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August 24 2019
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The lost art of sein-sational sunbathing, as seen at the Deligny swimming pool, in Paris, 1987.

“In St. Tropez almost all they wear is the deep dark color of Bain de Soleil,” went the commercial for the tanning gel that greased aspirational hides a glossy orange throughout the 70s and 80s. It was the age of Summer Lovers, when the American Dream was for a vacation spent frolicking in various states of undress on a sophisticated, permissive continent. Today, if you’re headed to Patmos or Capri, Cap Ferret or Cap Ferrat, and hoping to achieve a line-free décolletage on a sun lounger next to an ice bucket full of rosé, sorry. You’ll need to keep on your top. “I used to go to the French Riviera with my parents in the 70s, and every woman would wade into the ocean in a teeny-weeny string and her tits out,” says Claus Lindorff, co-founder of Ron Dorff Paris–Stockholm, a swim- and sportswear company for men and women. Not anymore, he says: “Topless has become démodé in Europe.”

The bare breast used to be a sign of women’s liberation. Now it’s a target, as 10 million phone cameras with 4G links to proliferating social-media sites roam the beach, leaving you no time to hide, much less demand a light airbrushing. A recent study by the French Institute of Public Opinion cited fear of harassment and body shaming for the marked decline in les seins nus on French beaches, but men aren’t the only problem. Twenty-nine percent of French women today disapprove of topless women on the beach, and 7 in 10 are against full nudity. (The immodest still fare better than the very modest: 75 percent of French people are bothered by the sight of a woman in a burkini, and 66 percent want the Islamic bathing costume banned. The days of minding one’s business on the beach are long gone in l’hexagone. )

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