03 August 2010

The Changing Face of Fashion: White Lead and Sun Tans

Before the affluent were seduced by the glamor of sun tanning and its dangers, they risked their lives whitening their skin. Venetian Ceruse was made from white lead and popular from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. Known as "The Mask of Youth", Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603) is shown wearing it in a coronation painting by an unknown artist. Smooth alabaster skin was a sign of nobility and wealth but rare during an era of smallpox that lacked proper skincare. Women resorted to a foundation of white lead and vinegar that was poisonous. Japanese culture also idealized fair skin; the Geisha wore a white lead based paint until it was discovered to be toxic replacing it with rice powder. The pale beauty of the Geisha was idealized in the Bijinga woodblock prints as depicted in Kitagawa Utamaro's (1753-1806), Print of Three Women. The suntan did not become popular in Europe until the 1920's when Coco Chanel came back with darkened skin from the French Riviera. The look was equated with fashion, health and leisure. Parisians were also influenced by African-American, expatriate, entertainer Josephine Baker (1906-1975). The "Bronze Venus" was photographed by Lucien Walery (1863-1935), her tan was natural.

16 comments:

  1. In Asia today women strive for fair skin and there any many "skin whitening" products on the market. In Thailand it is very rare to see Thai women sitting in the sun, as dark skin is equated with the rural poor in the north. It's funny how we value different skin colours, even today!

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  2. Thank you Columnist~ My mother's grandparents were from the Azores Islands and I was also kept out of the sun. This was fortunate since I inherited pale Irish skin. I was amused when I visited the South of Portugal where the English and Germans baked in the sun while the native avoided it. Best, Kendra

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  3. I adore the sun!!! Everyone looks more healthy with a bit of color but maybe that is just my age? I can't wait for my weekend in Tahoe.

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  4. I used to bake my body brown, beside the pool and now, today, I'm so glad I kept my face covered.

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  5. I always like moonlight maybe that is why I am so pale. :-)

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  6. Alaine~ Many Californians did and do the same thing. I like the Skin Cancer Foundation's motto "Go With Your Own Glow", it is so much more accepting of our rainbow of human colors. Best, Kendra

    August 4, 2010 2:31 PM

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  7. Once after having experienced equatorial sun for a three-week period, there is absolutely nothing like it for garnering an utterly amazing tan. For months afterwards, I admit I did everything I could to keep it :). I was so sad to see it go.

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  8. Author~ But was the tan the afterglow of a wonderful vacation? I too have held on to physical memories of holidays; a blue silk scarf from Lisbon now shredded from wear. :-) Kendra

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  9. Yes, definitely. A vacation tan is always the best - particularly African tans for some reason... oddly exotic and romantic... if you go in the winter months, you cling to it as long as you can....

    Yes, I have bought fabrics on trips which I hate to use just for that very reason.... it's silly, but so nice just to take out now and then. For a while they can almost retain the scent of a place. Oh no, now I'm yearning for somewhere amazing....:)

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  10. Summer in San Francisco has been quite cold, I'm longing for our Indian Summer.

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  11. Loved this post Kendra. I did big paper in college about the different ideas of beauty during different times and throughout different cultures, and skin color was a big part of it.

    I always feel a little better with some color, but one has to be safer these days than during our youth. I'll second the wish for the Indian Summer.

    Cheers,

    Claudia

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  12. Thank you Claudia. It is sad that so many are risking their lives tanning either naturally or artificially in the pursuit of "beauty". It reminded me of the white lead cosmetics of the past. Best, Kendra

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  13. You are right Kendra. People have just gone in the opposite direction. One has to be careful about accepting that "beauty hurts".

    Cheers,

    Claudia

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  14. Claudia, I so agree! Best, Kendra

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