No Tanning At Downton Abbey

(They look like they’re having a ball)

I’m a big fan of the TV series Downton Abbey(Did you watch the Christmas Special?) The other day, I stumbled across some of the delightful fluff the Daily Mail has been turning out about the show.  This includes an interview with the actresses who play the Crawley sisters.  Apparently they aren’t allowed to tan in order to maintain period authenticity for their characters.  Of course that caught my attention.

I don’t know much about the Daily Mail, but they seem to be favoring pale skin in regular articles like “Proud to be Pale: Goodbye to the Creosote Look! Alabaster Skin is Back in Vogue“.  I guess the title says it all, but they do show quite a few examples of “pale beauty,” as well as pointing out that tanning is quite silly.

I suppose it’s hardly surprising that in a country which is experiencing a deep level of financial austerity, it would become unfashionable to pay for something like temporary skin color.

Pippa Middleton’s hue surprised me when I saw the wedding of her sister and the prince last year.   Is this a good look, or is it a trifle dated?  I think she’s a pretty girl under the color, but I do find the fake tan jarring.

What do you think?  Is pale skin really back “in” if the Daily Mail takes notice?  I return to this question repeatedly because I find it incredibly interesting to watch a shift in beauty perception like this.  The last time was back in the 30’s, when Chanel tanned to shock the upper class Parisians.  Does pale skin have its own shock factor these days?  Why?

Fewer Teens See Lure of Suntans- Sydney Morning Herald

More importantly, how long before the teenagers catch on?


  1. I am so pale that I’m blue in the winter and white in the summer and during the past few years (maybe the past decade or so) I’ve become less and less self-conscious about not having a tan in the summer (UK) than I did in the past. In the 80s and early 90s I tried sunbeds and fake tans but I really can’t be bothered any more and just stick with my white, freckly skin. I have no idea about fashion, but no longer care :)

    • Yes, I tend to stay out of fashion, too. Then I go clicking around the Daily Mail (it just sucks you right in), and I get interested a little bit. :)

  2. The Christmas special was pretty satisfying and I can’t get enough of Dame Maggie Smith.

    I can’t see tanning going away anytime soon. Especially with reality shows like ‘The Only Way is Essex’, ‘Geordie Shore’, ‘Desperate Scousewives’ and ‘Made in Chelsea’ showing all.the.time. on the television. There’s no escaping tans. But maybe people will start getting turned off from the look after having it shoved down their throats for so long?

    • Maggie Smith has an incredible presence- very well done character on her part, it would be easy to reduce Violet to a caricature…

      I think precisely that type of tripey show may do more for the demise of the fake tan than pure economics…. “Turned off”- exactly.

  3. Pale skin was a status symbol. You had people to do the work outside or you had the means to shade yourself with hats and parasols at the very least. Then tanned was a status symbol because you had the time and money to get to a beach in the dead of winter or you were sporty and athletic at the very least. If being white is fashionable again, I don’t think it will be because of the resession. There is no status in saying I can’t tan because I’m worried about my morgage payments. It may be a case of people taking the skin cancer concern more seriously and deciding not to bake in the sun for hours, or lay in a coffin shaped tanning bed or even spread unknown chemicals on the skin (spray on tans). The status message of pale skin may say I’m not worried about food and shelter so I can worry about long term health concerns (?) I’m reaching with that I know. It will be interesting to see if that fashion catches and holds for any length of time.
    As a side note, I’m pale and pasty all year round as I just can’t be bothered to lay still long enough to get a tan and I really hate feeling hot. Can’t get much of a tan when your goal in life is to stay in air conditioning!

    • Interesting point. Though I have noticed in the past few years that it’s become tacky (to other people) to ostentatiously show off one’s money or wealth. I suppose I was thinking along those lines.

      I think it has a possibility of becoming the new norm.


