Coppertone days are long gone

Australians have known about the need for sun protection for a long time now, we've just taken a long time to embrace that need as part of our beach-loving culture.  Remember as a child, the freedom of running around with the neighbourhood pack of kids, not home til dinner time, exploring vacant bush blocks and bike riding without helmets?  Swimming all day in backyard pools if you weren’t at the beach – or, if you were, spending hours upon hours in and out of the surf, riding on inflatable surf-mats and baking on the sand?

There was always  one red or sandy haired friend with freckles who had to wear a t-shirt to try to stop the sunburn.  It wasn’t a good look, with that over-stretched t-shirt dragging them down into the water, but it was a 1970s ‘mum solution’ to reduce heat stroke or major sunburn.

In fact, when you think about it, those of us who grew up in those carefree days lived our childhoods with abandon, and living life under the summer sun made it all the happier.  Girls would compare their bikini tan lines, and even if you had the skimpiest string to tie up the sides, you’d still get a fine white line to mark a great tan.  It wasn’t summer without sunburn.  You weren’t an Aussie kid if you didn’t peel at least once each January. 

In the late 1980s – about 25 years’ ago – a new garment appeared on the scene. Teeny little rashies for toddlers hit the market, to protect those young skins from our harsh Australian sun. No longer seeking the Coppertone kid look (ah, nostalgia! I love the smell of suntan lotion in the morning), parents now wanted to protect their kids from the deleterious effects of UV sunlight.  A slight shift in culture and the way we enjoyed the beach.  Those rashies were pretty basic and some were full jump-suits – or what we now know as ‘onesies’ – sun burn on young skins was absolutely not ok any more. We were trying to reduce the risk of sun-related skin damage.

It took parents and other adults a lot longer to embrace this new and safer approach to summer. True rashvests or rashguards were once the domain of surfers, who wore them to prevent board rash and  irritation to their water-logged skin.  Then there were the parents determined to role model good sun protection behaviour to their kids.  But until recently, anyone who wanted to retain a degree of fashionable style on the beach missed out, because for either purpose, we could wear a basic black rashie. That’s all good if you’re keen to soak up as much heat as possible on the sand, but you had to be prepared to throw out any glamorous notions in an effort to protect your skin.

There’s a world of beach-loving fashionistas out there who also want to look after their skin and it’s wonderful to see that long-sleeved swimwear is now right on trend.  Functional, prosaic rashies have evolved to become a whole new fashionable segment within the swim market. Flattering, beautiful, colourful rashies with short, elbow, ¾ or long sleeves to suit all body types and needs are on the rise.  This summer, if you’re a teenager, surfer, new parent or a parent of teenagers like me, you can look hot, feel cool and be sun smart all at once.