Calling Out the Lingerie Industry: Beige is not Nude

There is nothing that sets my teeth on edge more than seeing a beige product, especially lingerie, described as nude. It’s something that is absurdly and upsettingly prevalent in the fashion and lingerie industries and shows no signs of going away. I first read about it on Jezebel in 2008 in this article by Dodai Stewart. Then I read about it again, on the same blog, in 2010. It’s 2012, and it looks like no one is getting the message.

(Oh, and the images in this blog post? They’re to show you a person that is nude, not a piece of clothing– and I hope the difference between the two will help drive the point home.)

Stella McCartney on Asos: This is not nude

Calling a beige bra “nude” says, “This bra was made for white people.” And that kind of exclusion is hurtful and racist. It’s part of a system of microaggressions that suggests that by being non-white you must be “different” or “other.” (To read more about microaggressions go here and here.) The narrowness of the implication of what is normal or expected leaves out anyone with a different skin tone than what you may be calling “nude.”

Alek Wek: This is nude

There are so many color names for lingerie or clothes instead of “nude”: beige, peach, ecru, khaki, ivory, cream, biscuit, and fawn are all possible color names that do not contain the assumption that your consumer has pale skin. And really, there are so many possibilities that have nothing to do with defining what a “regular” nude body should look like. Nude is not ONE color; it’s a state of being unclothed which applies equally to people of all shades.

Now, there are cases in which the word nude, as it refers to clothing, is appropriate– but that is only when “nude” is in relation to someone’s skin tone. An article about how nude bras are less visible under white shirts, for example, merely refers to a bra that blends with your skin tone. Being able to find a bra that matches your skin tone is another obstacle for people of color (POC) for whom the only choices are often cream or black, leaving no true “nude” option– you should read about the What’s Your Nude campaign to learn about how they are trying to combat this problem. The company MySkins also makes bras in a variety of different tones so that you can match your skin color.

Lascivious: This is not nude

As a lingerie designer or retailer or even consumer, what can you do? Be aware of your language. Remember to be inclusive. Maybe just retire the term “nude” until you’re describing a product that matches every skin tone (and until we have color changing fabric, that may be never). Not caring about this issue is just reinforcing the system which says that some people and some skin colors are important and others are not. Look, if I am calling you out right now, don’t get defensive– change it, move on and all will be forgiven.

Iman: This is nude

I try not to buy from retailers who use “nude” to mean “beige” but it is incredibly widespread. In fact, all of the images on here are from retailers I use–  I included them to show how even brands who I value aesthetically do not pay enough attention to this issue. And as someone whose skin tone is close to beige, I sometimes forget to check whether they use “nude” as one of their color, because I have the privilege of being able to. This “forgetting” is something that someone with darker skin likely could not do because describing that piece of clothing as nude would seem nonsensical.

Topshop: This is not nude

Truthfully, I’m not the best person to talk about what this type of exclusion feels like– that would be a POC who actually deals with this on a day to day basis. But not to address it would just make it worse. I would love to hear from any POC who feel strongly on this issue or who feel I’ve really missed something essential.

I would like to hear what everyone has to say in the comments– but keep it respectful. I know that no one likes censorship, but I want to keep this a safe space. Anything said with an open mind is fine, but honestly, if I feel like you’re taking away from the discussion or making ad hominem attacks, then I’ll remove your comment.

26 Comments
  1. Like you, I was introduced to this concept courtesy of Jezebel. I definitely agree and think it’s important to post these kind of blogs because it makes people address institutionalized privilege. I have heard the argument, “Nude refers to a beige-y color,” but this doesn’t seem to work, especially when you read copy in magazines assuring you that nude will elongate your frame because it will blend in with your skin.

  2. I’m glad to see the rise of a new generation of shoppers and bloggers who think outside the box and raise their voices regarding practices and terminologies that should have ended long time ago.

    When I moved to the US I immediately noticed the diversity of the population here in comparison to where I grew up. So when shopping for lingerie it felt odd that the color “nude” was always a shade of beige, regardless of how many “nudes” there are out there. Sadly enough, some 20 years have passed and this is still the case.

    Thank you for bringing it up, it’s up to us to change it.

    P.S. Sorry, can’t help it, but that Lascivious body suit reminds me of what the female “man-machine” in Metropolis had on before “transforming” into a real body.

  3. I say beige because I find nude reeks of marketing spin (“ooh, not granny’s beige panties but a sexy nude bra”) and also it’s imprecise. Thankfully in my country calling beige nude hasn’t taken root although we do have a tendency to fanatically and blindly follow imported US trends to the point of obnoxiousness.

    I’m east Asian which means my skin tone isn’t too dramatically different from fair Caucasian skin tones. Although when I wear beige bras that obviously isn’t my skin color, it still blends incredibly well and you don’t see it at all under a thin white dress shirt.

