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RED PANTIES, RED FACE For some, fashion statements are painful



Published: Sat, January 8, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



If you're not careful, you might end up wearing the latest in hospital gowns.

SCRIPPS HOWARD

One moment Regina Gonzales was enjoying a free evening on a business trip to Spain, making her way down the narrow steps of an elegant restaurant in Barcelona while admiring the art displayed on the walls.

The next she was sprawled upside down on the staircase, her head split open, her tailbone severely bruised and her conservative companion's face as red as the underwear Gonzales revealed when her skirt flew up above her waist.

The culprit? Her 3-inch high heels.

"I caught one of my heels and ended up doing a 360, hitting three or four steps and landing with my feet straight up in the air," says Gonzales, 44.

The fall required eight staples in her head and multiple doctor's appointments. Gonzales still grimaces when she recalls the episode -- and yet she hasn't sworn off wearing heels.

Other pitfalls

High heels might be the most obvious example of dangerous fashion, but they're not the only one. Platforms, flip-flops, oversized earrings and clothing so loose or long it invites tripping or tangling -- all present the potential for peril.

"There's a low risk to these things -- we don't see them that often -- but there's always a possibility," says Dr. Leon Deprest, medical director of urgent care at an Albuquerque, N.M., hospital.

Deprest says sprains from falling off high heels are probably the most common type of injury, followed by secondary infections from body piercings.

But he has also seen some fairly gruesome cases -- such as a finger being "de-gloved" of skin when a ring has caught on something. And in a worst-case scenario, infections -- from piercing or, more likely, tattoos -- could, if untreated, become life-threatening.

Heels, pointed toes

Is any of it worth the risk?

That depends on whom you're talking to. One person's dangerous fashion is another person's couture du jour.

"High heels put you at risk for sprains, and platforms cause a lot of inversion injuries," says Steven Wrege, a podiatrist Foot and Ankle Specialists of New Mexico, whose own wife disregards his recommendation of not more than a half-inch heel.

"As for the extremely pointy toes that are so popular now . . . well, I think I'm going to have a job for a while," he says.

The American Podiatric Medical Association has determined that high heels are the main reason women have four times as many foot problems as men.

The most common complaint is metatarsalgia (pain in the ball of the foot), but the association says heels can cause everything from knee and back pain to shortened hamstring muscles and an unnatural gait. The associations Web site recommends a heel height of not more than 2 inches.

Even if you choose sensible footwear, other extreme fashions might place you in harm's way.

Loose-fitting attire can trip the wearer, but it's especially hazardous when worn near machinery with moving parts, Deprest says.

And the popularity of body piercings -- navels, eyebrows, nipples, and ears -- provides ample opportunity for skin tears when jewelry gets caught as clothing is put on or taken off.

Object lesson

Brenda Dunagan's choice of earrings ultimately left her with a neatly split earlobe.

"It was back in the '80s, when girls were wearing those incredibly long earrings," says the 32-year-old student and dance instructor. "I had long hair, and I was brushing it, caught my earring and just tore my earlobe in half. I had to have it surgically repaired."

Sometimes it's the person observing a fashion extreme who is at risk. A scantily clad person strolling down a heavily traveled route could cause onlookers' eyes to be diverted from the task at hand -- resulting in a collision with a pole on the sidewalk, for example, or a rear-end traffic accident.




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