Behind The Scenes Intimate Wisdom Tomima Unplugged Women's Lingerie

When ‘Nude’ is Not Nude: Skin Tones in Lingerie

What’s in a name? A lot, according to a new company called Nubian Skin. It has the stated mission of selling lingerie for women of color that more closely matches their skin tones. They’re basing this on the concept that ‘nude’ bras are matched to Caucasian skin color.

In reality, nude lingerie comes in a variety of colors, ranging from very light to very dark, and HerRoom has always carried a broad selection.  In fact some brands offer at least 4 or 5 nude colors to accommodate various skin tones. One brand’s ‘nude’ is another brand’s ‘sand.’   It wasn’t so long ago the lingerie was offered in 2 basic colors–white and black–matching no one’s skin at all. Then came a color explosion in the marketplace–everything from neon green to midnight blue to fuchsia. I think of the concept of nude more as a way to distinguish flesh-like colors from shades like red, black, blue and the hundreds of hues lingerie manufacturers offer.

"Your Skin has the Power to Protect You," 2008, is a work from Hank Willis Thomas's "Unbranded" series.

“Your Skin has the Power to Protect You,” 2008, is a work from Hank Willis Thomas’s “Unbranded” series.

As anyone who has ever bought stockings knows, manufacturers have dozens of names for colors that approximate skin tones.  Is your skin beige, sand, bronze, taupe, ivory, pearl, or any of a dozen words brands use to describe something like flesh color?  If your skin is zombie white, does ‘nude’ mean the same thing to you as it does to a deeply tanned women or an African American woman? Of course not. Some manufacturers are addressing this by not offering a color called ‘nude’ at all.  Some have offered five or more skin tones in the past, but the selection gets winnowed down by market forces–sales dictate what colors stay in any given line: the best sellers stay, the rest disappear. Whether we think that’s fair or not, it’s the reality.

Does the industry’s use of ‘nude’  as a color to describe lighter flesh colors indicate a  bias? Yes. But does that mean there are not hundreds of bras to match the spectrum of flesh tones in the country? No.


But let me put it out there to you:

•    Should manufacturers be more sensitive to color naming?

•    Do names like ‘damask neutral’ or ‘walnut’ help you better get a sense of what a color looks like?

•    Would no longer having a category called ‘nude’ make it harder for you to search for skin-tone lingerie?

•    Do you care whether your bra is called nude, ivory or toast as long as it’s the right color?

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  • Reply
    September 30, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    As long as you can “see” the color first, it’s O.K.

  • Reply
    Robert C
    September 30, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    This is really an interesting conversation. It may take time for people to adjust to searching for ‘sand’ instead of ‘nude’ but I think the fact that these conversations are happening is a really important step in the right direction. Although, as you said, brands represented on already use a wide variety of vocabulary. Responsible brands and companies are constantly evaluating their social impact and approachability. I think brands that make the choice to go away from the single-shade ‘nude’ are wise to do so.

  • Reply
    Kit Lee
    October 23, 2014 at 9:58 am

    The word “nude” to describe underwear and make-up has bothered me forever, and I’m not a fan of it. Since I started listing bras on eBay a few years ago, it downright makes me cringe to see it used so much. There are times when that is what the brand calls it, and for the sake of searchability, I go ahead and use it. but I really dislike it.

    I’m just glad to see the conversation on this happening.

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