Designer Naeem Khan described a dress worn by Michelle Obama as a "nude strapless gown." Nude? For whom? In a similar vein, the Associated Press called Mrs. O's dress color "flesh," and a newspaper editor asked, "Whose flesh?"
According to the AP article by Samantha Critchell, the description was revised to "champagne." In December 2008, we tackled this issue when Lucky magazine had a feature on nude leather shoes. Since then, the trend — of light beige, tan, or peachy-colored footwear and clothing — has only grown. And with it, the dilemma of what to call this stuff.
Gale Epstein, co-founder of lingerie brand Hanky Panky, says, "We talk of nude now, and there is no one color. It's politically incorrect." Her brand has a collection of "neutrals," including "sand," "honey," "suntan" and "taupe." ("Suntan" is as relative as "nude," though, no?) Designer Pamella Roland, best known for her evening wear, also treats nude as a broad color category. "Nudes are a group of elegant shades, but there are a lot of specific shades," she says. "I can't describe a single specific color for nude." And yet — either because of the dictionary definition, because of the Pantone color, or because of the racial majority in this country, it's pretty much agreed upon that "nude" is a specific color, and that color is light beige, "the color of a white person's flesh." Those of us with skin darker than "nude" have realized how non-inclusive the color is — from Band-aids to pantyhose to bras — for years. But thanks to the browning of America — and an African-American First Lady — once-standard enthnocentric terms only questioned by the few are increasingly rejected by all.