After my breast cancer scare, I needed a sunscreen alternative as I decided to stop lathering my body with sunscreen* for a couple of reasons. Firstly to allow my skin to naturally absorb vitamin D and breathe freely without being smothered in sunscreen chemicals and ingredients that block the absorption of this essential vitamin. Essential for me because of the research finding a vitamin D deficiency and breast cancer link. And secondly, the chemicals found in modern day sunscreen are considered hormone disruptors, and because my cancer was estrogen and progesterone positive, I want to limit my exposure to chemicals that can act like estrogen and potentially cause hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer to develop and grow.
Living back on the west coast of Australia after three years in the United Kingdom, I wanted to be able to spend a few hours at the beach to increase my vitamin D levels, and enjoy being beachside without getting burnt to a crisp. In Australia, summers are scorchingly hot and spending time at the beach without sunscreen quickly turns any skin lobster red. And even on cloudy days, the risk of sunburn is still high. Instead of sitting on the beach wrapped in a mountain of beach towels to avoid the harsh sun, I wanted a full-length beach caftan to protect my skin after my swim in the ocean and vitamin D exposure. Whilst there is a plethora of beach caftans and coverups to choose from, I couldn’t find one to fit my exact requirements and sense of style for the days when I want to linger at the beach a little longer. Most were too floral, too flimsy, too short in the sleeve, too short in length, missing a hood and altogether just not quite right.
That’s when I had an epiphany to create my own vintage inspired 1970s beach caftan. The idea came to me after spotting a gorgeous 1970s Geoffrey Beene pink caftan for sale on 1stDibs. Unable to afford the $3000 AUD price tag, the idea to sew my own was born. Well, sew with the help of my sewing-guru sister Rowena. I scoured endless pictures on Pinterest and found a 1970s vintage pattern similar to the Geoffrey Beene caftan. The next challenge for this perfectionist Virgo was to find cheap jersey or cotton fabric to test out the pattern fit and sizing. Even though this $30 geometric polyester jersey fabric was a nightmare to work with and hot to wear against the skin in the middle of a summers day, the process of learning sew was fun and meant I could spent quality time with my sister in her sewing den.
And so this is what happened when I decided to forgo wearing sunscreen and couldn’t find a full-length beach cover-up to buy: I dived into the bottomless sea of Pinterest for design inspiration and learnt how to sew. Surprisingly I am thrilled with the end product and even beginning to like this cheap jersey fabric and print. Next I am keen to scour the fabric shops in Perth for the perfect summer caftan fabric. And admittedly, inspired by Grace Jones, the black belt and red lipstick were all in the name of styling for this shoot as the heavy jersey fabric makes the caftan look like a sack without being cinched-in at the waist. And I never wear lipstick or make up to the beach. Leaving the beach behind, perhaps I could wear my home sewn 1970s vintage caftan for a totally different occasion?
Handmade caftan from 1970s sewing pattern | fabric from Textile Traders | Country Road belt | Prada sunglasses
Photos by Gina Jenkin – ZEN Events & Photography Services
*Being a realist, I still wear a little sunscreen on my face, just not every day. Choosing to forgo sunscreen is a personal choice due to personal circumstances and I recognise that sunscreen can play a vital role protecting against harmful ultra violet rays, and stopping kids and adults alike from sunburn.