Nude is a deep-rooted problem in the fashion and beauty industries. As a woman of color, when I’ve searched for nude stockings, lipsticks, underwear, camisoles, or heels, I haven’t come across a single item that resembles my skin color. It soon dawned on me that these items that are regarded as “essentials” and “must-haves” are almost always designated for white women only. Any skin color other than white, like mine, doesn’t fit into their obsolete standards.

Nude is meant to describe a color that matches the person’s skin. In reality, mainstream fashion and beauty companies have defined the term in a way that suits their ideals – an ideal that marginalizes women of color in a bid to target their coveted customer of choice, white women that possess a fairer complexion. Nude is seen as one color, is synonymous with white skin, and is used interchangeably with beige or cream. This association excludes every other skin tone and preserves the white privilege culture we live in.

In 2017, fashion brand N‎ünude, an online retailer that provides nude attire for all skin tones, successfully campaigned to have the definition of nude changed in the Oxford Dictionary. Previously, the definition of nude was described as ‘light pinkish beige.’ N‎ünude’s campaign drew attention to the problem of its narrow definition, which resulted in the Oxford Dictionary changing the definition to expand the scope to “all shades of nude.”

But does a definition change and wider discussions of how nude is labeled enough to make waves in the fashion and beauty industries? Women of color feel undermined as they still don’t fit into the industry’s standards of what is considered nude; they’re considered more as an afterthought. The obvious question to mainstream brands is why haven’t you created new shades when there’s a diverse audience demanding them?

In an interview with Business of Fashion, Elizabeth Wissinger, professor of fashion studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, said that fashion has started to acknowledge alternative body types and complexions. Still, its attachment to narrow traditions suggests it will take a long time to change.

“Fashion claims to be nimble and responsive and on the cutting edge,” said Wissinger. But “there’s also such long cultural echoes of what’s deemed fashionable, so there’s this subconscious background of calling that color ‘nude.’”

The fashion and beauty industries are changing. The development has been driven by smaller brands and women of color-owned businesses to challenge the narrative on what should be regarded as nude. It isn’t just beige anymore; it’s a realm of shades.

Here are some of the brands that are transforming the fashion and beauty worlds:

N‎ünude – clothing and lingerie

Two women are wearing swimsuits. The image includes the caption "Do you think she knows...how beautiful she looks today?"
[Image Description: Two women are wearing swimsuits. The image includes the caption “Do you think she knows…how beautiful she looks today?”] Via N‎ünude on Instagram
Nünude is a community brand born out of frustration for the lack of representation and accommodation of ethnic minorities and different body types within the fashion industry. As well as campaigning to have the definition of nude changed in the Oxford Dictionary, they are committed to including their own customers, supporters and the community for all of their campaigns.

Nubian Skin – lingerie

Four women are wearing bandeau tops and long lightweight trousers
[Image Description: Four women are wearing bandeau tops and long lightweight trousers] Via Nubian Skin
Nubian Skin founder, Ade Hassan, decided it was time for ‘a different kind of nude’ when she repeatedly noticed the lack of skin-tone choices. Her brand launched with a carefully edited collection of lingerie and hosiery to meet women of color’s needs. “My nude isn’t the nude I see in shops,” says Hassan. “Despite the reality that women of color have the same needs as all women when it comes to lingerie and hosiery, the industry simply doesn’t cater to us. So, I thought, it’s time to rethink the definition of nude”.

Salone Monet – footwear

Image of six high heel sandals in various shades.
[Image Description: Image of six high heel sandals in various shades.] Via Salone Monet on Instagram
Salone Monet is the founder of her eponymous business, a color-inclusive nude shoe brand. A lifelong passion for shoes turned Salone away from political PR and into a shoe designer. Monet chose nude footwear as her forte as she considers a quality pair of nude heels to be a wardrobe staple and an investment for women. You’ll find six shades to choose from alongside a guide on which shade is right for you on the website.

PAT McGRATH LABS – makeup

Eight lip gloss tubes in various shades
[Image Description: Eight lip gloss tubes in various shades] Via Pat McGrath Labs on Instagram
Pat McGrath MBE has been called the most influential and sought-after makeup artist in the world by Vogue. Her artistry success led McGrath to launch her own line of beauty products PAT McGRATH LABS. She ensures that every single shade and product in her range is universally flattering and tested – rigorously – on women of all complexions. Her extended shade ranges and stunning cosmetics line further prove why she is called the ‘Mother of Makeup.’

Fenty Beauty – makeup

Seven body luminizing tint tubes in various shades
[Image Description: Seven body luminizing tint tubes in various shades] Via Fenty Beauty on Instagram
Rihanna has transformed the beauty industry with her Fenty brand. After seeing a void in the industry for products that performed across all skin types and tones, she launched her own make-up line “so that people everywhere would be included.” Fenty Beauty’s inclusive range encompasses 50 shades in the foundation and concealer makeup line, with the website giving you the option to discover the right shade that suits you via their face shade finder quiz.

These brands are paving the way forward for inclusivity. The ‘nude is one color’ ideology of the fashion and beauty industries is archaic and deeply problematic. As industries are listening and watching these inclusive brands’ growth, they need to understand that diversity isn’t a trend they can tap into when it suits them. Diversity is a necessity and should be prioritized. They need to engage with and employ women of color to question their outdated attitudes in order to make valuable changes. Excluding people because of the color of their skin is racist and abhorrent, so why should it continue to be accepted in fashion and beauty?

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  • Rebecca Azad

    Rebecca Azad works in the creative and charity sector in project and event management, communications and as a content writer. She runs her own sustainable fashion blog. You'll usually find her in a cosy corner of a coffee shop sipping a latte whilst reading a novel or writing a new article for her blog or publication.


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