in their gestures as if their elbows are attached to their waists
    • Use more “bonding” gestures, such as hands and arms outstretched toward another person
    • Be more expressive, more animated in their use of gestures
    • Use low steepled finger position (see below)
    • Place one hand over the other and rest her chin on top, drawing attention to the face

Writers portraying a person of the other sex heed this: getting body language wrong—in this case hand talk—makes your character come across as unreal or unbelievable.

Professional Gestures

Several professions require conveying information through hand gestures that fall outside the structure of a formalized language. People in these professions tend to remain cognizant of their hand movements and position even when not working. Some make an effort to minimize or completely still their hands, while others are especially prone to enhance their communication with conscious hand gestures.

  • Musical conductors often subconsciously cue other speakers even when off the stage. Conductors are trained to use their left and right hands simultaneously to make completely independent movements, signalling the tempo and style with the right hand and controlling musicians’ entrances and overall tone with the left.
  • Classical dance traditions in India, Bali, Japan, and many other regions include a “vocabulary” of hand signs. These signs are not a formalized language like ASL, but they are used in combination with the music to create a message or tell a story physically embodied by the movements of the entire body.
  • Romani dancers have a much less formal dance style, and it is common for individual dancers or families to create or adjust their own lexicon of hand movements. These gestures often reflect activities in daily life. Unlike Indian or Balinese dancers, Romani dancers’ footwork and figures tends to be relatively simple.
  • Ballet, and many offshoot lyrical dance styles, uses hand gestures either to extend the movement of their arms or to communicate story elements via pantomime.

Gestures as Adaptors

Adaptors are almost always learned in childhood, typically involving touching oneself, for the purpose of self-soothing. Often people exhibit only one such behavior/habit, but an individual could have multiples. For example, pulling on an ear, tapping toes, smoothing eyebrows, touching nose or chin, bouncing a knee, twisting fingers, picking at one’s nails, twirling hair, and brushing hair back. Adaptors can include adjusting clothing (e.g., pulling on/straightening a tie), fiddling with jewelry, pocket change, or a pencil, and drumming one’s fingers. 

Important things about using/exhibiting adaptors:

  • They attract attention, detracting from the verbal communication and/or annoying others
  • They are often interpreted as signs of anxiety
  • They make the exhibitor less persuasive 

Writers note: There are lots of ways to show anxiety or nervousness without telling the reader that is what is being felt.

What the hands say is often louder than words. Research by Joe Navarro’s and others supports this conclusion. 

  • When people hide their hands (for example, under a table or desk) they are perceived as less open and less honest.
  • How we touch someone reveals how we feel about them: full touch with the palm is warm and affectionate; touching with fingertips shows less affection.
  • When people feel comfortable and strong, fingers are spread out more, making hands more territorial.
  • When feeling insecure, people’s fingers are closer, sometimes thumbs tucked into palms.
  • Steepled fingers: when held high, feeling confident; low steepled fingers signal the person is listening, attending.
  • When feeling confident, thumbs rise more as the person speaks, especially if fingers are intertwined.
  • Two gestures express extreme stress: the Teepee Finger rub (palms facing, fingers interlaced and held stiff or rubbed slowly back and forth; and fingers intertwined palms facing up.
  • When adults’ words don’t match their gestures they are seen as less trustworthy.
  • Hands clenched together: scared, nervous, or holding back a strong negative emotion.

Position is important: in front of face, on desk or lap, in front of genitals when standing; in general, the higher the clenched fists, the stronger the negative emotion.

  • Hand behind the back, one hand gripped in the other: superiority and confidence.
  • Arms back, one hand gripping wrist: holding back frustration, a gesture of self-control. 

Get a grip on yourself?—Arms back, one hand gripping the other arm: the higher up the hand grips the opposite arm, the more frustrated or angry the person is likely to be.

Writers be aware: mismatching words and hand movements is a powerful tool.

Pay attention to handshakes. Because a handshake is often the first touch between people, it shapes first impressions.

  • No one likes vice-like grips, which convey aggressiveness, perhaps an attempt to intimidate or establish dominance.
  • A limp handshake does not denote femininity, but rather weakness.
  • Body language experts suggest mirroring the other person’s handshake, with good eye contact.
  • NB: In some cultures a hug or cheek-kissing might be more in order.

Talking With One’s Hands Isn’t a Bad Thing

  • An analysis of TED talks found that the most popular speakers used nearly twice as many hand gestures as the least popular speakers.
  • People who talk with their hands tend to be viewed as warm, agreeable and energetic.
  • People who use their hands less are seen as logical, cold and analytical.
  • According to Kinsey Gorman, “Gesturing can help people form clearer thoughts, speak in tighter sentences, and use more declarative language.”
  • Hand gestures often tell others the strength of our emotions and motivations.
  • Young children (age 5 or 6) using more hand gestures predicts a strong vocabulary as well ask sills related to sentence structure and storytelling later.

Bottom line for writers: Hand movements and gestures allow you to convey so much information to your readers:

  • Show not tell emotions and attitudes
  • Add depth to your character
  • Add power to your dialogue
  • Break up big chunks of narrative or dialogue in meaningful ways