NEUTRAL TERRITORY: THE EXPANSION OF SKIN TONE BASICS
By Kimmay Caldwell
In the USA, a smooth bra in a “nude” tone is the epitome of an everyday basic. This necessity, however, is not as commonly offered for all types of people. This is especially true when the most common (or only) “nude” option matches that of a light skin tone.
Slowly over many years, brands have been creating basic undergarments in different skin tone options so that people of all skin tones can wear light colored clothing without their undergarments showing through. While efforts have been noted, there is much more progress to make. In many ways what we wear underneath our clothes is a reflection of our outer culture. There is an opportunity (and responsibility) to update how we support our entire population in their most intimate moments.
Gathered here are a few brands that are stepping out to create neutrals that support bra wearers of many backgrounds, skin tones, and colors and are doing so in different ways. Accompanying the brand examples are quotes from women of color of various backgrounds.
INTIMATES INCLUSION MATTERS
Undergarments are one of the most intimate items we can wear, and a skin tone option is very personal. When it doesn’t match someone’s skin, the bra can not blend in for that “invisible” look. In addition, without great options and a varied, accessible collection of skin tone options, the intimates industry is reinforcing a damaging narrative.
Fallon Long, a chiropractor from Tulsa, OK notes, “Nude clothing always being a light beige is a symptom of us thinking that white is the default, and that the rest of us are nothing more than an alternative.” She goes on to add what effect this has on people of color: “It definitely engrains something in your subconscious that makes you feel like you are less than normal.”
One way to remedy this lack of inclusion is to offer several shades of neutrals that can match the various skin tones of our diverse population. Long adds, “Different shades of nude are so important. To some it might not seem like a big deal, but for little black girls it means they matter just as much to a company as their white friends. And that’s massive.”
The change is being made possible with new brands, like Evelyn & Bobbie, and those that have been in business for many years. Longtime brand, Natori, is one of the companies taking steps to offer some of their most popular basic bras in several skin tones.
MARKETING AND MERCHANDISING
We live in a visual world and where brands put their ad money and messaging says a lot about who they value as clients, and as fellow humans. While some brands may offer their lingerie in different shades, their models and messaging may still be geared toward one tone only. Or their marketing looks inclusive but their company is not. Look for marketing that embraces folks of different colors and includes them in authentic marketing campaigns, product shots, and digital communication on a consistent basis and brands that back up that marketing with real inclusive actions.
This is also true for how online retailers and brick and mortar stores merchandise their products. “It’s great seeing more color representation but it’s still a struggle having to wade through mountains of beige to find something almost passable. I shy away from wearing sheer because of the hassle”, says Suzette of NYC. Stores need to take note. Are the light skin tone bras always up front and the first image on the website? Are there visuals around different shades of neutrals in the shop? Are the darker neutrals with the “fashion colors” or included as basics? Do they employ people of color? These details matter and can not be ignored.
Alionka Polanco, a life coach from NYC says, “I’m really grateful more brands are coming out with multiple shades of ‘nude’ and I think it’s important because representation and equality are important. Luckily, we’re in a time where businesses can’t really ignore people of color anymore. Brands and stores can open their eyes to what the world looks like!”
NEW NAMES FOR NUDES
What’s in a name? A lot! The use of the word “nude” to describe just one color - usually one that matches a light skin tone - is not acceptable. Doing so states that this is “the” nude color and others are less valued. The same goes for words like buff, suntan, naked, bare, or other words referring to skin tone.
Toya Gavin, Esq., Founder at legally-bold. com and toyagavinlaw.com says, “Even the brands catering to people of color use terms like caramel and coffee which can play into colorism, too. I think to stay above the fray, a brand might want to be more creative. Or follow Fenty Beauty and just start using numbers to represent shades.”
Commonly referred to as a leader in inclusion, Savage X Fenty, uses a combination of “nude” and words on their site with colors like “Honey Nude”, “Dessert Nude”, and “Brown Sugar Nude” to describe some of their t-shirt bra colors. An Edited.com article claims that “nudes and skin colors currently make up 19% of the Savage X Fenty range retailing on the US site, including some recent additions”. Cosabella, on the other hand, does use numbers to describe their Soire line of neutral colors, but in Italian! Both on brand, and inclusive.
Several other brands, like Kala, use words such as Indus, Komodo, or Denali to describe the different neutral tones of their bras. While these brands are taking steps, some are still calling one light tone “nude”. It’s clear that the lingerie industry is still navigating the space between naming the old nudes and the new neutrals.
WOMEN OF COLOR CREATORS
One way to make sure a brand understands that needs of people of color is to look for those created by people of color! Brands like Nubian Skin and Savage X Fenty, for example, were created by women of color who know first hand the needs, struggles, and desires of those traditionally left out of the marketplace. Their lines reflect these needs and offer a variety of skin tone options!