2.2 A brief history

From taboo to chic

Victorian-era sun protective fashion

While tanned skin has undoubtedly become a significant part of Western ideals of beauty , this has not always been the case. Prior to the 20th century, pale skin was in as this was generally linked to high social status, signifying that a person didn’t have to endure the sun’s harmful rays while working outdoors. In fact, to maintain their pale complexions, wealthy women would do everything they could to shield as much of themselves as possible from the sun, covering up with full-length sleeves, large hats and gloves, and quite often sporting a parasol.

Coco Chanel

Bring on the early 1900’s, and the therapeutic benefits of sun exposure were beginning to be recognised. In 1903, Danish physician Niels Finsen was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his Finsen Light Therapy, which, among other things, unveiled the many health benefits of Vitamin D production in humans brought on by exposure to sunlight. As a result of these health findings, sunbathing was soon considered a desirable activity for the leisured class.

It was in 1923, however, that the tanning industry was truly conceived. As the story goes, fashion designer Coco Chanel got a little carried away while sunbathing on a yacht in the French Riviera and, a few days later, returned to the spotlight with a deep golden glow. Her sun-kissed complexion inspired an international fad, which subsequently gave birth to a near-century-old, multi-billion dollar industry centred on achieving the perfect tan.