Formerly shorthand for all things bland, beige now brings a soothing sense of respite.
“What’s with all this otherworldly iridescence?” a friend texted me after the Fall 2018 runway shows had wrapped. She’d noticed an abundance of spacey, oil-slick-effect garments at the Sies Marjan, Maison Margiela and Balmain shows and was hoping her fashion bellwether (me) could explain their existence. Right away I thought, “Because we all want to get off this planet!”
One of fashion’s powers is its ability to take the temperature of our collective mood and manifest it as a wearable statement. From excessive ’80s power dressing symbolizing an upswing in economic prosperity to last year’s popular political slogan tees worn as a response to civil unrest, it seems that very often we are what we wear.
At the Spring 2019 shows, I was expecting an examination of where we wanted to be six months down the line, and that place was a sandy vista that seemed to say “Hey, chill out for a sec.” Like a calming sound bath for the eyes, colours like beige (a name that hails from a French word used to describe the colour of undyed wool), tan, khaki, ecru and fawn created the soothing spectrum of the season.
On some runways, this wasn’t a surprise. Max Mara’s favouritism toward neutrals speaks to the brand’s mastery of garments that are elevated but also have a sense of ease. Chloé designer Natacha Ramsay-Levi often employs a pared-down palette to embody the chilled-out earth mother sensibility her bougie meets boho customer longs for. And Burberry is, of course, known for its sensible tan-coloured trench coats, which were introduced during another historical time of duress: WWI.
Other brands used neutrals to give their Spring 2019 collections a new dynamic. Miu Miu, typically known for its offbeat colourways and outré sensibility, used the mild hues with unexpected aplomb. Alexis Honce, stylist and on-air style expert for The Marilyn Denis Show, notes that the brand’s collection included “an ecru dress made of sequins, which was refreshing and fun.” Honce adds that the idiosyncratic styling of these pieces—with white ribbed tights and prim Mary Janes—will likely win over Miu Miu’s quirky devotees and expand fashion fans’ perception of the shade.
In his debut collection for Burberry, Italian designer Riccardo Tisci relied so heavily on beige that it’s actually worth noting. (Tisci far preferred the darker end of the colour spectrum when he made a name for himself creating intricate, ultra-luxe looks for the house of Givenchy.) From demure pleated skirts to amply proportioned trousers to a sumptuously silky take on the classic Burberry trench, the pieces were arresting in their simplicity and signalled a strong sense of self-possession.
“It’s kind of the ultimate statement of who you are, to wear beige and still be noticed,” says Alison Matthews David, an associate professor at Ryerson University’s School of Fashion in Toronto. She highlights how Kim Kardashian, a Tisci muse, typically slinks around in neutrals, simultaneously discreet and utterly visible. (Another of Kardashian’s favourite brands, Balmain, went neutral this season, too.)
Neutral pieces rely on the construction of the garments themselves—there are no colourful or print-based bells and whistles to distract from shoddy textiles or lacklustre design elements. Aside from colour, the connection between Max Mara’s coveted coats and Burberry’s iconic trench is their elegant, effortless silhouettes and luxurious fabrications. This can also be seen in the slouchy camel-coloured suit offered by New York-based designer Adam Lippes as well as in the dun-hued diaphanous frocks at Christian Dior. “We live in such a surveillance society that we’re aware of being constantly on the radar now in one way or another,” says Matthews David. “In a way, this idea of being unobservable might be pretty appealing.”
Once a less-desirable colouration for clothing (Matthews David notes that in the mid-19th century, wearing neutral-hued clothing signified you couldn’t afford dyed pieces), neutrals now evoke an enticing feeling of relaxation while still appearing polished. Some people might mistake beige as being aesthetically boring, but an examination of the array of neutral options this season reveals their undeniable sense of sophistication and serenity.
The palette is also a natural (ahem) partner to other currently trendy movements. “Raw beauty, natural and organic products—beige gives a colour to that lifestyle, and Instagrammers are loving it,” notes Honce. She points to social media stars like Song of Style and Livia Auer as enviable neutral-adopters and adds that more celebrities are getting into the biscuit frame of mind, employing the hue to shun the glitz of the red carpet. Constance Wu’s elegant sand-coloured Vera Wang gown from this year’s Golden Globe Awards proved that soft can also be strong.
Even if you’re not an influencer, turning to neutrals this season can provide a bit of respite. Maybe we aren’t able to blast off the planet just yet, but at least we can hit the metaphorical “pause” button for a minute.