|“Woman with a Parasol” by Pierre Auguste Renoir. Translation: Para=”stop or shield” and Sol = “sun” thus making the very feminine accessory one of the most beautiful and efficacious addition to a lady’s wardrobe.|
Continuing with our from-time-to-time historical trivia posts, I thought — what with summer just weeks away — it would be interesting to discuss the annual “to tan, or not to tan” issue from a sociological rather than a medical or cosmetic point of view. In other words, what was “in” in 17th century France is no longer “in” in 21st century France.
|The iconic Guerlain Terracotta powder simulates a healthy, rested, slightly bronzé visage. It comes in many, many nuances. There is a color for every skin tone.|
A sun-kissed look — accomplished either cosmetically or intelligently with sun exposure using proper SPF products — is one many Frenchwomen covet. It says “vacation, tropical isles, ski slopes, Saint-Tropez, Brittany.
In the past, though, having the slightest tan was out of the question for women of a certain stature. Tanned skin implied a woman was a peasant; a ghostly white face announced she was a lady of leisure, a lady of the king’s court perhaps. During the time of the Sun King, Louis XIV, when women of the court were obliged to participate in promenades, they wore masks over their faces to protect them from exposure to wind and sun.
|The sun mask: Rather creepy looking, but probably most effective.|
Often, these masks were held in place by clenching a button between one’s teeth. (There were actually two advantages to this bizarre custom: masks ensured that the skin remain porcelain-like, and the ladies were exempt from participating in the exhausting exercise of clever repartee.)
It wasn’t until the debut of the twentieth century that a tan began to indicate something quite different: a sunny holiday, good health, natural beauty.
***Ed. Note: The unbelievably kind and generous Tina, creator of one of the most beautiful blogs in our sphere, has done an interview with me about my book. If you click HERE you will see what I told her.