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The trouble with nudity in fashion

Nude is the new black. Or rather it’s not, and therein lies the problem. Nudevotion, a click-through shopping aggregator, has cottoned on to this. Matching shoppers to their definition of nude, it offers a far wider palette of nude-appropiate clothes, shoes and makeup. Ideal if you’re not white.

The debate surrounding the word “nude” in fashion can be dated back to November 2009 when Michelle Obama wore a “nude” dress by Naeem Khan. The designer described it as “sterling-silver sequin, abstract floral, nude strapless gown”, leading Jezebel to quip, Nude for whom?, suggesting that there was no debate since, well, the nude in question (a sort of champagne pink) was only nude if you were a specific skin colour.

Michelle Obama in the ‘nude’ dress Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

This proved especially problematic since nude went on to become one of the most prolific trends of the past five years. Christian Louboutin’s “nude” heels became a staple on the red carpet. Stuart Weitzman named his the “nudist”. Since then, the word has been slowly and correctly phased out. Mostly. Pantone still has a “nude” tone in its colour palette, and one of the definitions on Dictionary.com is, vaguely and semi-diplomatically, “a light grayish-yellow brown to brownish-pink colour”. In 2013, Louboutin launched multiples shades of “nude” shoes. But still, in wider circles, the word stuck.

The nudes collection by Christian Louboutin. Photograph: Louboutin

Nudevotion works thus: shoppers click on one of the two shades and up pops the pieces available. Two shades isn’t much, but it is progress. Plus, when technology catches up, they plan to launch more. To someone who is traditionally seen as white, the pieces cover all of my possible skin tones: flushed, sunburned, creamy, tired and jaundiced. But what about non-white customers? With that in mind, two writers of varying skin tones tried it out.

“I am not sure the word nude really means anything”
Lynette Nylander, managing editor of i-D

“I would say I am a tad warmer in skin tone than Pantone swatch 4635U. The (acute) meaning and representation of the word nude in fashion is something that has affected my clothing choices since a young age. It’s sad that the industry hasn’t quite picked up that one taupe bra does not fit all. For this reason, I don’t really comprehend the word ‘nude’ in the way I would think fashion would expect me to. Shopping via a skin-coloured swatch feels quite alien but perhaps because this isn’t something I have seen outside of online makeup e-commerce. The skin swatches are indeed very limited and something Nudevotion definitely need to look into widening in the future. And the fact that it acts as a middle man between you and the purposefully picked ‘nude’ items makes it seem a little impersonal. And why nude? To me, it opens the floor to sites solely dedicated to stores retailing products of only one colour. ‘Rally round red’ perhaps? or ‘Be all blue’? Really, I am not sure the word nude really means anything as it isn’t nude for anyone.”

“The darker skin tone resulted in only three items”
Sara Ilyas, Guardian fashion

“I would describe my skin colour as light brown of Pakistani heritage. Alongside ‘ethnic’, ‘nude’ is one of fashion’s most infuriatingly lazy terms. Who’s nude are we talking about here? Run a quick search for ‘nude’ clothes and it’s clear: nude is not brown. Sure, Christian Louboutin designed a range of ‘nude’ shoes for all skin tones, but some of us don’t have £500. Brands such as Nubian Skin that specialise in underwear for black skin are much more affordable. Clicking through Nudedevotion, I’m not sure if it will make much of a difference. Clicking the ‘colour tab’ for the darker skin tone resulted in only three items, though there are more items if you browse manually. Aggregators can be messy and flustering to look at – a shop that specialises in basics in all manner of ‘nude’ shades, ie a neutral American Apparel, would be far more useful. Plus, keep up. Language evolves. Nude went from meaning a naked figure in western art to a lazy colour description for patent court shoes, and in 2015 it means a naked picture of yourself. Nude is not a colour.”

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