TANNING

Following the lead of Coco Chanel and other fashion mavens, American women of the mid-1920s also stopped protecting their skin from the sun and instead gloried in deep bronze suntans. A winter tan, in particular, became a prestigious status symbol, indicating that the possessor had both the money and the time to vacation in sunny locations such as California, Florida, or even Italy. Those without much disposable income often had to settle for self-tanning liquids and powders that claimed to achieve the effect of a natural suntan. (1)

The London Sunbathing Society Members of The London Sunbathing Society pose for a photographer in the 1920s.
The London Sunbathing Society Members of The London Sunbathing Society pose for a photographer in the 1920s.
Coty Ad, 1920s
Coty Ad, 1920s

Not all women, however desired a dark skin. Some African-American women spent a great deal of time and money attempting to lighten their skin so it more closely resembled a white complexion. Hundreds of bleaching lotions and other whitening potions were marketed in beauty shops, drugstores, newspapers, magazines, and mail-order catalogues. (1)

Dr. Fred Palmer advertisement, ca 1929 (Chicago Defender)
Dr. Fred Palmer advertisement, ca 1929 (Chicago Defender)

Advertisements for products with suggestive names such as “Black-No-More”, “Fair-Plex Ointment”, and “Cocotone Skin Whitener”, promised (or at least implied) that, with repeated applications, African-American women would be rewarded with an attractive, pale skin tone. (1)

Apex Advertisement, 1929 (Apex News)
Apex Advertisement, 1929 (Apex News)

Not surprisingly, the very idea of skin whiteners sparked intense controversies in African-American communities. While many women, particularly light-complexioned African Americans, bought these oinments and believed the advertisers’ false claims, others spurned these products and vehemently rejected the notion that lightning one’s skin was either desirable or possible. (1)

SOURCES:

(1) The 1920s (American Popular Culture Through History) by Kathleen Drowne and Patrick Huber, 2004

If you’d like to learn more about these crazy tan trends from the beginning of the 20th Century, I recomend this article CHANGES in SKIN TANNING ATTITUDES Fashion Articles and Advertisements in the Early 20th Century

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