Open letter to the fashion industry.

Dear Fashion Industry,

I’ve been meaning to write ever since the weekend, but, well, events overcame me. Given the blow-out affair of last Friday, I’m sure you needed a day or two to recover anyway! And so finally, here we are, tete-a-tete.

I’m sure this isn’t usually done, but I want to open this missive with a little snippet from the American Heritage Dictionary, unabridged – to wit:

nude adj. – Having no clothing; naked.

Now, I bring this to your attention, Fashion Industry, because I have begun to suspect that you don’t possess this important linguistic nugget of information. “Nude” means “no clothes on” — and evidence suggests that either you don’t know that, or you don’t know that people of all colors take their clothes off now and then.

No, it’s true! All over the globe, at any given time, black people, brown people, yellow people, amber people, red people, tawny people, cafe-au-lait people, cinnamon people — all manner of people who are not pasty, pink, or beige in shade are taking off their clothes. Wandering about in the nude. Even if only between pairs of underwear.

I mention this because in the course of reading about last Friday’s big event, I discovered that you, the Fashion Industry, still use the word “nude” incorrectly. You still use it to mean “approximately the color of a white lady’s bum.”

Let me demonstrate.

This pair of $620 shoes?

In spite of the designer’s insistence: Not nude.

This mini-hat, aka: “fascinator” (note to non-Fashion Industry readers: Yes, that really is a thing)?

In spite of the website copy: Not nude.

This ensemble (the little number on the right)?

While so daring as to be charming in my books (though, I understand, not necessarily in yours): Also not nude.

I happen to be of Caucasian extraction, and thus have some experience with the color of a white lady’s bum, and let me first note that, in fact, none of the above actually resembles the skin of any white lady I know. Just, you know, for starters.

Next: To the extent that “nude” could conceivably be a color, it would (by inference) be “the color of the person wearing it.” Thus, if you’d like to call all of the above “Caucasian nude,” I’d be willing to roll with it, though, as I say, I don’t know any Caucasians the color of that fascinator (except my mother, after an afternoon of vigorous gardening, and really, should we base an entire color scheme on one white lady’s tendency to overheat?).

I understand: The Fashion Industry is an industry. It was constructed and conceived to make people money, and there is a tendency to market industries to the broadest possible swath of humans with money, and the understanding of nearly everyone in positions of power in all of the image-heavy industries has long been that this can only mean using white people to do the marketing.

Models are white. Designers are white. Magazine editors are white. That’s the way it goes, I suppose, until someone figures out that white people are, in fact, just smart enough to be sold things worn, designed, and/or described by non-white people. That day will come. I appreciate the occasional spasmodic efforts to bring more models of color to catwalks, but I don’t expect real integration until the rest of society has gotten rather more integrated itself.

But we could make a small start with “nude.”

As a lady, I can tell you: Ladies will buy any freakishly-named color under the sun. You don’t need to make us feel that we’re buying something that is white-lady-skin-colored to get us to buy it. We’ll buy ecru, toasted coconut, buff, chamois, palest rose, taupe, beige, palest pink, biscuit, mushroom, fawn (ooh, I particularly like fawn), oatmeal, sand, on and on.

Really. I promise.

But, on the other hand, every time you define nude as “Caucasian,” you’re telling a whole lot of people that their naked skin is mistaken. Is wrong.

And not only does that suck, it’s probably costing you some dollars, son. If you don’t want to consider social advancement, you could at least consider your own bottom line.

Anyhoo, thanks for all the details on the frocks and hats at William’s and Kate’s big day! Man, that satellite thing on that one lady’s head — whew! Something else.

Hugs and kisses,


Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.



  1. Ayah

     /  May 4, 2011

    Emily, I just wanted to start off by saying, “Wow”. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone really criticize the fashion industry for marketing this particular color as nude. Your piece was very well-written, and maybe you will start a movement. Furthermore, I appreciate you putting the question in everyone’s minds…Why does it have to be called “nude” anyway? This was a great read. I wish more articles were as informative with a hint of entertainment more often. Thank you.