  4. I really couldn’t care less what’s fashionable in skin colouring. Partially from accepting this is who I am and partially from concern about my skin. My maternal grandfather had skin grafting over much of his forearm when I was about 10 or so because of skin cancer. My dad has had many suspicious moles taken off and I have have aspects of my grandfathers pale Scottish skin and my fathers moles. I don’t know that I’ve ever really tried to tan. I worked outside when I was 15 and I was happy that I did tan, but that was under lots of sunscreen. I wear hats and sunscreen and I’m okay with the little colour I do get over the course of a summer, but I’m not trying. Good question on teens, I’m so far out of touch with teens I don’t know what’s “in” for them.

    • I get worried about my husband’s moles. He’s out in the sun quite a bit…

      Teens… Sometimes I think I should go volunteer somewhere and meet some teenagers. They’re such interesting creatures…

  5. Firstly, I wouldn’t make any assumptions based on a Daily Mail “trend”. They just make that stuff up based on anecdotes and whatever the hell they feel like.

    As for the question, I don’t really tan, although I’m not wizard pale either… I suppose I could tan if I really really tried, but I’ve never been that bothered. Living in cloudy Britain means that I have to actively try in order to get one.

    • It’s a bit of fun. Of course the Daily Mail is rubbish, I suppose I should have apologized more profusely. ;) It’s not really science or politics, it’s skin pigmentation…

      • Hey, I like the Daily Mail but I hardly ever read the celebrity stuff. However, I am visually addicted to this series. The clothes make my heart go pitterpatter.

  6. I live in Southern California, and some tan is inevitable. I get a tan from *driving*. We’re all active (theoretically), and that glow is standard issue.

    However, when I was a teenager, it was a much darker tan and expected much earlier in the year (there was some status for managing to tan during spring break).

    Bare, untanned legs are now seen and not found shocking.

    Now, whitepale? No. But how you’d even manage that unless you had a redhead’s complexion is beyond me. Gracious. I have redheaded friends who can’t pale beyond a rich cream.

    • Sunscreen, hats and long-sleeved shirts. A little tan is creeping up my legs from between my toes, and my arms. It’s inevitable…. White-pale is surprisingly difficult to maintain…

  7. I live in Alaska and I have pretty pale skin. It is a standard joke among Alaskans to describe their skin color as fish belly white. Most of us wear skin protection all year round not from direct sun, but from reflection from snow or water. The reflective light is just as damaging as direct.
    When I travel south to the lower 48 I slather my skin in spf 30 cream. And yes I get lots of stares when I go to a beach or other gathering place of the tanned. I remind my family that lives in the lower 48 that my skin is in better shape because I take care of it. Not all of them seem to get the message. I have noticed that more people are taking care of their skin and not getting the deep tans that use to be so popular in the 60s and 70s

  8. I am 57 and have had a tan only a few times. I do get darker in the warm months because I am outside so much. Even with sunscreen, there is some tanning when working with horses and gardening. It is only this year that I am seeing lots of aging in my face and that is probably due more to worry than skin damage. My face has one or two dark sun/age spots and the rest is light, light, light.

    I would love to be darker on my legs because every little vein/scar/bump shows on white skin. But it is what it is. I’m just a light colored woman.

  9. I love Downton Abbey too, but I’m yet to see the Christmas special… can’t get enough of the fashions from that era… probably my favourite!

    As for the tanning – after growing up in Queensland, with scrupulous attention to hat wearing, sleeve wearing, and crazed sunscreen application, what I got for my 30th birthday was precancerous cells… my dermatologist said that I wasn’t the first or last 30 year old Aussie she’d seen in her So. Cal office. I’m pale. I will always be pale. I’d rather be pale than dead.

    • aaaaaaaaaaaah. I know it’s not a big deal to have them removed as long as you keep an eye on them, but that’s one of my nightmares. I didn’t really have an awareness of it until I moved here, now it’s just one more thing about Australia that makes it a rather forbidding place…

