Golden Glamour – fashion’s enduring love affair with the suntan………

Supermodel Heidi Klum graces the cover of ALLURE magazine.

(Picture courtesy of ALLURE)

It has been a long fashion road for the suntan. Go back to the early 1900’s and a tan was, well, a sign of poverty. It meant a life spent outdoors. Ladies of a certain background were valued for their pale complexions. Pale skin was the sign of a true fashionista. One woman would change all that and her name was Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel. Brought up in an orphanage, Coco always had an unconventional view on life, and a woman’s role in society. She wanted to shake off trussed-up dresses, and let women be free. She wore trousers and breton tops, cut her hair, and got a suntan. She created a look that will be copied for centuries to come, and suddenly a suntan was a status symbol, a sign that you holidayed in exotic locations, and it is a look that has never left fashion’s fraternity, but why and how we look tanned has changed and morphed. Just as smoking was once thought of as health product(!), tans were once thought of as healthy. Over time, though, we have realised that getting a deep suntan is one of the most damaging things you can do to your skin, if not the most damaging. However, we all know how we feel with a golden glow – it makes us feel slimmer, fitter, younger and more vital. The growth of the self-tan market has gone some way in helping us with our quest. Fashion over the last 30 years has fallen in and out of love with the suntan. However, every year, as soon as the sun shines, every park, beach and garden will be packed as we try to get some colour. We have a lot to learn and a long way to go – sales of sunscreens have fallen 10% in the last ten year, which is not a good sign. Binge-tanning on sunbeds and during foreign holidays shows no sign of abating. So how can we, in this modern beauty age, get shimmering skin, keep our skin safe, and still be at the cutting edge of fashion………………………..?

Coco Chanel introduced us to the 2.55 bag, the Chanel suit, and the suntan!

Moving through the last century it was the Hollywood movie stars and influential designers such as Christian Dior, whose full-skirted New Look caused a sensation when it was launched. After the austerity of the Second World War years, women were ready for a new glamour. Of course, before the days of fake tans stars would use body make-up to get a bronzed look. Joan Collins, that great British starlet who is now a lifelong style icon, never put her face in the sun – good for her! Italian stars like Sophia Loren brought olive-skinned, dusky beauty to the big screen and arguably the most beautiful actress of all-time, Elizabeth Taylor, rocked a tan and a swimsuit back in 1959.

Elizabeth Taylor’s infamous swimuit pic set the standard for international beauty.

Step forward into the Swinging Sixties and women were starting to really take their place in the world. With more and more women working, and Britain enjoying a boom in the economy, more people were enjoying summer holidays, many at home but some were travelling using package holidays to mainland Europe. The doe-eyed new mini-skirted models of the time, like Penelope Tree, did go for the pale look but at the movies, the movie star to really put the bomb into bombshell became a new beauty icon. Brigitte Bardot was everything we imagined the South of France to be – effortlessy glamorous, playful and sexy, youthful and breathtaking. That hourglass figures, the bronzed skin, and that mane of flaxen hair set a look that has long been imitated. The bikini was taking the place of the swimsuit  and so young women everywhere were bathing in the sun’s rays.

Brigitte Bardot set a new, youthful beauty standard that has endured for fifty years.

In the 1970’s the focus was on the U.S. Designers there such as Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren were finding their feet in the fashion world, as people all over the world embraced colour TV’s and the new wave of American programmes that built a cultural landscape. The all-American, sporty, girl-next door became an ideal as models like Cheryl Tiegs and Lauren Hutton were outdoorsy and golden. Coppertone became famous as the sunscreen brand to wear, and the Coppertone campaigns were famous the world over. However, protection in the lotions was quite low and the pictures accompanying the campaigns showed dark tans as the fashion must-have. The poster girl to end all poster girls was never seen without her tan – Farrah Fawcett became a legend as one of Charlie’s Angels and this poster of her became a best seller all over the globe.

Farrah Fawcett became a worldwide superstar and was never seen without a smile, and a tan!

In the early 1908’s the deep tan was still desirable – brands like Bergasol were huge sellers, but started to take note that skin really needed to be protected in the sun, but the safe tanning message would take a long time to reach the rank and file sun worshipper. More and more of us were travelling abroad, many to the U.S. and the Far East, and mega-shows like Dallas and Dynasty showed super-tanned glam soap stars and we all wanted a piece of the action. In 1985, Elle magazine was issued in the U.K. for the first time, and brought with it fun, young, bright imagery and the models were super-toned and long-limbed. Jane Fonda had us feeling the burn with her fitness programmes and the look was still golden all over, thanks to the new Amazonian models, the most enduring being Elle Macpherson. Simply known as ‘The Body’, her figure and tan were desired by all.

 Fresh and golden skinnned Elle Macpherson created the new Amazonian, long limbed beauty ideal.

