Exploring the history of Phoenix, Arizona, just for fun. Advertising-free, supported by my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

Proudly bringing a suntan back from old-time Phoenix


If you grew up in Phoenix, the ad at the top of this post probably just seems comical to you - "Bask and Bronze". Since I grew up in Minneapolis, I can really understand this. In fact, my parents used to vacation in Scottsdale, and come back looking "bronzed and fit". My dad was always one of those men who were never shy about taking off his shirt, and he would get a "movie star" tan. As I recall, mom would burn and peel, but she still tried to tan.

I never had a suntan in Minneapolis in the winter. Some of the kids in my high school would come back with "ski tans" on their faces, and the wealthier ones would come back with a genuine tan that told everyone that they had been somewhere nice, like Arizona.

Attitudes about getting a suntan have changed dramatically in my lifetime. Nowadays you're more likely to hear someone talk about melanoma than saying you look "bronzed and fit". But it's like a lot of things that people did back then, they didn't know. The first time I heard about the connection of suntanning to skin cancer was in the 1980s.

Something people used to do was to "work on their tan". While on vacation away from dull, drab, dreary weather, they would lie out in the sun, often using oil to increase the burning effect, and even using little reflectors under their chin, and get tanned. Going back home without a suntan was simply not done! People would ask, "I thought you were in Phoenix? Where's your suntan?", and without the tan people suspected that you had actually just spent the last few weeks in Duluth, or somewhere.

Speaking for myself, I never had much of a tan until my mid-thirties, when I bought my house in Glendale, Arizona, and found myself getting burned often while working in the yard. I learned to use sunscreen.

I haven't lived in Minnesota since I was 19, and I sometimes wonder how people nowadays show off that they've been to Arizona in the winter? I would imagine that they still show off suntans, but just not get quite as burnt.

Image at the top of this post: 1941 ad for the Phoenix, Arizona Valley of the Sun Club.

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