Women of colour have always had trouble finding the right underwear for their skin shade. Is a new brand about to change that?
If you’re not a person of colour in the UK, you may not have noticed that nude clothing and underwear, which is supposed to reflect skin tone, is usually restricted to a light-beige hue. This issue extends to plasters, “nude” makeup palettes and “skin-coloured” crayons, all of which are far more likely to reflect white skin tones than brown ones.
It’s not that there are no brands that cater to brown women, more that they lack visibility and haven’t reached the mass market. Nubian Skin, a company founded in 2014 that has recently had its range taken on by House of Fraser, is attempting to “redefine nude”, with four shades of underwear and hosiery for darker skin tones.
And it isn’t the only one. At least two other brands sell nude-for-all hosiery, including Own Brown and Bianca Miller. You might remember Miller from The Apprentice – she made it to the final, only for Lord Sugar to turn down her business in favour of a digital marketing agency. Her tights are now sold in Selfridges.
But what is the underwear and hosiery like to wear? As a teenager, I remember being asked to wear “skin-coloured” tights to an event; I was so embarrassed by the pair I was forced to put on. They turned my brown skin milky pink. Within a few hours, I went to the toilets and ripped them off, stuffing my shame into the sanitary towel bin.
It’s hard enough for white women to find nude lingerie that looks natural, and surely the variety of black skin tones in the UK is greater than the four to which Nubian Skin caters or the five darker-skin shades Bianca Miller offers?
Ade Hassan, the founder of Nubian Skin, says the laborious process of “finding the perfect shades” took roughly a year. “It even involved me boiling some of the colours I wasn’t satisfied with in massive pots of tea and coffee at various strengths to get the perfect colour,” she says.
To see if my scepticism can be cured, I decide to try some of the products for myself. Since I’m mixed race, I order the lightest, “cafe au lait” shade of products from Nubian Skin, and “latte” and “caramel” tights from Bianca Miller.
The Miller tights are too dark (perhaps I should have gone for “sand”), and, as soon as it arrives, I can see that the underwear from Nubian Skin – while high-quality and a lot closer to my skin tone than anything else I’ve seen – is also far too brown for my complexion. Under a sheer-white dress, the nude bra stands out almost as badly as a black bra. What’s more, at £29 to £39 a pop, the price point is another reminder of the unfairness of the nude underwear situation.
However, it turns out that the tights Hassan spent so long on are a different matter – they’re perfect in shade. So perfect, in fact, that I prance around in them and show off my legs to my faintly amused housemates, who confirm that they look natural.
While the products are a mixed bag, the development of brands such as Nubian Skin is definitely a step in the right direction, filling a niche in the market that is tinged with racial tension. Arguably, darker skin tones haven’t been catered for in the western world because, historically, the worth of people of colour as consumers hasn’t been recognised. Unfortunately, it’s going to be slow process to fully change this.