Haute Historian: Fashion’s Glowing Trend

April 21, 2011 • Haute Historian, Magazine

Bonnie J Brown

As the bitter days of winter are subsiding, bit by bit women are gradually shedding their many layers of heavy sweaters, wool pants and fur-lined boots and substituting them for sling-backs, gauzy dresses and bare legs. But as the temperatures rise there is one additional layer that is donned, the suntan. Whether the golden hue is achieved naturally from the sun, dangerously from the tanning bed or safely from the bottle,the added glow brightens the skin tone and is the go-to trend for spring and summer months, leaving its wearers with a healthy complexion, a trimmer looking physique (or so it would appear) and the ability to wear white without looking like a ghost. But just as the bikini or the miniskirt is a modern fashion trend, so too is that of the suntan.

Prior to the First World War, pale skin was the epitome of high fashion. Since the Roman ages, fair skin was something only the wealthy could afford. Not only was the upper class the only set of people who could avoid toiling away under the sun’s rays, they were also the only ones who could afford to spend money on white chalks and powders to lighten their skin tones. Most famously spreading this trend was Queen Elizabeth I, who was known to wear white lead makeup contrasted with bright red lips, a beauty trend that was then followed by the rest of her court, even the men. The fact that the lead makeup was detrimental to their health was of no consequence, as it was unlikely known that the powders being used contained arsenic. But even if they had known of its harmful qualities, it wouldn’t be the first nor the last time people sacrificed pain and suffering for fashion. Stiletto heels anyone?

It wasn’t until the 1920’s that the suntan become popular. It was then that the most fashionable woman in the world was seen exiting a yacht in the Mediterranean with a darker skin color then when she got on days earlier. Of course the trend-setter was Coco Chanel and while it is believed that she admitted the tan was a mistake from sitting in the sun too long, it was the beginning of a now long-term trend that was picked up by women all over the world who longed for her jet-setter lifestyle. Thanks to the other fashion trends Chanel produced, of looser fitting clothing that exposed more skin, flappers and other fashion forward women were able to tan easily and the lifestyle of hitting the beach was underway. Not long after, the bikini was designed and even more skin was exposed to the ever powerful rays. But, much like the harmful qualities the lead-based white powders inflicted on its users, tanning is also a trend that is not good for ones health.

The fashion and beauty world is not quite ready to give up on this fad. Popular designers with cosmetic lines are eager to sell tinted moisturizers that provide a healthy glow without the UVA/B rays that are cancerous and wrinkle inducing. Designers such as Dior, Michael Kors and, of course, Chanel, offer sunless tanning lotions, keeping the trend alive, making it easier for even those with the palest of skins to be a bronze goddess.

1. ‘The Ermine Portrait’ of Queen Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard, 1585
2. Vogue, 1920s
3. Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia, 1935
4. Women in Bathing Suits North Africa, 1944
5. Sharon Tate For Coppertone, 1967
6. Chanel Soleil Identité Perfect Colour Face Self-Tanner, 2011

Image Layout: Molly Murphy

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