Dressed for success … or distress?

People obsessed with dieting may be a little inconvenient on the subway (if you believe the rather dubious statistics in this news story), and diet pills may not work (or may give you tapeworm), but this made me wonder what other health problems could be associated with looking good.

Here’s a list of little-publicised problems…


A few decades ago, men wore suspenders to keep their trousers up. Now they use belts. The continuous constriction across the abdomen has been proposed as one reason for the increase in oesophageal cancers due to increased levels of acid reflux (a recent study has disputed this theory, however). Certainly wearing a back support belt (for lifting etc) has been shown to increase diastolic blood pressure. This suggests that the constriction caused by a regular belt may increase blood pressure and thus raise the risk of heart disease or stroke.


The wearing of a tight necktie can constrict blood flow across the neck. This has been shown to lead to increased pressure within the eyes and (by implication) within the head. Higher pressure in the eyes may increase the risk of glaucoma, and increased inter-cranial pressure could be a risk factor associated with strokes.

Let’s also not forget how much of a bacterial breeding ground a necktie can be. One particularly disgusting study looked at a contamination comparison between regular ties and bow ties worn by gynaecologists (no difference between the types of ties). Enough said on that topic.


Dressing fashionably in youth can lead to serious foot pain and deformity in later life.

Studies of shoe choice have shown that most men and women choose shoes far too narrow and often too short for their feet. Narrow shoes lead to corns, bunions and foot pain. Short shoes create toe deformities over time. High heels (above 2.5 cm) are also associated with bunions and painfully calloused skin. Poor shoe choice could also lead to higher risk of fall related injuries.


Let’s forget the corset of yesteryear. The tight support so often touted in underwear ads also has negative health impacts. Pressure from bras has been shown to slow digestion, reduce autonomic nervous system activity (responsible for organ functioning) and interfere with the temperature regulation of the body.

Tight underpants (and trousers) in men seem to be responsible for increased scrotal temperatures and reduced fertility. Even wearing boxer shorts rather than briefs may not solve the problem.

Nice Nails

Manicures, nail varnishes and acrylic nails all involve some level of exposure to organic toxins such as acetone and toluene. Linked to cancer, neurotoxity and respiratory problems, these chemicals may impact the wearer. Certainly people with a heavy exposure to these chemicals (such as nail technicians) show slight but significant decreases in cognitive reasoning, memory and learning ability.

Skirts and Pants

The type of skirt or pant you choose may increase risk of injury. Flowing clothing can lead to burns when people are incautious around open flames. Tight skirts and low-slung pants and trousers may impede movement and lead to more falls.


So does this mean that snazzy dressers are dumber, more deformed, spread disease and have lower IQs than slobs? I’m not sure I’m convinced – but I might point out these issues when next told to spruce up by my distant in-laws.


Biljan MM, Hart CA, Sunderland D, Manasse PR, Kingsland CR. (1993) Multicentre randomised double bind crossover trial on contamination of conventional ties and bow ties in routine obstetric and gynaecological practice. BMJ. 307(6919):1582-4.

La Vecchia C, Negri E, Lagiou P, Trichopoulos D. (2002) Oesophageal adenocarcinoma: a paradigm of mechanical carcinogenesis? Int J Cancer. 102(3):269-70.

Lagergren J, Jansson C. (2006) Use of tight belts and risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma. Int J Cancer.119(10):2464-6.

Leong SC, Emecheta IE, James MI. (2007) The flaming gypsy skirt injury. Injury. 38(1):122-4.

LoSasso GL, Rapport LJ, Axelrod BN (2001) Neuropsychological symptoms associated with low-level exposure to solvents and (meth)acrylates among nail technicians. Neuropsychiatry Neuropsychol Behav Neurol. 14(3):183-9.

LoSasso GL, Rapport LJ, Axelrod BN, Whitman RD. (2002) Neurocognitive sequelae of exposure to organic solvents and (meth)acrylates among nail-studio technicians. Neuropsychiatry Neuropsychol Behav Neurol.15(1):44-55.

Menz HB, Morris ME. (2005) Footwear characteristics and foot problems in older people. Gerontology 51(5):346-51.

Miyatsuji A, Matsumoto T, Mitarai S, Kotabe T, Takeshima T, Watanuki S. (2002) Effects of clothing pressure caused by different types of brassieres on autonomic nervous system activity evaluated by heart rate variability power spectral analysis J Physiol Anthropol Appl Human Sci. 21(1):67-74.

Munkelwitz R, Gilbert BR. (1998) Are boxer shorts really better? A critical analysis of the role of underwear type in male subfertility. J Urol. 160(4):1329-33.

Rafacz W, McGill SM (1996) Wearing an abdominal belt increases diastolic blood pressure. J Occup Environ Med. 38(9):925-7.

Teng C, Gurses-Ozden R, Liebmann JM, Tello C, Ritch R. (2003) Effect of a tight necktie on intraocular pressure. Br J Ophthalmol. 87(8):946-8.

Sanger WG, Friman PC. (1990) Fit of underwear and male spermatogenesis: a pilot investigation. Reprod Toxicol. (3):229-32.


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Filed under Curious Science, Household Science, Science

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