  10. Hi Steph, I just do not understand how tan becamse equivalent of healthy. Sure when noone knew any different about skin damage, but now? In NZ where the ozone layer is at its thinnest, burn time is as little as 12 minutes. I stay out of the sun – heat and me do not get on and sunlight glare gives me a headache. So I am chalky, almost grey white and that’s fine by me.
    How I think and feel about fake tan is that it makes as much sense as painting on a bullet wound and sporting that around. Look at me, I am pretending to have skin damage!!! WARGH!!!!
    Favourite ever greeting card however was of an incredibly muscly and buff guy rubbing Marmite onto himself with the caption “The Great Aussie Tan” Loved it ;-)
    How I feel about Downton Abbey – a posh version of Footballers Wives or Cutting it. Who is in love with who. Too much feeling and not enough plot, got on my nerves. And Elizabeth McGovern’s sibilance drove me mad. :)

    • Oh! I love it! Marmite! (Surprised it’s not vegemite -nasty stuff- but oh well..)

      Painting on a bullet wound… Now there’s an idea…

      Well… There’s “interior” plot- that is, strong character development in Downton. I especially enjoy the themes of spiritual redemption below stairs.. To each their own, but I’d recommend a second look sometime when you get the chance. :)

  11. I have a tan at the moment. It was inevitable, with the sun and the walking to bus-stops, and no not-super-hot jackets. But of course, when say “I have a tan”, what I mean is “compared to my stomach, my arms are brown. Compared to other people, I look like a ghost.”

    What I find odd is that some people tan more easily than others. All my husband has to do is think about a sunny day and he goes brown, whereas my ‘tan’ is so light as to be unnoticable to other people, and I’m outside every day. I don’t want a tan, I think its silly and dangerous, but I find it odd that it happens to some people more easily than others.

    • I think I’ve come to realize that when we’re not all out frying or using orange makeup, there’s a HUGE variety of pale skin types… And it opens up all kinds of color possibilities for clothing… My daughter is pale olive like my husband and I’m somewhat “bluer..” If that makes sense. Old lady’s mags are rather interesting on the subject, I’ll see if I can dig one up to share.

  12. I quit tanning on purpose in 1988 at age 16. I use SPF 100. I live in Texas. It is hard to avoid all tanning due to general living but I try. I don’t care if I stand out. I have beautiful skin at age 39. I am a very pale blonde whose family swaps skin cancer stories at get-togethers. Who cares what is in fashion? Pippa’s orange skin looked stupid. Otherwise a beautiful girl.

    • Poor pippa. I could imagine my daughter looking back at those photos and feeling the same small shudder I get when I look at Di’s wedding ruffles overwhelming her delicate frame and features…

  13. I try to avoid tanning whenever possible. One point: I do historical re-enactment, and the “fashionable” look at the times I prefer was pale and untouched skin – tans were for peasants and sailors, mostly. Also, I’m a pale redhead naturally and I don’t tan so much as I fry.

    But more importantly, I grew up around women that were fully into the late 0s/early 80s tanning craze – I remember my cousins using suntan oil (not sunscreen) and competing to see who could get the darkest the fastest. And now? A lot of them are having melanomas removed, or are prematurely wrinkled or have other skin damage that *is not repairable*.

    And fake tanning just creeps me out. Maybe I’ve watched too much “Toddlers & Tiaras.”

    • I just saw that show the other day, or rather, pieces of it. I admit to being heartily shocked, and curious. It seems so beyond the pale, so to speak.

      • It’s *crazy*, and I grew up in PageantLand (the American South). I knew a lot of girls who paid their way through college with pageant money/pageant scholarships, but I never knew anyone who started at *three*. It’s so surreal to see these 30-year-old faces on these tiny little bodies.

        Oh, lord, I’m glad I have cats. Parenthood is so fraught.

  14. A few of you have mentioned younger skin…now I can see that as a motivator in our culture. I know a lady who is a bit younger than myself and she is a sun worshiper. I must say that in the last couple of years I’ve noticed she looks quite a bit older than myself skinwise. Gotta be the tanning! (That and every couple of years a gain a few pounds…they fill in the wrinkles ;-D)

  15. I love this post! I don’t tan…ever. I hope to pale skin become “fashionable” again, as the Jersey shore orange glow doesn’t really suit anyone. I’m only 21 now, so I’d much rather be pale now and have fewer wrinkles later, than to tan now and have leathery skin in the future. Especially in the winter my legs are quite the shade of white, but a pair of pantyhose works just find if I want some color.

