Into The Bronze Age: A History of the Suntan

Given that we’re in July, and that pretty much everyone around you spends an unhealthy amount of time at the beach trying to perfect their tan, you would be forgiven for thinking that is the way things have always been. But tans weren’t always de rigeur; they were actually frowned upon for a long time. Let’s take a quick history lesson; it’ll be fun, I promise.

So, the industrial revolution in the late 1800’s pretty much changed the whole concept of travel. People could get around more quickly, and at lower prices than ever before, so they travelled farther and discovered new horizons.

With the revolution in travel came the concept of holiday hot spots, like the French Riviera, which is the Mediterranean coastline of the southeast part of France.

This came to add to the South’s attractiveness, which had already been recommended by doctors to cure a variety of diseases due to its climate. What had been a remote and fairly impoverished region of France soon became a playground for the British aristocracy and for the nobility of Europe.

The notion of going to the beach was popularized with the abolition in the 1920’s of old ideals that favored pale skin. People started wanting sun-kissed tans. Tans, which had previously been associated with the lower classes, most of whom worked outdoors and were therefore exposed to the sun, were suddenly all the rage.

This shift in attitudes would also translate into a change in women’s clothing, which had until then gone to great lengths to preserve that pale tone, tailored to protect from sun exposure with full sleeves, bonnets, hats, parasols, etc. Women went as far as applying lead-based products to whiten their skin.

The new trend, like all new trends, quickly became an obsession and women would even cheat, and tan with colored powder and stockings. Not much has changed, besides the technology.


The origins of the trendy suntan can even be traced back to an anecdote featuring one of the greatest designers and innovators of all time, Coco Chanel. While visiting the French Riviera in the 1920’s, Chanel accidentally got sunburnt; when she returned home her fans apparently liked the sun-kissed look and started to adopt darker skin tones. So Chanel probably inadvertently started a trend that remains with us till today. coco2_wide-f27ee4bf111cdacc0847734b8dfad2c31d6e15b4 Later on, in the 1940’s, women’s magazines started advertizing this sunbathing lifestyle. Swimsuits got smaller, showing more skin, and the bikini radically changed swimsuit styles after making its first appearance in 1946. tumblr_lm8037L8FK1qzspj4o1_1280 But this love of bronze skin isn’t a worldwide phenomenon. In the world’s most populous country, China, dark skin is still considered to be a mark of lower social standards, and people go as far as to wear “face-kini” masks to protect themselves from the effects of sun exposure. face-kini_mask

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A team of writers constantly on the hunt for everything and anything there is to know about local fashion.