The hippest accessory for swinging young women in 1967? Body paint, applied with a miniature paint roller from a miniature plastic paint pan and sold in a miniature paint can.
Old Jezebel friend Mark Shrayber alerts us to the fact that morning, British outlets, led by the Daily Mail, are passing around a British Pathe video from 1967, in which a bikini-clad 18-year-old Caroline Munro (who would later play a Bond girl) is lacquered with a tan-ish color after taking a dip in Hyde Park’s Serpentine. “Instant tan for a girl who doesn’t even need a roll on!” the announcer pronounces.
“While now women can take their pick from instant or overnight, spray-on or mousse—and all in a variety of golden hues—back in the summer of 1967 options were a little more limited,” the Daily Mail explains. “Footage unearthed from the British Pathe archives suggests women had to tackle pale limbs with tins of body paint.”
Though their options weren’t great, they weren’t quite so desperate as all that. According to a 2010 Guardian history, the first self-tanner hit the market in the mid-1950s and was called “Man-Tan.”
It contained dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a chemical derived from sugar cane and still the most effective ingredient for those seeking a sunless tan, as it causes a browning reaction with the amino acids on the skin’s surface rather than simply staining the skin. The rumour goes that its tanning properties were discovered by accident in the 1920s when a nurse treating a diabetic patient with DHA accidentally spilled it on his chest while connecting his drip. The following day she noticed it had coloured his skin.
Man-Tan turned its users a rich beige-orange – less “tan” coloured, more “swum through a lake of fruit juice”. Quick Tan Lotion by Coppertone was launched soon after – it speckled skin, stained palms and discoloured clothes, but did go some way towards mimicking the brown blush first popularised by Coco Chanel in the 1920s.
What you are looking at here isn’t a self-tanner so much as an outright body paint, and it came in far wilder colors than are demonstrated in the video. The New York Times covered the trend in 1967:
The incredibly entertaining article specifically addresses Coty’s Body Paint, the product that appears in the newsreel, and reports that it “comes in lime, blue and mauve so the wearer can color-coordinate her skin with her skirts. For the less daring, there are suntan and flesh tones.” It sold for $6 and it was doing quite well, according to a spokesperson who gave incredible copy:
“Sales have exceeded all our expectations,” said Jacqueline Mitchell, Coty’s manager of public relations. “Frankly, we put it out as a fun item for the real young swinger, because in the past Coty had the reputation of being used by mothers and grandmothers. Now we’re getting the with-it girls from the East Side and your other big cities.”
But mothers and grandmothers have not been shut out completely. “They’re buying Body Paint in the flesh tones to cover up varicose veins and other skin imperfections,” she added.
Revlon was also selling “knee rouges,” and a leg art coloring kit, and Givenchy had a “Leg Colour” line in colors like shocking pink and sea green. The Times spoke to a 23-year-old secretary spotted on 42nd Street in “turquoise blue Givenchy legs with her chartreuse dress,” who compared it to wearing fake eyelashes in that, “After a while you get used to it.” “This fall we expect with-it girls to start wearing the colored paint under their fishnets,” Mitchell added.
But, unsurprisingly, body paint was particularly popular with the countercultural crowd. A saleswoman in the makeup department at Bloomingdales informed the paper that hippies in particular were loving the stuff: “I painted the word ‘Coty’ on the arms of two male hippies the other day and they were so excited.” Nice to know that wildly impractical beauty trends are not purely a creation of the YouTube age.