    • I don’t know, i feel weird about having “race” specific bras. It sounds like a bad eugenics experiment. Besides, what exactly is East Asian coloring? I know some people who are super super Snow White pale and some people like me who are a little olive and others who are really tan (without trying). I don’t feel comfortable about putting rigid labels that arbitrarily exclude people based on such a flimsy parameter.

      Although there is a brand of flip flops called TKEES that come in lots of different skin tones, but that’s because the idea behind the brand is that it’s “cosmetics for your feet” so the skin toned color flip flops are in the foundation range, and then lots of shades of pink for the blush, etc etc

      • I completely agree about not liking the idea of a “race” specific bra– there is no one color that can determine one race or another and the more that people focus on exactly how colors determine so many other factors about culture and heritage, the bigger waste of time it is. A color is a color, not a statement on who you are or how you identify– I just think that people should be able to get bras that make sense with their fashion choices without feeling that the creator didn’t even consider their existence or needs. To add more race classifications would be more exclusive rather than less (not that that this is what I think stevemg was trying to do, but why I feel uncomfortable with it).

      • Yeah, I can see your point, but remember that a lot of people race identify a bit more these days. However I would scrap that idea and go with the Pantone version. I could see a chart on the wall that has that Pantone grid of faces and shoulders, you tap on one and it shows you where it is, plus the spectrum of tones/shades on either side. Either the retailer has a ton of stock, or once you pick and see the sample, decide it’s the right “nude” you submit an order and it’s mailed to you.
        You and I have just invented the Pantone custom colored bra store, “Your Color Bra” we have revolutionized the industry, we are heroes. Wow we have accomplished so much with this post! Time for a drink.

      • Ahh, so much more eloquently expressed. Yeah it can backfire and exclude rather than incude more people.

        Stevemg, hmmm… I’m considering your business proposition(?) and, it’s going to be logistically hard to carry all the colors in one store. Unlike a typical clothing store that carry clothes in maybe what 6 sizes? (XXS, XS, S, M, L, XL), bras have band and cup sizes. And of course you want to carry an extensive range of sizes from 26AA to 44G. Very complicated. If you’re really serious about it, have you considered dyeable bras? Like the store–which will probably have to be a specialty/concept store–will fit you and dye the bra for you, like what they do for bridesmaids’ shoes to match bridesmaids’ dresses. But I have to say, I don’t think it’s necessary to precisely match a woman’s skin tone because in my experience for example, I wear bras that are not my skin tone and they don’t show through while wearing a white blouse. You/we need more input from people of color.

        In any case, I love a good spontaneous brainstorm!

  4. So I have this problem, but at the opposite end of the colour spectrum. My skin is super pale white-yellow (side note: buying foundation is hell, since they assume that all pale people are pink). It seems that fashion “nude” is a general tan-caucasian colour… which actually appears nude on very few people. “Nude” bras and even pantyhose look brown on me. I once wore a “nude” bra under a white shirt and was asked why I was wearing a “dark brown bra”. If I want pantyhose that look nude on me, I have to go for the white-creme colour. With bras, I’ve pretty much given up on trying to find something that will blend with my skin (even the Freya Deco is too dark and orangey).

    It would be nice to see a variety of beige and brown shades in bras. Race-specific bras also freak me out… BUT there’s nothing wrong with offering a variety of colours (not named after races) that would work for people of different skin tones. You could name them pretty easily with shade + tint. For example, my colour would be something like 1yellow.

    • Hi @Questfortheperfectbra! I very quickly went through your blog and saw your pictures. Have you considered wearing a white bra under a white shirt, because your coloring is probably nearer to white than beige? I think it could work!

  5. @Tracy Having all the color stock in store would be a nightmare for sure. However you could have all the types of bras and sizes to try on. Of course there would be a set range of colors in store that a customer could walk out with right then. The process could go like this: 1. Pick your bra size, and style. (Get well fitted! I’ve read enough on The Lingerie Addict that getting a well fitted bra is a must.), 2. Find your color, 3. Set up your order, pay, 4. Receive your custom tinted bra, 5. Be happy, 6. Repeat, 7. Tell your friends.

    I think a real big deal in the near future is that custom bras will be more of a norm especially with the rise of cheap 3D printers. Then all the manufacturing, and dyeing may happen in the brick and mortar store, or eventually at your house. You just pay for the pattern and the color and “print” one.

    All this could apply to other types of lingerie as well.

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  9. Great article! And thanks for including my post on “The Great White Debate: What to Wear Under White”. Though many companies call a certain color “nude”, I’ve always suggested wearing the bra that most closely matches your skin tone (if you want it not to show through light tops) regardless of the name. Bra companies HAVE come a long way (offering more color options, opting out of calling something nude), but the industry standard still has a long way to go. xo Linda the Bra Lady

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