  16. Great post! I don’t tan. I got plenty of sun-damage as a kid growing up in the tropics, so I don’t need any more. I am old enough to remember the first sunscreen coming out. It was called “Pre-sun” and it had an SPF of 4! If I get some sun on my face these days, two weeks later I get another large, not so cute freckle on my face (otherwise known as age spots.) That said, there is a lot of concern about vitamin D deficiencies, especially here in Europe where the milk is not fortified.
    About a month ago or so, I read an interesting article in the Sunday Times Magazine supplement. It noted that many white girls were trying to become extremely tan whether through tanning beds or self-tanners, while many asian and black young women were using dangerous chemicals to lighten their skin. They suggested that everyone was trying to reach an idealised, mixed race standard of beauty represented by Beyonce or Jennifer Lopes. Interesting.

    Of course, as you get older, you realise that you have to honour what you have naturally and make the most of it. But of course, teenagers are vulnerable to seeing all the imperfections and obsessing. Shame really, especially when they are all so gorgeous.

    One final thought. My sister was a successful make up artist for many years. Her comments on self-tanner, and excessive tanning were that it is passé and horribly ageing. Ageing, because it is an out of date thing to do, and therefore you look old because you are stuck in a 90s time warp. But, also ageing, because skin as little tiny light reflectors in it naturally and if you cover yourself in brown gook, you block those and you just look flat. Your skin doesn’t “glow” anymore.

    Sorry for the loooong post!

    • Long, but really really interesting!

      I think there may be something in the idea that we’re collectively trying to look “mixed race”… I mean, internationalism/multiculturalism is something that we’ve been preaching for years, right?

      I like the most what you said about just making the most of what you are and what you have naturally… That’s pretty much the way I approach beauty, too. I figure there’s not much that’s more beautiful than a healthy, happy person..

  17. I have to admit, I do end up tanned by the end of the summer but only because I exercise outside and can only stay in the shade as well as a scurrying mouse can stay under furniture in one’s house. I end up in the sun half the time.

    But what I REALLY wanted to pop in to say is:

    Is there any time a woman is more attractive than when she is belly laughing with a group of friends!?!?

  18. Skin color–fake or real–and our obsession with it has always fascinated me. White people want to be brown, brown people want to be white. My host sister when I was in India bleached her skin so that she’d be a lighter shade of brown.

    • I remember encountering skin bleachers in Egypt… I was shocked and rather appalled. And a little frightened. I have fair skin, I tend to “clarify” it with a yogurt and oatmeal mask.. It does have a lightening effect, but only because it sucks out the impurities…

  19. Maybe the adolescents’ fascination with pale skin is related to the en vogue vampire romance movies and the HBO’s True Blood series. Also, I have to say there are many young celebs who cultivate their natural pale skin tones such as the Fannings and the Deschanels.

    When I was young all the girls tried to tan and sunbathe. I am one who did not tan easily and would have to expose myself to the sun’s rays twice as long to get half as dark as my olive-skinned stepsister. I hated laying out, it was boring, exhausting (fried brain) and hot. So I rebelled and just wore tan pantyhose with my skirts (which in retrospect probably looked very funny but garnered no comments in the late 70’s). Unfortunately I have noticed some sun damage on my left arm (driving exposure) and have had moles removed that were precancerous. I live in a place that doesn’t see a lot of sun– grey days are very common (central NY) but we do have a good share of skin cancer diagnoses.

    • How very interesting… I hadn’t thought about it in relation to True Blood, I guess I haven’t paid much attention to it and there’s no one in my life who makes me… ;)

      I always thought laying out was boring, too. I would read, then get a headache from the sun, then get cranky, then go swimming.

  20. Gosh, I’ve just had a read of all that ‘froth’ on the Daily Mail (it really is a garbage paper, but if you read it with that in mind, it’s hilarious) about Downton. It’s the lush photos that attract, not the writing, for sure. Thanks so much for pointing all this out! Best wishes for 2012!!

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