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Page last updated at 10:56 GMT, Wednesday, 18 June 2008 11:56 UK

Can a fake tan ever be classy?

Fake tan being sprayed on

By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine

Royal Ascot is tightening up its dress code to raise standards and fake-tan lines are among the "style crimes" to come under scrutiny. Can bottled tan ever be sophisticated?

Fake is a nasty word. And the fake tan is a much-derided concept.

Brands for the most part avoid the word fake - self tanning, bronzing and summer glow are instead the order of the day.

Flick through certain celebrity gossip magazines and you will see the use of fake tan as a favoured avenue of attack on the famous and semi-famous.

Anything can be sophisticated, any cosmetic addition, if it's not obvious - subtlety is the watchword
Geordie Grieg
Tatler editor

Reality TV star Jodie Marsh is mocked as a "Ronseal-dipped horror" while the Italian designer Valentino is the "world's most orange man".

Gavin Henson, Christina Aguilera and Victoria Beckham are among those who have been abused for their year-round brownness. There is something entertaining to many about people who strive so hard for a particular aesthetic ideal that they leave themselves looking more than a little odd.

Outside the glossy ambit of these magazines, fake tan is a topic for watercooler conversation where vicious comment is passed on those who seek a sun kissed glow.

Social status

Occasionally a sniff of class politics can be detected in the fake tan-bashing, as when Daily Mail columnist Liz Jones recently railed against it.

Christina Aguilera
Christina Aguilera often has a "healthy glow" about her

"There is nothing attractive or fashionable about a fake tan, and its application has nothing to do with youth, but is all tied up with a desire to look rich (ie giving off the impression that you spend most of your time lying prone in the Caribbean)."

Go back to Victorian times and a tan was a sign of lower social status, connected with manual outdoor labour - but with the advent of mass tourism to sunnier climes, it has spent many years being associated with the ability to afford regular holidays.

Now after years of being on the cosmetic menu for women, fake tanning lotion is being widely marketed to men, with magazines advocating its use for both sexes in increasingly solarphobic times.

Tatler editor Geordie Grieg believes it is wrong to associate fake tan with aspirations of affluence.

"It has no connotations of people's wealth and background. There is nothing worse than someone who is orange looking like they spent the whole morning with a bottle. But if they look like they just stepped off a plane from Martinique, everyone is envious. It's not what you do but the way that you do it.

"It is a question of getting good products, good advice and not overdoing it. Anything can be sophisticated, any cosmetic addition, if it's not obvious. Subtlety is the watchword."

Donatella Versace
Donatella Versace is often mocked

And perhaps that's the real antipathy people have towards fake tan - not appearing tanned when you are not, but trying to appear tanned and failing.

To be fair to Ascot, organisers say they are perfectly happy with fake tanned people entering the Royal Enclosure, and merely humorously drew attention to the undesirability of streaky fake tan lines.

To Simon Fanshawe, author of the Done Thing, it's all about the British dislike of anything unsubtle and inappropriate.

"It's like Frank Sinatra: 'if they can see us working we aren't working hard enough'. There's nothing worse than a bad fake, it's like a bad cover version."

Mismatched tan

And the failure to realise the right place and the right time draws opprobrium. On EastEnders this week, Dawn gave her baby a fake tan for a beautiful baby competition, to be asked: "Is that jaundice?"

Gavin Henson looking tanned
It must be very sunny in south Wales

Those making an overt grab for glamour can expect raised eyebrows at the very least.

"There is a certain degree to which overt sexual flirtation in Britain is looked down on. It's regarded as inappropriate," says Mr Fanshawe.

He is not of the opinion that fake tan will ever be regarded as sophisticated.

"It absolutely can't. It is God's way of telling you you've got too much money and time. Very, very few people can ever do it properly. Most people look like they have been accidentally dropped in a tanning vat."

There is a sense that there is something rather strange in any kind of tan these days. We hear so much about the dangers of skin cancer, or the more mundane problem of wrinkles and skin deterioration, that it almost seems hard to believe anybody would have a real nut-brown year-round tan, says Mary Killen, who writes the Spectator's Dear Mary column.

"I've used it myself when it first came out in the 1970s and people used to say, 'That looks amazing'. But I couldn't do my face so I used to have a white face and brown legs."

But it is still hard to believe even the most subtly applied tan.

"Although it might be very natural looking and it's not orange or streaky, no-one in their right mind would have sunbathed to achieve it," she says.

That might be the major barrier to tan in a bottle ever achieving complete acceptance. However widespread fake tan advocacy is in magazines, we are now a little suspicious of all tans.

And if users continue to resemble basted turkeys, fake tan will continue to be the target of snobbery.

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