How brands are urging us to rethink 'nude'

“My nude isn’t the nude I see in shops,” writes Nubian Skin founder Ade Hassan.

“My nude isn’t the nude I see in shops,” writes Nubian Skin founder Ade Hassan.

Fashion is no stranger to nudity. There's the naked dress. The barely-there lipstick. The industry's obsession with baring flesh is splayed on every second cover of V Magazine and every campaign Tom Ford's ever laid his hand on. Nude has been one of the most prolific trends of the past five years. Why then does it have so much difficulty grasping the very meaning of the word?

Though 'nude' literally means naked, for fashion, it's only nude if you're a pale-skinned, blush-tinged Caucasian. And if you're not? Then you've probably had to get real creative when looking for nude pumps, nude lipsticks or nude underwear that doesn't shine through your sheer-panelled dress.

Buzzfeed recently highlighted the problem with its viral video, 'Black Women Try 'Nude' Fashion'. "Nude equals nothing," says one woman. "Nude is not an option for black women," says another. And they're both right.


The popular meaning of 'nude' is exclusionary in the way it ignores most of the world's population. When you search 'nude' on Pantone, the company that largely sets colour-formula standards for the entire fashion industry, it turns up as light beige. Even Merriam Webster defines 'nude' as "the colour of a white person's flesh". Yes, the colour of a white person's flesh. When a modern-day dictionary is putting forth that definition, you know something is seriously whack.

The thing is, 'nude' is anything but neutral. The skin-tone spectrum runs the entire gamut of black, brown, tawny, sunburnt, chai, cinnamon, espresso, and everything in between, so why are we even using it as a colour descriptor anymore? Crayola changed its 'flesh' colour – which resembled white skin – to 'peach' back in the 1960s, but fashion is taking its sweet, sweet time to catch up.  

Of course, designers and editors are known for playing fast and loose when it comes to semantics. 'Nude' has become an infuriatingly lazy and politically incorrect term – much like 'ethnic' and 'tribal' – used (and misused) to the point of meaninglessness. "[E]ven when fashion editors find synonyms for 'nude' they are conventionally honey, rose, blush, ivory, words commonly used to make an English rose complexion seem aspirational," points out the Guardian's Paula Cocozza. A notorious blind spot compounded by the fact that non-white models are few and far between on catwalks and covers, too.

Thankfully, an increasing number of brands are expanding their shade ranges to challenge the status quo. On the beauty front, Yves Saint Laurent, Bobbi Brown, Clinique, MAC and Nars are just a few companies who've opened their eyes to see 'nude' as more than just Caucasian.

L'Oreal Paris had their wonderfully diverse mix of spokesmodels, including Liya Kebede and Doutzen Kroes, each one come up with her own version of "nude" lipstick that perfectly complements her skin tone. Supermodel Iman has set about creating base covers to suit darker complexions. And then there are more niche brands such as HIPP x RGP Nail Foundation, which is working with celebrity manicurist Jenna Hipp on a collection of all-encompassing tints, in the hopes that things such as this will become a less common occurrence.

Christian Louboutin launched an expanded shade range in 2013. The collection was so successful that the company recently updated it to include even more variety. As has sandal company Tkee Flip-Flops, on the lower end of the price spectrum, which believes in footwear so minimal that it blends into the colour of your feet.

Addressing the problem highlighted in the Buzzfeed video, Nubian Skin creates underwear options for women of colour. "My nude isn't the nude I see in shops," writes founder Ade Hassan. "Despite the reality that women of colour have the same needs as all women when it comes to lingerie and hosiery (and spend the same of their hard-earned money), the industry simply doesn't cater to us."


#throwbackthursday to that time we released #nubianskin to the world #tbt 💕 Thanks for the love!

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Our hosiery is in!!! Shop away at xxxxxxx

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Nude Barre works on a similar philosophy when it comes to stockings. Can't find what you want? Try typing in your specifics in Nudevotion, a click-through shopping aggregator that seeks to match customers with clothes, accessories, shoes and makeup, whatever their skin tone.

Though there's a long way to go, these a promising signs and a sure step forward toward racial diversity in fashion. Having a greater number of options encourages women to embrace their beautiful skin, whatever colour it may be. That choice is empowering.