  2. Nice, nice writing. (content and packaging both).
    I’ve always kind of liked “tea-colored” for the people I know in Japan, since it covers a huge range of possible colors from the palest rose-hip blush to dark-sunburned-nearly-black. For that reason itself, I suppose it wouldn’t be much good to the Fashion Industry as a color name. (Note, I haven’t confirmed this idea with my Japanese and Korean friends and colleagues, so can’t say if this is something people would actually approve of being called. Won’t therefore use it in a piece of writing till I can do some asking around.) The obvious exception is green tea. Anybody who is green-tea-colored is either very nauseated or from a different planet.

  3. Kate warren

     /  May 5, 2011

    Wonderful. On target, skewering kindly. .

  4. I like ecru myself. 🙂 And in winter, I approach alabaster, which was once a nice way of describing ghastly looking white people.

    Sadly, this happens alot. See my post here, where Michelle Obama was wearing a soft peach and silver gown that was described as “flesh” colour.

    Thanks for the great post.

    • No, srsly. “Flesh”?! Oy, that makes my head hurt. Not to mention: It would only be “flesh” if one were a fish.

  5. SWNC

     /  May 5, 2011

    Awesome. Thank you.

  6. dave in texas

     /  May 5, 2011

    Hey, if the Crayola people can come to their senses and stop labelling those semi-pinkish crayons ‘flesh,’ then maybe there’s some hope for the fashion industry.

  7. NHfarmgirl

     /  May 5, 2011

    Shared via FB!

  8. Torrilin

     /  May 5, 2011

    In my world, nude means “about 4 shades darker than my skin”.

    Yeah. I am that pale. If I want to go with that almost skin color look, I hunt for something in the neighborhood of ballet pink and a pinkish-ivory sort of color… which is not to be found anywhere most years. Every time I run into that sort of thing, I wonder how it’d feel to have darker skin, and run into the mirror image problem.

    Then I feel nauseous.

  9. Em — I hope Venus Williams sees this. She’ll love it. Check out on Google Images what she wore at the 2010 French Open. I remember her describing the panties as either ‘nude’ or ‘flesh-colored,’ and the commentators having a hard time with that, saying in effect “but they’re really brown, aren’t they..”

  10. Here’s a link for Venus at the 2010 French Open. I have no idea why they called it a can-can dress:

    • I admit that I have consciously not paid any attention to this story. There’s only so much rage I can channel in any given day!

      It may comfort you to know that I am, in fact, powerless, and a whole lot of other people have been tweeting and blogging about it incessantly. I think it’s fairly well covered, even if I only barely know the outline!

      Though I will say this: Sigh. Heavy, heavy sigh.

  11. Russell King

     /  May 6, 2011


  12. Toni

     /  May 6, 2011

    “Models are white. Designers are white. Magazine editors are white.” I have been a magazine editor and can assure you, while this may be true as a generalization, there are many editors, models and designers who are not white! My bum and all bits in between were brown last time I looked. Funny article and good point.

    • You make an excellent point! I did go rather overboard in my generalizing-to-tell-the-tale. A “most” or a “majority” wouldn’t have gone either awry or agley in that sentence. I am sorry.

      But, actually, a small piece of me will never be sorry, because my oversight inspired you to write the words “My bum and all bits in between were brown last time I looked.” Which is just awesome. So I’m torn. (But mostly sorry!)

  13. The two Royal Princesses are so beautiful but they are young maybe next time they commission Mr Treacy to make them a headpiece they will take the time to sit down and discuss exactly what they want and what it will look like. According to Mr Treacy’s profile in yesterdays Times they just left him with the job. The girls in my view are gorgeous and need someone to care for them.

  14. Oldcrownest

     /  February 26, 2013

    I’ve often wondered why (especially) pantyhose described as “nude” weren’t made of clear fibers so they’d actually match all skin tones. It’s such a simple thing. :-/

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