Photo on Pexels by Suzy Hazelwood
By Deanna Ronson
What color is “nude?” It sounds like a funny question, doesn’t it? However, one of the first things that I learned when I started working in the fashion and beauty industry is that the color “nude” does not mean the same thing for everyone.
When working with fashion models, I would ask that they arrive on set with “flesh-colored” shoes and undergarments; that is, items that would match their skin color. Flesh-colored shoes and pantyhose or tights help to create the illusion of a longer leg, while a similar shade of undergarment will not be as obvious under sheer clothing. Finding these wasn’t always an easy task for our Black models, as many brands limited their “flesh-colored” undergarments to “nude,” i.e. beige, rather than including shades of caramel, mocha, and umber.
If you were to go into a store a decade ago and ask for a “nude” shade of shoes, bras, or pantyhose, you would be directed to styles that mostly featured multiple tones of “beige.” The word “nude” evokes thoughts of Caucasian skin.
Thankfully, in the last few years, some fashion and beauty brands have made progress by including more “flesh-toned” products. There are now a few lingerie brands that cater to women of color. Brands such as Nubian Skin and Nude Barre (both owned by Black women) feature bras, panties, and hose in at least 12 shades, from ivory to ebony.
It’s wonderful that these brands exist, but the market is still lacking. Consumers need to demand diversity from major brands like Victoria’s Secret and Hanes that only have four to eight shades of “nude” for their clothing.
In the last three or four years, the cosmetics industry has made strides to expand foundation shades for people of color. Whereas many brands used to carry an average of 12 shades suitable for Caucasian skin with a couple dark colors thrown in, several drug-store brands such as CoverGirl, NYX, and Maybelline now carry 40 to 45 shades of foundation. A few luxury brands such as Dior, Lancôme, and Estée Lauder each carry 40+ shades. Fenty, which was launched by Rihanna in 2017, now offers 50 shades of foundation! Most of these brands with over 40 shades have an equal balance between light and dark shades.
Why is diversity in cosmetics important? For one, women want to see themselves represented in the products they buy. Second, women who wear makeup shouldn’t have to buy two or three shades of product to mix up something that will match their skin, or not be able to find a foundation that’s even close to being dark enough to match their skin. Women shouldn’t have to go to great lengths to find a product that works for them.
When it comes to editorial fashion and beauty, we’ve definitely seen more expanded diversity in the last decade. There are more BIPOC models now. There are also models with disabilities such as Down’s syndrome, and other conditions such as albinism, vitiligo, and more, who have been breaking huge barriers.
It’s so refreshing to see transgender and plus-sized models grace the covers of high-fashion magazines because again, consumers want to see themselves represented. The diversity is there, but what about inclusivity? We need the standard 6’, size 0 Caucasian model-call to no longer be standard. We need diverse models to be the norm, and not simply a token addition to the runway or the cover of a magazine. We also need more inclusion at the top — more BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and persons with disabilities to fill roles in fashion design, marketing, and production.
What can consumers do to help? One powerful tool that we can use is social media. Users of social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook have been instrumental in calling out brands that have made huge missteps.
Who remembers the uproar when Tarte’s Shape Tape foundation was first released in 2018? Social media users were quick to take the brand to task for its release of just 15 shades, with only three shades suitable for darker-skinned individuals. A year later, Tarte released their Face Tape foundation in 50 shades, with an even balance of light and dark shades. In December 2018, Gucci faced a huge online backlash when it launched a turtleneck sweater that resembled blackface. Burberry, Zara, and H&M are some other brands that have been in the news recently for offensive merchandising.
All of these brands responded quickly to the thousands of online comments and petitions and pulled the offensive material from stores. But that raises the question: How did these items ever make it to market in the first place? Was it a team of privileged white executives that made the call? This is why inclusiveness in the workplace is important.
It’s a shame that some brands have to be pushed to become more inclusive. Consumers are demanding change and brands will either have to adapt or flounder. Especially in light of the global rallying cry of last year’s Black Lives Matter movement, the need for brands to stay relevant is more important now than ever.