Representing or approximating skin
When I was at school the pinky-peachy colour that looked a bit like girl’s ballet shoes was labelled “flesh”.
In today’s primary schools this shade probably has another name such as “light peach”. And I have no doubt, reflecting the much greater variety of ethnic backgrounds in schools today, that there will now be a full range of skin tone pencils available to our children.
But the point of the pencil was to enable children to draw people – “My family”, “My holidays”, “Mummy”. And if you draw people you do need some skin tones. But “flesh” crayons or paints have little use outside primary school as capturing a likeness requires a wide range of shades.
However hard it is to draw or paint skin, there is a “flesh” colour for everyone. Of course you will never find one colour that exactly matches your colouring as your skin tone is made up of so many different harmonious colours. Our skin colour changes during our life, and according to the season. It also changes quite considerably if we are ill, shocked, suntanned, embarrassed or fit. Even the food we eat can affect the colour of our skin. It is a living organ, supplied by blood, able to excrete perspiration and oils, and it cannot be compared to a colour – crayons, paint, photography, print, or textiles in our clothes.
Van Gogh Self Portrait 1887
Here Van Gogh creatively uses yellow, grey-blue, brown, white, green, red and pink to give an idea, an approximation, a sense of his own flesh tone.
Over the past few seasons we have seen film stars falling in love with “nude”. At very first glance the person appears to be naked, but perhaps naturally rather than sexily so.
The best effects are colours which suggest nakedness, rather than being too “in your face”. The answer is to chose a nude that complements and enhances your own natural pigments. What we are trying to do is find a shade that harmonises with the shades that are already in our skin.
I am not going to judge the choices made by the film stars at the Golden Globes. It is impossible to know what colour direction each individual has. We can only really know our natural shading if we are analysed in natural light, without make up and in reference to our natural hair and eye colour. Film stars – in films and on the red carpet – are something of a blank canvas on which the studio paints the required look. Even at award ceremonies they will have a manufactured, unnatural look. They are wear heavy make up for the cameras, and their hair colour is normally dyed. In fact it is likely that their faces and hair will be coloured to complement the dress rather than vice versa.
Done badly nude can be really unpleasant. But if you work with your natural beauty then you can look more amazing than a film star. And I believe that everyone can wear nude, but it has to harmoniously flatter their natural colouring.
Deep or Light?
Although all these nude shades look like a pair of tights I am just trying to show that whatever your skin tone there is a better nude colour. Although many black women obviously have deep colouring many nude shades are unflattering on them. Marks and Spencer do tights in Cocoa which, I believe, are far preferable. They are actually a dark brown and I wear them with dark brown shoes rather than ubiquitous black tights.
Cool or Warm?
If your skin includes cooler, bluer shades your nude will be pinker. And conversely warmer colouring will suit a more yellowed nude.
Bright or Muted?
Again if you know your primary colour direction you could use that to determine your nude. A Bright complexion can wear a fairly strong peach or pink, whereas a Muted complexion would look better in a slightly greyed off pink.
Virtual colour analysis
Now I am going to have a go at guessing the colour direction of a singer in the public eye, Leona Lewis.I think she looks her best in Bright shades. She has a clear, dazzling complexion, and looks gorgeous in strong turquoise, bright purple, red, black and white. She also looks really great in a well fitted jacket.
For the Grammy awards, somehow, a stylist has persuaded her to follow fashion, and have a go at wearing a revealing nude dress. Below she appears in nude and her skin just looks unhealthy and dirty against a beige-nude dress. The shape of the dress is wrong too. Even gorgeous, rich, famous people get it wrong sometimes. Is there a better approach to nude dressing?
Not a good nude for Leona Lewis (at the Grammys)
A different approach
Nudes can be very nice, and actually the Warm Lighter skinned ladies are really flattered by the light peachy pinks of my old school pencil.
But for other colour directions I think it may be best to look for elements of your skin colour and go for something a bit more off piste. So if your Warm is Deep then browns could work nicely. And if you are a Bright Warm then gold will look beautiful. But these shades are not colours that flatter a Cooler complexion, where the hair, skin and lips have a bluish undertone. Here the nude that looks best maybe a cool pink, but it could also be a cool light yellow, or a cool neutral like stone, light beige or grey.
If you want to wear nude colours think about suggesting nudity, or reflect an aspect of your skin colour, rather than being drawn to the primary school pencil shade. Don’t reach for the obvious – something that has the word “flesh” or “nude” written on the label. Your best nude could be deep brown, purple, light grey, icy pink or yellow. The idea of the nude dress, for me, is to enhance and amplify the shades in your skin rather than a shade someone has designed to reproduce generic flesh.