Beachwear that banishes bingo wings, sucks in middle-age spread like super-strength Spanx and protects a delicate decolletage from the ageing rays of the sun sounds like the answer to every woman over 40’s prayers.But while it may also sound a little too good to be true, when Paul McCartney’s wife Nancy Shevell, emerged from the crystal clear Ibizan waters this week, she was wearing one of these magic garments — a long-sleeved, patterned ‘rash vest’.These vests, also known as ‘rashies’, were originally invented in the Seventies to stop surfers chafing their skin on their surfboards, but have recently become a must-have on the beach for women who want to protect their skin from the sun, while also covering their wobbly bits.
The vests, which are usually made out of Spandex, nylon or polyester, are proving incredibly popular with celebrities of a certain age, with actresses Nicole Kidman, Courteney Cox and Minnie Driver, Madonna and supermodel Elle Macpherson all pictured in them on the beach.I’m thrilled that the A-list are finally following my lead, for I’ve been sporting rash vests for almost 20 years — and getting odd looks from strangers on the beach for decades as a result.As an Aussie, I’ll do anything to protect my skin, but still love to be in the sunshine. My British friends, as they lie on the beach in blazing heat with just factor 10 on, laugh at me sitting under an umbrella in my factor 50, hat and obligatory rashie.
For proof of this look no further than Nancy Shevell, who at 53 has the smooth skin tone of a woman half her age. And now her secret is out. She’s a sun-shunner.While many women delude themselves that slathering on a bit of factor 20 will protect their pale skin from the sun while splashing around in the waves, Nancy obviously knows better.Whether on holiday each summer at Smith’s Beach, on the south-west coast of Australia, or in the Mediterranean, or even in the chilly sea off Suffolk, I wouldn’t get into the water without a rashie. Now they’re used for sun protection in water sports such as windsurfing and canoeing, or just having fun in the waves. Not sloshing your child in factor 50 and wriggling them into a rashie before they hit the beach is akin to child abuse there.In the Seventies they only came in Lycra, made as they were for super-fit surfers with washboard stomachs, but now you can get them in slimming Spandex (yes!).They usually provide a sun protection factor of 50+, which prevents burning, plus UV filters, to stop the ultra-violet rays that cause ageing and DNA damage. You can even buy them with factor 100. Extreme, even for me.No longer built for boys, they’ve become more stylish, in patterns and bright block colours, and are cut in a way which is more flattering to a woman’s figure.
And it’s not just because they protect you from the sun that we Aussies — and the A-list — wear them. For a good rashie can be a woman’s best friend. I swear they can take a stone off you, in all the right places.The good ones suck you in like a corset. Middle-aged tummy disappears and, worn over a good swimsuit with a bit of support in the bra, they turn a tubby torso into Jessica Rabbit-esque curves. Is it any wonder middle-aged women love them?As well as hiding those giveaways of middle-age — untoned upper arms and a thickening waist — rashies also prevent other signs of ageing. They protect the areas most vulnerable to sun damage – the neck, décolletage and, in some versions, hands.The skin is so thin there, it’s the first to wrinkle and get covered in horrible sun spots, which are all too often early signs of skin cancers.