It’s official. Beige is the new black or, should I say, the new bland. Once an outlier on the Pantone charts, the non-descript neutral-turned-modern day insult has become fashion’s latest darling. The question is, why?
After all, camel is considered; nude is sexy; cappuccino and biscuit are cosy; bisque and ecru are downright exotic. But beige? Beige, is, well, beige.
In a world of Insta-viduals living their truths and being their authentic selves, beige is seriously off-brand. According to the Urban Dictionary, beige is the embodiment of the Average Joe - an inoffensive, conventional, status quo lover; someone who doesn’t stray from the pack, who experiences life’s colour through the lens of others. Beige, in a word, is basic.
Fashion, as a rule, doesn’t do basic, unless it looks super luxe (sustainable silk cargo pants, anyone?), expensively ironic or in the case of Gucci’s bejewelled dad sneaker-come-hiking boot – a combination of the two. Whether an egalitarian exercise in paving the path of least resistance or a reflection of the industry’s unique ability to rescue and reissue marginalised styles, the memo is clear – beige is the new and improved normal.
For spring/summer 19, fashion houses assumed a collective stance on neutrality. Dior’s blush-toned ballerinas, Balmain’s ode to `80s Paris and Stella McCartney’s upscale utility wear all bore evidence of beige; even Tom Ford proved partial to the impartial. Although not unusual in and of itself, might this be more of a tactic than a trend?
Think about it: If fashion is an index of change, then in times of global uncertainty (hard borders, Brexit, government shutdowns), it makes sense to play it safe. Pinning one’s proverbial colours to the mast can have iffy financial consequences if that mast doesn’t sell.
A non-partisan aesthetic makes for good business, particularly in the wake of 2018 when fashion got ‘woke’. According to The Business of Fashion, social media activism and watch dogs like @DietPrada (the Instagram account that airs the fashion industry’s dirty laundry) called out brands on missteps from cultural appropriation to a lack of diversity, in turn, calling reputations (and profit margins arguably) into question.
Beige, on the other hand, takes no sides. Perhaps this is why Meghan Markle sported the head-to-toe hue, most recently, when visiting Mayhew, an animal rescue centre in London, of which she is patron.
Wearing a MAMA fine-knit dress by H&M (€27.99) with an Emporio Armani coat, Paul Andrew heels and a Stella McCartney vegan leather bag, the result was a masterclass in diplomacy. Combine high-street prices with a low-key cohate colour, sprinkle some cruelty-free references, et voila – a recipe for populist appeal.
Similarly, Lady Gaga’s evolving aesthetic is fittingly subversive in its more tempered tone. From a diaphanous taupe Christian Dior couture gown at the SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s 3rd Annual Patron of The Artists Awards last November to a beige oversized Marc Jacobs suit at ELLE’s Women in Hollywood event, the singer-turned-Oscar nominated actress’ clothing choices continues to subjugate expectations of a woman’s role in the entertainment industry.
If her iconic meat mask turned two shock value fingers up to sexual stereotyping then brandishing beige upends that paradigm, proving she cannot and will not be stereotyped.
If Stefani Germanotta is going to perform, she’ll do it on her own terms, please and thank you.
Gaga wasn’t the only one who opted for a quiet revolution. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, actresses used black as a show of solidarity on last year’s red carpets, choosing to be recognised for their body of work as opposed to just their bodies.
2019 continues this deference to discretion as beige finds its way onto the political stage.
This year’s Golden Globes saw Emma Stone and Julia Roberts lead the beige brigade in Louis Vuitton and Stella McCartney respectively with no notice-me gowns overshadowing the night’s proceedings.
That said, wearing beige is trickier than it would appear. A bit like the no-makeup look, there’s effort in making beige look effortless.
This season’s head-to-toe catwalk edicts may seem like a no-brainer but looking like human concealer never did anyone any favours. If blending in is your M.O. then, consider yourself sorted. If, however, you prefer a more nuanced look, a few ground rules apply.
When opting for tone-on-tone beige, look to tactile textures to create necessary dimension – leather, mohair, suede in varying combinations with the help of an equally flawless hair and makeup look. What it lacks in pigment, it must make up for in polish.
Too much like hard work? Use a pop of white in a crisp shirt or tee to break things up a tad adding complimentary shades to create definition and visual interest. Think of a contour palette or, indeed, a coffee menu. Toffee, nutmeg, cinnamon and latte make spicy partners to warm out what can often look washed out.
Not sure which neutral suits your colouring? Facing a mirror, hold the garment next to your cheek to see if it drains or warms your skin tone. Finally, add some metallics into the mix (an earring here, some stacked rings there) and, you’ve got yourself a solid look. For those of a more fearless disposition, the redux of neon make the mundane modern.
Pair fluro yellow or pink with this season’s cargo pants or look to saturated jewel tones like emerald and cobalt for a fresh twist on the trend.
If reinvention is part of fashion’s DNA, then perhaps it is possible to genetically modify beige’s lacklustre reputation.
As contexts shift and new orders emerge, 2019 might well be the year that the colourless colour finds new meaning.
Imagine the headline: from hackneyed hue to political power player – how beige became the voice of a new generation. If that’s the case, I’m with the bland.