Not such a perfect fit: are your clothes wearing you out?

Are some clothes bad for your health? We separate fact from fiction

High heels and skinny jeans: How much are you prepared to suffer in the name of fashion? Photograph: Thinkstock

High heels and skinny jeans: How much are you prepared to suffer in the name of fashion? Photograph: Thinkstock


We all know that some of our clothes are kinder to us than others; by this we mean that they make us look better and accentuate our good points rather than drawing attention to areas we would rather keep in the shade.

But how many people know that there are actual dangers lurking in our wardrobe? Among the favourite jeans and reliable LBDs, most of us are likely to have items of clothing which can, at best, make us feel uncomfortable and, at worst, cause long-term health problems.

We spoke to some experts to find out if any items of clothing are bad for our health or if anecdotal stories are simply old wives’ tales.

Skinny jeans

“Many of us are prepared to suffer in the name of fashion, but wearing clothing that is tight and uncomfortable restricts free movement,” he says.

“These clothes can cause poor posture, shallow breathing and even change the way we stand, walk and run.”

In fact, in the journal Practical Neurology, Australian neurologists recently described significant nerve injuries related to overexertion in someone wearing skinny jeans.

However, consultant neurologist Dr Sean O’Sullivan of Cork University Hospital says the problem lies less in the shape of the trouser and more in the amount of weight the wearer is carrying.

“I came across this brief paper [in Practical Neurology] and found it interesting, but I can’t say that this is a significant problem in clinical neurology,” he says.

“Perhaps more relevant would be the degree of weight-loss required by some people to fit into skinny jeans. Weight-loss is a well-known risk factor for developing a foot drop, which is thought to relate to compression of the peroneal nerve at the fibular head.

“The peroneal nerve is normally cushioned by a small degree of fatty tissue as it runs over the fibular bone on the lateral aspect of the knee.

“Weight-loss, particularly if it occurs rapidly, can cause the peroneal nerve to become relatively exposed to being compressed against the hard fibula bone.”

Tight collars and neckties

But, according to some reports in the US, having your neck constricted in the first place may cause eye problems.

Despite these claims, Dr Aoife Doyle, consultant ophthalmic surgeon at the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear hospital, is quick to reassure people that serious long-term damage is unlikely.

“The paper by Teng [] shows an increase in normals and glaucoma – after tightening the tie – of 2-4 mmHg and suggests it could be caused by elevated episcleral venous pressure immediately after necktie tightening,” says Doyle, a glaucoma specialist. “The question raised is does a tight neck tie affect the accuracy of eye pressure measurement and the answer appears to be yes if checked just after tightening [3 minutes] but not after 15.

“This does not mean that tight neck ties can cause glaucoma. Normal and glaucoma eyes have constantly fluctuating intraocular pressure levels and the effect of these fluctuations in glaucoma patients appears to cause further damage as the fluctuations are wider [than the 2-4 in this study] but this appears to be more a part of the disease process than related to external factors .”

Tight shorts

Irish Family Planning Association

“From time to time there is speculation about whether tight clothing, which can raise testicular temperature, has an adverse effect on testicular function and male fertility,” she says. “However, to our knowledge there is no evidence to back this up.”

Mind you, despite the physical safety of donning tight shorts, we can’t guarantee sartorial experts will approve of them.

High heels

Richard Brennan of the Alexander Technique Centre says we should avoid them altogether.

“The first problem is the height of heel. When barefoot, the body is naturally aligned, but even a low heel, such as those found in men’s shoes, can contribute to the body being thrown out of alignment,” he says.

“So if a person wears a 2-inch heel, their entire body is thrown forward out of alignment by 20 degrees.”

In order to stop ourselves from falling forward, Brennan says, a huge number of changes must be made to the organisation of our precisely balanced framework.

“The pelvis rotates forward, taking away support of the internal organs within the pelvic bowl and abdomen,” he explains.

“The lumbar vertebrae become more arched as the body fights to regain balance and, as a consequence, muscles, tendons and ligaments all become strained.

“Most importantly, being off balance will cause a backwards and downwards retraction of the head, causing excessive tension in the head, neck and back area, which will in turn interfere with the primary control, negatively affecting the functioning of the entire body.”

Soles that are too stiff can also cause problems, as can shoes with little space for the toes to move. So when it comes to maintaining good posture, the less heel, the more flexible and the wider the shoe is the better. Sorry, fashionistas.