Remember how Band-Aids used to be available only in that weird pinky-tan color that they called “flesh,” even though it was a shade that didn’t match any earthling’s known skin tone? Luckily, enough people complained that they cut that shit out, and it led to awesome things like heart-shaped and zebra-print bandages. However, it doesn’t seem that the fashion industry has caught up. It’s still common to hear designers and marketers talk about how a product is available in a nude shade (honestly, I’ve probably been guilty of this myself), with “nude” meaning “beige,” or at least “something approximating the color of a white person’s skin.”
Perhaps it’s because I’m white that hearing something described as nude doesn’t bother me – or, at least, I don’t notice anything out of the ordinary. But an Associated Press article brings this issue to the forefront. The author, Samantha Critchell, describes the fashion industry’s definition of “nude” as “a common description of the shade a little darker than champagne, lighter than sand and perhaps with a hint of blush or peach.” That’s pretty accurate. Then she gets to her next point:
The Associated Press called Mrs. Obama’s dress color “flesh” and got immediate retorts: “Whose flesh?” one newspaper editor asked. “Not hers.” The description was revised to “champagne.”
That champagne-sand hue, though, is usually what the word is used to describe in fashion shows, stores and the pages of fashion magazines. A quick search for “nude” in the online color finder for Pantone, the company that largely sets color-formula standards for fashion and home-goods manufacturing, turns up a light beige.
When we talk about something approximating the color of nude flesh, whose nude flesh are we talking about? It’s a vital question in fashion, an industry based on colors. The AP article also references a decision by Crayola to change their “flesh” crayon from a whitish color to peach, but that’s hardly a groundbreaking achievement or recognition of diversity.
There are several solutions for dealing with the “nude” issue. The first, longer route means diversifying the fashion and beauty industries, incorporating more people of color. This has been happening slowly over time, but people at the top of most brands are still white. A second, quicker solution calls on these industries to what they’ve always done – be creative. Critchell talks about employees at Calvin Klein, a brand known for its allegiance to neutral hues, coming up with names for multiple shades of what otherwise might be called nudes. So, let’s mix it up, industry folks: throw out the “nude” of yesteryear and get creative. I’ll start: my personal nude is Rosy Ivory. Because I’m pale, you see. Now, everyone gets their own shade, so we’re going to have to work quickly.