Suntanning in 20th Century America


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About the Book

The suntan experienced a profound change in the last century. Considered a mark of the lower class for hundreds of years, tanning became a fad in the early 1920s and remains popular today. The tan, though, was much more than a matter of fashion,enjoying at first a boost from the medical establishment. Opinions ranging from hard science to quackery lauded the suntan as something of a panacea. Near the end of World War II, however, researchers increasingly warned against the hazards of overexposure to the sun, and a large new industry developed—sunscreen. Americans’ current paradoxical obsession with the tan developed almost entirely from the conflicting rays of twentieth century thought.
This history examines the twentieth century suntan as a social and scientific phenomenon. Beginning with the years 1900–1920, it debunks the myth that changing attitudes toward the tan sprang largely from the world of fashion. Initial pro-tanning medical hype, emerging negative opinions of sunbathing near the middle of the century, the development of sunscreens, the debate over sunscreen efficacy, and the sunless tan are all covered here. Numerous pictures demonstrate changing perceptions of the suntan, displaying advertisements for products that promoted, prevented or healed tans.

About the Author(s)

Cultural historian Kerry Segrave is the author of dozens of books on such diverse topics as drive-in theaters, lie detectors, jukeboxes, smoking, shoplifting and ticket-scalping. He lives in British Columbia.

Bibliographic Details

Kerry Segrave
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 216
Bibliographic Info: photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2005
pISBN: 978-0-7864-2394-1
eISBN: 978-1-4766-1081-8
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface      1

1. Coco Chanel Had Nothing to Do with It: The Years to 1920      3

2. The Sun as Healer: 1890s–1945      12

3. The Tanning Fashion Takes Hold: 1920–1945      27

4. Sunlamps, New Window Glass, and Industrial Tanning: 1920–1945      45

5. Early Warnings: 1920–1945      56

6. The Sun as Killer: 1946–2004      61

7. Sunscreens: 1946–1979      74

8. Sunscreens: 1980–2004      89

9. Sunscreens, a Discouraging Word: 1990–2004      112

10. A Fashion Remains: 1946–1979      125

11. A Fashion Fades: 1980–2004      136

12. The No-Sun Suntan: 1946–2004      153

13. Conclusion      180

Notes      185

Bibliography      195

Index      203

Book Reviews & Awards

“intriguing history…plenty of vintage black and white photos to add interest”—Midwest Book Review.