Tanning Through The Years: A History Of Bronze

From the sandy beaches of Australia to the trendy bars on the beaches of Miami, people love to be out enjoying the sun and it is a favorite activity for all ages. This is true throughout history as people through the ages have enjoyed relaxing in the sun, whether it be playing on the beach with the kids, swimming in the ocean or just relaxing with a book beside a lake, the sun is the main focus of many people’s lives. pinup

Tanning in Ancient Times

If you step back through history you will find many tribes and people who have worshiped the sun for its magnificence and beauty. From the Mayans to the Egyptians, many cultures have built temples and worshiped that bright star in the sky that provides life here on Earth. The rising and setting of the sun even signifies the passing of time and is an essential part of life. The desire within people to acquire a suntan has been present for many years and even has roots in the social status of a person. For instance, people with darker skin were considered to be a sub-class of people, being forced into slavery and unsavory work such as gardening or attending to crops. The upper class of lighter skinned people would generally stay out of the sun to maintain their fair skin. This society structure is present in many instances throughout history, the Romans and Greeks, for example, would promote light skin and their women would apply make-up to keep their skin fair, often leading to lead poisoning and early deaths. By the time of the early 10th century, women had moved on to using arsenic in order to maintain light skin. By the time Queen Elizabeth was ruling the United Kingdom women would ensure they looked as pale as possible by applying a heavy white powder to their faces. This practice would be coupled with a thin blue line across their foreheads to produce an almost ghostly appearance. The women of this era would never imagine using tanning products and would always ensure they were well protected from the sun by using large hats and wearing full length dresses with long sleeves. By doing this they would be sure they stayed as pale as possible.  

Tanning in the 1920s

In the modern era tanning has become a phenomenon. The trend can be traced back to the early 1920’s when the style became apparent. It was all down to a famous trend setter named Coco Chanel, who went on holidays in the South of France. While taking this holiday in the French Riviera, Coco Chanel was out in the sun too long and got sunburn. The style icon returned from her vacation with the sunburn gone and in its place there was a tan. This story started the fashion trend we see today. At the time there was also a famous singer called Josephine Baker who was from Paris and had beautiful caramel skin. The popularity of this singer coupled with the darker color of Coco Chanel made having bronze skin a much desired fashion accessory, much like the latest handbag or pair of shoes. This led to hats no longer being used as a way to protect yourself from the sun but instead they became another important fashion accessory. Doctors began prescribing the spending time in the sun as a cure for everything from fatigue to more serious conditions and tanning was truly becoming the phenomenon it is today.  

Tanning in the 1930s and 1940s

By the 1930’s tanning was well and truly a part of society. Hollywood began to release movies in color rather than black and white and this lead to people being able to see famous actors in their full glory for the first time. Movie goers saw actors with rosy cheeks and darker colors and with the movies being brought to a wide audience, this became a worldwide obsession. In California people would host pool parties with the intention of gaining a darker color. By the 1940’s people were no longer covering up their bodies when out in the sun and the length of swimming costumes reduced dramatically, exposing more people to the sun’s rays.  

Tanning in the 1950s

By the time the 1950’s had rolled around swimming costumes were barely there and bikinis were the main fashion accessory. All of a sudden gaining a suntan no longer meant you were part of a sub-division of society but instead showed off your wealth and leisure time. The 1950’s also brought about a new way to gain a tan quickly by using UV reflectors. This trend is still carried on today, if you walk down a beach chances are you will come across someone using one of these. Advertisements started showing off the luxury of a tanned body, the most famous being on of a little girl in a swimming costume having a dog tug at the costume to highlight the different tomes in her skin color and show off where the sun had given her a tan. The love of tanning during the 50’s was immense with icons such as Jodie Foster and Sandra Dee showing off their golden skin.  

Tanning in the 1960s

Along came the 1960’s and tanning was more popular than ever. Cocoa butter became the choice of millions to use when trying to gain a tan and the market became flooded with tanning products. The surfer lifestyle was becoming extremely popular and every weekend millions of people would flock to the beaches. The Beach Boys gained fame for their surfer style and song relating to surfing made them huge pop icons at the time. The image of the surfer changed dramatically in the 60’s and was no longer thought of as a beach bum or lazy person instead gaining respect as one of the fashion icons of the decade. Documentaries such as ‘The Endless Summer’ glamorized the lifestyle of laying on the beach and surfing while gaining a darker skin color. Around the world people were influencing the way future generations would look at fashion and leisure time and gaining a sun tan was at the center of it all.  

Tanning in the 1970s

The 1970’s rolled around and times had changed significantly since the beginning of the century. Bathing suits that would help people gain a tan were introduced and it was becoming an obsession. People began desiring year round tans and wouldn’t settle for only being able to have a tan during the summer months. They wanted to look like they had just returned from a day at the beach during the coldest months of the year. In 1975 tanning beds were developed and changed the way people tanned forever. The ever popular Barbie doll was given a makeover and a bronze tan and sold on the market as Malibu Barbie. Towards the end of the decade the tanning bed business grew and grew. All of a sudden traditionally pale characters such as Dracula were being portrayed as a tanned figure. The world had gone tan mad. There was no sun protection back then but it didn’t stop a whole generation of youths enjoying the sun. Women were judged on how tanned they looked with the perfect woman thought to be one with a golden, silky tan rather than the traditional pale color. Advertising campaigns features tanned women and turned them into sex symbols, all for having a tan. People were desperate to imitate and the tan was now a part of society.  

Tanning in the 1980s and 1990s

By the time of the 1980’s tanning was part of the culture. Cars such as BMW used tanning to advertise their product, tanning salons were on every street corner and gaining a tan was at the forefront of everyone’s mind. The early part of the decade saw the launch of the first product that claimed to help you achieve a tan – the first self-tanner. California Tan marketed their product as having moisturizing qualities that can help you achieve a beautiful bronze color quicker and easier. This lead to tanning products flooding the market and by the early 1990’s reports were being released claiming the sun can actually have positive effects on the skin and enhance physical and psychological health. Premium tanning lotions were released and became more and more extravagant. A product called ‘Sizzle’ revolutionized the industry and taught how using a tanning lotion actually helps maintain healthy skin as well as gaining that all important tan. Worldwide magazines such as Vogue were releasing marketing campaigns all promoting gaining a bronze tan. All fashion magazines soon followed suit and it was now thought unfashionable to have a pale look. Research labs were set up to discover new and quicker ways to gain a sun tan by using chemicals and lotions.  

Tanning in the 2000s

In the year 2000 tanning was the most important part of the look of any world class model and models from South America began strutting on the catwalk showing off their natural bronze beauty. Celebrities all jumped on the bandwagon and maintain a year round tan became the most important aspect in many people’s lives. Sunless tanning became the latest phenomenon with people all over the world addicted to the new craze of gaining a fresh looking tan without actually having to go out in the sun. Every single shop was stocking hundreds of self-tan products and they were being purchased as quickly as they were being stocked.  

Tanning Today

Today the tanning business is a multibillion dollar business and one of the biggest industries in the world. Everyone wants a tan, from college students for Spring Break to stay at home mums. Most families plan their vacation to a tropical climate in order to enjoy the sun and gaining a tan is an essential part of any holiday. Everywhere there are people with darker skin and it is certainly the most important thing in most people’s lives.

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