Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Retro Blast: Fun in the Sun...Not

Not being fond of being out in the sun, I very much embrace wearing one of my large, floppy hats whenever I stir outside in summer. Maybe I should consider a parasol as well; it would certainly help with physical distancing. This post originally appeared in 2008...enjoy!

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This parasol is not Victorian—I’m guessing it’s ca. early twentieth century—but the tassel and beautiful repouss√© silver handle (I wish it showed up better in the photo) are a definite reminder of earlier days.

The ideal of feminine beauty up until the early twentieth century was a fair, white complexion. To some degree, this probably had its origins in economics: if you were pale and soft-skinned, it meant you didn’t spend your time out of doors working in the fields or taking care of farm animals...which meant your family could afford to have other people do that work for you.

Of course, that didn’t mean you never stirred out-of-doors...but it did mean that when you did go out for a stroll around the garden or a gentle trot down the Ladies’ Mile in Hyde Park, or for a visit to the seashore, you used a parasol, wore a hat (and often a veil swathed over your face) and wore gloves to keep the skin of your hands equally white. Like this young lady of 1815, attired for walking.

And if (oh, horrors!) you were negligent and let your parasol drag behind or used it to keep obnoxious suitors at bay, then you rushed home to apply one of the dozens of commercially prepared lotions, like “Godfrey’s Extract of Elder Flowers...To be had of any respectable Perfumer or Medicine Vendor in Bottles at 2s. 9d. each” which promised to “...communicate a refreshing coolness and softness to the skin, and completely remove Tan, Pimples, and cutaneous Eruptions....”

By the late nineteenth/early twentieth century, this attitude had changed. As more young women of the lower economic classes took jobs in factories and shops and offices, having a tan (a light one, mind you—just a glow) implied that you had the leisure time to engage in healthy outdoor pursuits like tennis or golf or riding and weren’t stuck indoors all day, working for a living...in other words, a completely opposite attitude!


mamafrog said...

Got to admit, after several bad sunburns (my poor skin) I'm a big proponent of hats and umbrellas! When I lived in a place that had public transport that I used regularly I was the weirdo with the big umbrella waiting on it. I'm doing my best to repair years of damage and hopefully keep it from getting worse. I even have a pair of elbow length gloves for driving. This all being said, I can't stand the feel of sunblock and would much rather cover up as much as possible, plus having hyper-sensitive skin.

Marissa Doyle said...

I'm with you, mamafrog. I keep a ginormous scarf in my purse in the summer that I drape over my arms if the sun is blaring down me while I drive. My grandmother NEVER went out in the sun and had beautiful soft skin up till the day she died (at 91.)