And then, of course, came the supermodels. Cindy Crawford was the most commercial of them all and her curvy, tanned, athletic form made us all want to rush out and buy whatever she was selling. At both ends of the fashion spectrum, Gianni Versace created opulent extravagant fashion, whilst Giorgio Armani was all about the tailored elegance, but they were both all about the suntan. In the early 1990’s brands like Clarins and Lancome were busy launching fake tans and they were much better than some of those they were replacing. It was also a time that we re-assessed one fad that had us gripped – the sunbed. Launched as the safe alternative to sunbathing, they became more commonplace during the 1980’s and everyone who was anyone had one in their home gym. Gyms and beauty salons were home to many of the high powered versions, and sunbed salons popped up all over the country. However, as skin cancer rates began to soar alarms were being raised – tanning in the sun was no longer deemed a great way to treat your skin, and sunbeds were outed as being even more dangerous as the sun. However, our love affair with the suntan went on unabated.

Cindy Crawford’s super model curves and bronzed beauty set a gold standard on planet fashion.

When the supermodels began to wane, grunge took over, and pale skinned chic had its own worrying trend – heroin chic. Being pale became a controversial fashion statement, as designers turned scruffy and bands like Nirvana ruled the airwaves. However, the tan has always found a way back into our consciousness and this time it came courtesy, yet again, of a U.S. super-show. Pamela Anderson, in that infamous red swimsuit, entered homes all over the world in Baywatch. Again, the sunny Californian beach babe took centre stage and Pamela’s look is one that is still emulated to this day – from glamour models to Paris Hilton, it is a look that has endured. It may not be high fashion, or haute couture, but it is a beauty image with real staying power. When it came to the new century, the world began to feel opulent again and the Brazilian babes marched into fashion land. These beautiful girls got the best campaigns, whether high fashion for Gucci or pretty and girlie for commercial powerhouse Victoria’s Secret, and girls like Jennifer Lopez and Jennifer Aniston became household names on the stage and on screen – and always with golden limbs!

Brazilian beauty Gisele Bundchen rules the fashion waves and her Rio-beach look is the new millenium gold standard.

The last ten years, though, has seen a shift in how we tan. St. Tropez was the first brand to really come to prominence and during the last decade a whole host of brands have been constantly innovating and bringing better and more believable self tans to the market from Fake Bake to Rodial. All of the old complaints about tans-from-a-bottle are slowly disappearing – the smell, the streaking and the development times are all being eradicated. Celebrity tanners like James Read and James Harknett are regularly featured in the beauty press, and designers ask for custom tans to be designed for each new collection they release. The look, however, is becoming ever more sophisticated. For those at the top end of fashion, no-one can beat Rosie Huntington-Whiteley for wearing the modern faux-tan with pride. Fashionistas who once went for the dark-bronze look, like Victoria Beckham, are going for a more subtly golden look. Get it right and you can emulate their look. Get it wrong and you are fashion roadkill – too orange and too streaky and you will find yourself in all of the gossip mags for all of the wrong reasons. Tans are now seen as a fashion wardrobe – you go fake, and you change it from look to look to suit what you are wearing. New formulations mean you can layer your look and use finishing products to get a red-carpet sheen.

Fashion and film queen Rosie-Huntington Whiteley has the look that every fashionista wants.

While all of the fashion and beauty magazines are pushing fake tan as the only way to go, and sales last year were a staggering £51 million, there are still people who are using sunbeds and binge-tanning as a way of getting their bronze-fix.

Here are a few startling facts:

– In a study in the U.S. Journal of Investigative Dermatology they discovered that the effect of UV radiation from the sun can chew through several layers of the skin, right down to the layer of fat that lies beneath it. The good news? If you stay out of the sun, the skin is brilliant at repairing damage in the long run as long as you stay safe.

– Sunbeds really do increase your chances of getting skin cancer. The risk of melanoma (the most serious from of skin cancer) increases by 11% for every four visits you pay to a sunbed.

– Sunbeds are also covered in harmful bacteria from E.coli and other nasties which can cause all manner of skin conditions and pustules under the skin – gross!

There is never a better time to stop the bad sun habits we have and just go for faking it! You do need to spend some time in the sun to get your boost of vitamin D, but you can boost your Vitamin D intake in other ways by drinking milk, eating a single portion of tuna or salmon, or having an egg dish or some yoghurt – all as part of a healthy, balanced diet. There is no need now to fry in the sun for the sake of a suntan – in fact, a deep sunbed tan is also fashion low rent these days. There is a lot of information out there about keeping your skin safe in the sun. Resources like Cancer Research UK provide some useful information about sunscreens and safe precautions and fake tan brand Fake Bake have just relaunched their Save Your Skin campaign. A whole host of celebrities are involved to really push the message – faking it is the best way to make it. It is vitally important that young people get the message – their skin is most vulerable to sun damage but hopefully when they see their favourite fashion and reality stars are hitting the (tanning) bottle, hopefully they will follow suit!

Fake Bake’s Save Your Skin Campaign is raising vital funds for RAFT to do further research into skin cancer causes and treatments.

So where next for the suntan? Well who knows where it will go next? All I can say it has been an interesting ride so far – where it goes next is anyone’s guess, but every summer the appeal of golden limbs to set off your new summmer wardrobe never seems to wane. FAKE IT ALL THE WAY!

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