I recently put together a Pinterest board featuring our examples of light-tan clothes and products described as “nude,” “skin-colored,” or “flesh-colored.” The practice erases or marginalizes people with medium or dark-colored skin by presuming that everyone’s flesh is light tan… even Michelle Obama can be a victim of this kind of insensitivity. Lil’ Kim, too!
Inspired by our older posts, I decided to check up on the Internets and see if the trend was still alive. Indeed, and alas. The first example I stumbled upon was Vera Wang’s 2012 wedding dress collection. The collection isn’t up on Wang’s website at the time I’m writing, but media outlets are consistently describing the collection as featuring “nude” and “black” dresses. The Huffington Post is one example.
I decided to go with the wedding theme. At Martha Stewart, she suggests a “powder blue and nude palette” for the ceremony and reception. Project Wedding had many examples of nude clothing and other items. Finally, Belle had a collection of “nude” wedding shoes.
To reiterate, calling this color “nude” reminds us all that light-skinned people are regular people and everyone else needs a modifying adjective. In addition to the many other examples of this that we encounter everyday — like lotion for “normal to darker skin,” ornaments in “bride and groom” and “African-American bride and groom,” and dolls in “dolls” and “ethnic dolls” — these instances can be constant and exhausting examples of one’s marginality.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Rachel Keslensky - Last Res0rt — May 3, 2012
Looking at a few of these headlines, I can't help but feel that these folks are trying to play off the double meaning of 'nude' here more than they are anything else...
Tom Megginson — May 3, 2012
When I saw the words "nude wedding dress" I expected one of those russian wedding disaster sites:
pduggie — May 3, 2012
We have a large number of different words for brown colors:
Burnt sienna, mahogany, brown, raw umber, tan, beige, light brown, dark brown, Sepia, chestnut, walnut, auburn, etc
We don't have a lot of words that accurately describe, and only describe, the general color of Caucasian skin.
No, 'peach', and 'white' and 'pink' don't cut it, not as a color that describes clothing.
So you need a word to tell a white woman (the majority of women in europe and america) that the clothing will probably match, or is DESIGNED to match, the color of her skin, because that's what she wants to buy (for whatever reason)
What is that word?
And if you start saying that dresses are "Caucasian" colored, that raises a whole NOTHER argument.
So propose a word.
thteyo — May 3, 2012
Am I the only one who thinks that describing the color as nude is creepy, as well as being marginalizing?
Gosh, call it champagne or something, at least.
Stephanie — May 3, 2012
Drives me nuts! Tim Gunn, who is always classy, notes in a recent Marie Claire article that it's only nude if that's the color of your skin - at least someone in the industry is fighting against it.
Laura — May 3, 2012
Reminds me of the long discussion about "America" referring to the US, and the rest of the region being called "Central" and "South America" (that are also used as if they were just one country).
Blix — May 3, 2012
What I would like to know is: who actually makes these products? If they are not light-skinned it's even weirder to call them 'nude'.
Julie — May 3, 2012
I don't know.. I tend to be really sensitive to this stuff, but the word "nude" to me just doesn't connotate a skin color. It's not my skin color, so I just kind of assume that the word "nude" applies to a large, generalized subset of the population, other than me.
It's not just a caucasion skin color and it doesn't match all caucasion skin (especially in the summer/winter). And It does match some asian skin. What's the big deal? If you say "nude" everyone knows what you're talking about. Though as someone else pointed out, I did think that the author was implying "naked"... which is what perked my interest in this article. :)
MarquisofHartington — May 3, 2012
The "nude" thing is definitely an obnoxious, racist convention, but I'm also interested in the shift toward non-white wedding dresses - especially ones incorporating black. Maybe the white wedding dress has become culturally ingrained enough to have lost its direct association with the bride's purity/virginity* (at least for a lot of people), but I've always found the convention fairly creepy because of that symbolism. I wonder if these...taupe (shall we say) dresses are the beginning of a step away from "traditional" white bridal-wear? (Or maybe this has been going on for a while, or is a totally isolated designer choice; I'm not up on my wedding fashion.)
*This may also be a somewhat sketchy interpretation of the "meaning" of white wedding dresses, historically, since they came into vogue with Queen Victoria's decision to wear one; but the white dress thing seems like a staple of "purity balls" and other virginity-scrutinizing traditions, so it definitely has the "virgin bride" connotation in lots of contexts.
Ilsa — May 3, 2012
I so appreciate this line of posts. I'm doing a workshop for high school students on deconstructing what is "normal" and am using several of these images.
Guest — May 4, 2012
I think the term "nude" is supposed to be silky and sexy more than anything else. "Fleshtone" and "skin colour" are not used nearly so often but have similar connotations. It's a poor excuse to use such a problematic terminology, but the beauty industry is hugely problematic anyway.
mimimur — May 4, 2012
makes you wonder wether the term Beige is on its way to oblivion. So unneccessary to use flesh/nude when there is a word for it already.
Racialized overtones of the word “nude” « Poems, Prayers, Promises & Politics — May 4, 2012
[...] And then along comes Sociological Images post from yesterday: “Nude,” Racial Marginalization, and the Wedding Industry [...]
Village Idiot — May 5, 2012
The models' expressions are more appropriate for attending a funeral than a wedding. Or maybe for an arranged marriage; they look as happy as a friend of mine did when her parents told her they'd put a "wanted" ad in the paper back in Singapore for her listing her academic credentials in order to attract worthy potential husbands (that was 10 years ago, she's still single and loving it).
Village Idiot — May 6, 2012
Thanks to advances in polymer technology, the first truly "nude" clothing is now technically possible and will probably be for sale at some point. A flexible, gas-permeable translucent material with the feel of fabric can be sewn into clothing that allows one's natural skin color to show through (and can be infused with a UV inhibitor to prevent sunburn). For legal reasons the parts covering anatomical features that the law requires covered can be "frosted" like the glass on some shower doors. I bet it'll be a popular trend at some point and then "nude" will finally be a viable term for describing a piece of clothing.
moionfire — May 25, 2012
I think they should just say "pale flesh/skin" or "pale nude" rather than "nude". It would save the fashion/retail industry a lot of trouble and yet still get the point across.
Vampie — November 9, 2012
I think it's at least partially because lately 'nude' became a description of a fashionable colour. Now everything which used to be beige or cream is 'nude', even in foreign languages the English word 'nude' is copied.
I noticed lately every seasonal colour gets a slightly unusual name, I guess to appear new and unique, except 'nude'. Lately it was also 'mint' and now 'burgundy'. I think there were also 'tangerine' and some others, though they turned out to be less popular, so you don't see the around around so much.
I think it's just one of fashion phenomenons, though unfortunately this name has a lot of unpleasant connotations.
Amabil Crunt — January 6, 2013
If they would say "white nude", I guess it would be OK.
Il privilegio di essere bianche, le mutande “color carne” e l’Orsa Daniza. – Un altro genere di comunicazione — September 12, 2014
[…] Il color carne, è il colore della pelle dei bianchi di questa nostra società occidentale. Raramente un prodotto “color carne” ha una variante per tutte le carni, che sia della lingerie, dei cerotti o un abito da sposa. […]