Friday, February 17, 2012

The Colour of Nude

Peach dress by Daisy and Stella

A recent post on the etsy blog, The problem with nude got me to thinking about the colour occasionally termed "nude". Back in 2010 Michelle Obama wore a frock which some journalists unthinkingly described as "nude", later hastily switching to "champagne" when they were taken up on it ("skintone? Whose skintone?").

Bisque sweater set by DearGolden Vintage

"Nude" and all its pals apply to a tone that's loosely defined (it can be peachy, a cream shade, beige or pale taupe), but roughly equivalent to caucasian skin. As such the terms are are inherently racially exclusive, so perhaps they should be relegated to the scrapheap along with the once-acceptable "nigger brown"? The latter was formerly in common use - I've seen it crop up a good half dozen times and I don't even have an especially large collection of 1910s-20s fashion ephemera.

Buttercream dress by The Greedy Seagull

To be honest I've never much liked the sound of most of these colour names anyway - nude (too prim), skintone (too clinical) or flesh (too carnivorous). I rather prefer prettier-sounding terms like peach, champagne and taupe. In fact I think it seems like the perfect opportunity to reintroduce some of the evocative shade names I've found on vintage stockings - names like Spark O' Spice (my favourite!), Shellblush, Persian Glow, Myst Cuban, Allure, Copper Beech, Calypso and Amber Fox. They paint a spectrum of neutrals from Peach Petal and Alabaster through Sugar Beige, Bamboo, Desert Gold and Cafe Glace to Auburn, Brandy, Sienna and Wild Mink. I say we bring back colour names like Sundream, Sahara, Rosedew, Russette, and Honey Beige. Some might wonder how you would assign a specific colour to Whisper or Romance, but surely it's no more arbitrary than assigning a colour to "nude".


  1. I love the stocking color names you've listed. I guess I never paid much attention to the boxes before, I must look at the color names now!

    Personally I love "Champagne". I agree on the way the other names sound, my goodness, who ever thought "flesh" was a good idea for a color name? Reminds me in "Two Towers" when one of the Orcs say they smell "man flesh". Ew.

    Also, wild mink. Pure fabulous.


  2. Champagne, I love! Nude I hate. Yes stocking colour names are fabulous aren't they?! It makes no difference I look shocking in nude/champagne or anything of that ilk :o)

  3. I think "nude" is a perfectly acceptable way to describe a colour, as long as it is relative to who is wearing it. A "nude" lipstick, for example, would be something that is close to the wearer's skin tone... not a particular shade of "Caucasian" (a terrible way to say "pale-skinned people", by the way).

    For the purposes of naming shades of light beige and pale apricot, let's do away with "nude".

  4. Mmm, pretty frock! Apart from one pale creamy lace blouse, via a charity shop, that I'm fond of, it's not a colour I have ever really tried. Not sure why, always felt it could be hard to pull off, gets dirty easily/shows marks. Perhaps I ought to experiment a bit.

    I'm with you on the names, though. Champagne, peach, oyster etc make me think of glamour and old Hollywood, the nudes and the beiges and all the rest are just boring, slightly depressing and don't entice me at all.

  5. I think of nude not so much as a colour but of a colour and a context combined = where the colour is similr to a skin tone and the garment is fitting enough to ambiguously imply nudity. So, nude shoes, fitting dresses or slips, tops, insets into a coloured garment, all suit the term Nude to me. A full circle skirt or two piece knit suit not so much. Odd how we see things differently!

  6. I don't usually wear these tones much. When I do I tend to call them cream or beige, how boring. Or even 'creamy beige'. Oh the romance!

    I've never used 'nude' because within my family (mixed) it's obviously not skin colour for everyone and because my Grandmother found the concept of naming clothes after nakedness 'disgustingly titillating' and she was the one who taught me about fabrics and so forth.

  7. I find "nude" has been overtaken by the WAG element so I tend to stay clear - there's a lot of tacky nude clothes and shoes out there. I love all the names that relate to food and drink - peach, oyster, champagne, mostly because it's quite close to lunch right now. I also love those old names and totally agree we should bring them back

  8. I don't think it's a good idea to label any particular color as "nude" or "flesh." When I worked in retail, I often advised women to wear "skintone" bras or other undergarments under white clothes. But when I said it, I always said something like, "be sure to wear a bra that matches your skintone." YOUR being the key word. ;)

    This reminds me of when I was in preschool, waaaaay back in the early 80's. It was a Christian preschool, and we were often given pictures of bible stories to color. We all shared from one big container of crayons. There was only one "flesh" colored crayon. (Seriously, it was called "flesh." I remember it clearly; I was an early reader.) We used to have knock-down, drag-out fights over that crayon! We all wanted to color Jesus first, and of COURSE he had to have that color skin, LOL. I also remember Band-Aid having "flesh" colored bandages.

    I'm surprised the word "nude" is still used to label clothing colors, with how politcally correct so many other parts of our language have become.

    Since I've written a book already, I'll say one more thing... I teach in Japan, and any time I color faces a shade other than "momo-iro" (peach) the kids all go, "Ehhhhh?????? What are you doing, teacher? Why is his face brown?" LOL. Just doing my part to bring some cultural awareness to this rather homogenous nation, ha ha. ;)

  9. I think calling that colour "peach" is weird. The peaches we get here in Sweden (usually from Spain) tend to be much brighter yellow with red spots.
    I agree with Emma and Anonymous: used to describe a colour that matches the intended wearer, it's fine.

  10. Great post. It reminds me of a photo George Takei posted on Martin Luther King Day:

  11. I have a tendency to describe colours according to my coloured pencil names or paint names- I like them better ;)

  12. Champagne sounds so much more alluring!!! I much prefer trying to use precise color names like "taupe" and "champagne". Nude/flesh/skintone just always have sounded so "blah" to me (not to mention I've always been rather offended that "nude" only encompasses one skintone! I've always wondered how that one has managed to stick around in the popular jargon. :p). Let's bring back the fabulous color names indeed!


I'd love to hear your thoughts!


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