I really wanted to wear nude shoes on my wedding day. I was initially torn between nude and leopard, but I decided on nude. Specifically closed-toe, not-patent, actually comfortable nude shoes. I also knew that finding them was going to be a challenge. When you’re not white, your definition of nude (or the medical-sounding flesh-colored), is not the same as everyone else’s.
Several different times last year, I searched online for hours, or went shopping, with no luck. I found dozens of gorgeous silhouettes that I loved… but none in the right color. I did have good luck finding beautiful ivory shoes that would work in a pinch (wearing a color that isn’t even trying to match my skin tone makes more sense to me than trying to fool everyone into thinking peach shoes were actually nude shoes on me), but they weren’t what I wanted. I was even willing to spend a lot of money—I figured if I found my mythical nude shoes at this point, I would be wise to make the investment—but I couldn’t find what I was looking for at any price point.
One day last summer, Eric and I went shopping. I told him
I wanted to find my wedding shoes. They would be nude, closed-toe, preferably pointy. Not patent leather. Actually comfortable—Jessica Simpson would be ideal, as those are the heels that were so comfortable I was able to run in them when I was a fashion intern. We went to a Dillard’s I had never been to, and there I saw them: Jessica Simpson heels. Pointy toe. Not patent leather. Without contrasting wooden heels. In a shade that many would call brown, but that I would call nude.
It’s hard to explain why I was so excited about this. They’re just shoes, right? Well, no, they’re not. When you have spent months saying to the designers of the world, “Here, take my money!” and essentially heard them say, “Er…no thanks, we’d rather not,” then they are more than just shoes. They are validation that you exist. We’ve all looked for those unicorn-esque clothes or accessories that just don’t seem to exist outside of our heads or at our price point, but it’s different when you know that the reason you cannot find them is because you’re “Other.”
It wasn’t just about the shoes; it was about the multiple “nude” fashion and beauty items that I’ve wanted throughout my life. Nude bras. Nude nail polish. Nude lip gloss. Concealer. Goddamn Band-Aids. Most companies have just one color of “nude,” a color that certainly won’t work perfectly for every white woman, but that will likely not work for any black or brown woman. Only recently have a few companies started producing products in multiple shades of “nude,” and they aren’t common. (Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for the day when beauty editors stop raving about products that “makeup artists swear by!” that only come in one color, and that color is “white girl.”)
I held my breath as we waited to find out if they had the shoes in my size. When I slipped them on and they disappeared against my skin, “creating the illusion of long legs”—a phrase that I’ve been seeing in fashion magazine articles about nude shoes (for white girls) for the past five years—I was thrilled. I bought them immediately and I love putting them on (though I sadly don’t do it often, because what if something happens to them?).
When we talk about “white privilege,” this is what we’re talking about. Shoes. Bras. Hair stylists when you’re having a morning wedding three hours from the only person you let touch your hair. Foundation. Goddamn Band-Aids. “Privilege” is something complicated enough for miles of academic essays, but also as simple as this: nude shoes. Flesh color. Feeling like the capitalists out there know you exist.
Or, in a surprising turn of events, God bless Jessica Simpson.