Brown Is the New Nude

Last summer, a lace dress was my must-have. After an exhaustive search, I finally found a lace dress winner. Five days later, my online order arrived and my excitement went into rewind when I saw this otherwise perfect dress’ hideous tan lining.

I returned it to the store and noticed that the despicable tan lining was on most of the other lace dresses. The Sales Associate (SA) explained that the lining was SKIN-colored to give the dress a transparent look.

 Years ago, I was shopping at Nordstrom at the Galleria in Dallas for coffee colored pantyhose [Aside: I had a job with a horrible boss who required me to wear pantyhose.  After being sent home twice for disregarding her rule, I grudging complied with her insane request. I’m glad that pantyhose, are no longer fashionable or expected, except that Kate Middleton is trying to ruin that trend]. Anyway, quality coffee-colored pantyhose were next to impossible to find. I complained to the manager. Her reply: “We really only stock SKIN tone colors, so we don’t expect them to order more brown.”

 Last fall, I started searching for nude shoes — the goal: shoes that matched the color of my skin to give me that long-legged look. I explained the look I was going for to my favorite shoe SA and asked her to bring me all the nude shoes she had with at least a four-inch heel. She came back with TAN and beige shoes.

 On Facebook, a page for a movement that campaigns for manufacturers to produce more brown bras received over 3,000 likes. This campaign was covered in the news and many fashionista bloggers have written about it as well. [Aside: In case you didn’t know, brown girls look terrible in nude bras. Yet nude bras are always plentiful — especially at sales.]

 Just like Crayola ditched the peachy color “flesh” back in 1961, fashion has got to ditch “Nude” as a term to define skin tone. It seems that the industry thinks this label applies to ONE skin tone, a color shared by maybe 9% of the world’s population. We can’t allow them to define skin’s color in one way. If nude is skin-colored, then there are hundreds of nudes – and they include brown.

 Needless to say I never found a lace dress last year, but at least now they are coming in a greater variety of colors, so I’ll probably start that search again.

 But recently I finally stumbled upon the perfect pair of NUDE shoes. And they are just my color.

Me - in my new nude shoes

The One Thing That Can Kill My Shopping Buzz

It feels like racial profiling to me. Admittedly, it’s absolutely nothing compared to the random stop and searches so many black and Latino men go through. Meaningless compared to the dangers of Driving While Black. But nonetheless, I feel targeted and disrespected. I’m talking about people assuming that I work in the store when I’m there to shop. It’s late January — the end of the sale season so I’m fresh off the circuit, newly questioned and bristling about it.

I realize that this happens often to other people and it’s not related to race. I saw a recent article on things that black people mistake for racism, but shouldn’t. And  this was on that list. My argument is that it happens too frequently and only in certain stores for me to think that my race doesn’t play any part in the assumption that I’m in the store to serve.

Mind you, I have nothing against being a salesgirl. I often dream of quitting my job and moving to Paris to be a shopgirl and live a simple, yet fashionable life. Nothing wrong with the department store hustle, my problem is with the blanket assumption that I’m doing it.

Like once in Bloomingdales, a woman thrusted an item at me and asked me to put it on hold. When I told her I didn’t work there, she said, quite sensibly, Oh, but you aren’t wearing a coat! Right, bitch. I was trying on a dress.

At Barney’s I’ve been asked if an incredibly cute color-block dress as available in green.  Once in Neiman Marcus, a little girl ran up and asked whether the item she was holding was on sale. I question why she would ask me. She pointed at her mom across the store and said, She told me to ask you.

One time in Saks, a bewildered-looking man asked me to start a dressing room for his wife. I said I don’t work here — with an attitude. He flushes with embarrassment and stammers, I’m so sorry! It’s just that you’re holding so many clothes. We both had to laugh at that one. Pass granted.

It’s never happened to me at Macy’s or Century 21 or H&M or Target. It’s always Saks, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdales or Barney’s. And it’s never happened in Bergdorf. Perhaps because I don’t look nearly polished enough to work there.

I’ve shared this complaint with other people. My white friends assure me that it also happens to them. My black friends run the gambit. Some suggest that I keep it all in stride, it’s no big deal. Others get completely off topic, asking why I’m in those stores, or suggesting that I should be shopping at a black-owned business anyway.

I’ve been developing a mentoring relationship with a senior-ranking African-American business professional and recently we had a conversation about assumptions. He described similar experiences — being with his CEO (an older white man) and people assuming he’s the driver. Driving around in his black Mercedes and people thinking he’s a car service? Entering a room for a meeting and people directing him to fix the projector.

He’s in the “take it all in stride camp.” His technique is to quickly redirect people. For example, when entering a room with his boss, he confidently steps forward and begins to introduce himself, so no one will make assumptions about why he’s there. He contends that it saves others the embarrassment of making bad assumptions.

But I’m not really interested in making them feel more comfortable. I want to feel more comfortable. I’ve decided that the next time I’m standing at the counter (on the side without the register), waiting to pay for my dress and someone hands me a credit card, I’m going to take that credit card and not even thank them for the gift.

Talking funny in Bali

The funniest things I heard during my recent trip to Bali, Indonesia:

Uluwatu, Bali

1. “They act like all us white people look alike.”  Frustrated Australian tourist to her friend in a huff about Balinese tour guides.

2. “You’re from America? Like Bob Marley!” A clearly confused waiter to me who laughed goodnaturedly when I explained that Bob was from Jamaica, a totally different country.

3. “Sweetie, come meet this lady, she talks funny.” Australian father yelled to his daughter after meeting me at the pool bar. Later, his wife says to me,“I’m glad you’re talking to my husband because I’m not. I’m mad at him. ” Weird2.

4. “Do you know Justin Bieber?” Pre-teen to me after finding out I was from New York.

5. “I love King Lebron! I LOVE this game!” Taxi driver to me about the NBA. Unfortunately, I devastated him by breaking the news of the Dallas sweep over the Lakers not knowing that the game played the night before hadn’t yet aired in Bali.

6. “You have brown skin, just like me.” Balinese woman said to me, in wide-eyed wonder after offering me a massage.

7. “Is your hair original?” Hotel clerk to me when complimenting my hair.

8. “And this is our cat shit coffee. We do wash it first.” Coffee plantation tour guide says to me after offering me luwak coffee.

9. “I don’t understand how to make you happy, Miss Tina. Do you want low price or good quality?” My driver to me after I first complained about the high prices at one silver jewelry store and then the low quality and lack of originality at the second, cheaper store.