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Why Do Fashion People Hate This Color?

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    Photographed by Tom Hines.

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    When two of my coworkers, whose style and sensibility I very much admire, told me last year that they "hated" brown clothes, I gave them the look of befuddlement you'd give anyone who said a nonsensical thing like, "ice cream is not delicious," or "Kanye West is an excellent fashion designer."

    My own love of brown runs so deep, it hadn't occurred to me that not only did others not necessarily share my view, but they might actually be quite opposed to the color. Maybe it's the fact that I grew up in the '90s, when grunge, the revived environmental movement, and beauty impresarios like the aptly-named Bobbi Brown (who started her empire in 1991 just to create the tawny lipsticks she couldn't find in stores) conspired to make earth tones the ultimate in cool.

    Maybe it's the fact that, like any good '90s kid, I nursed a borderline-unhealthy obsession with the '70s, when wood-paneled walls, brown shag carpet, and double-knit leisure suits were really, truly, terrifyingly a thing (and likely to be paired with orange and yellow accessories). That Miuccia Prada routinely reclaimed that '70s color palette, at once garish and glum, made me an even bigger acolyte.

    No matter how you slice it, brown is a deeply nostalgia-imbued color. So, perhaps how you feel about brown will depend on how you feel about that retro tinge. To me, it connotes a combination of comfort, camp value, coolness, and maybe just a bit of contrariness, since brown is so resolutely not pretty. But for others, those retro associations make brown feel unmodern, depressing, and drab. As I learned that day when my coworker attempted to describe her feelings about brown, only to make a face like she'd smelled a ripe Limburger or found out her Tinder date was Libertarian.

    Still, the tide now seems to be turning. After several years of revival on the runway, and the trickle-down effect at retail, camel — the pastel of the brown family, and another color once considered stodgy, boring, and bleh — is now universally acknowledged as chic. This year's Pantone color of the year, Marsala, is an unmistakeably muted, mulberry-brown. Last month, British Vogue penned an ode to brown coats worn by street style stars. And, a few months back, those two coworkers of mine traveled to Milan for fashion week, where they each bought something in a rich, chocolatey hue at the Marni store.

    Could it be time for a ground swell of love for brown? Click ahead to see how to play with every shade of the color — from tawny camels for the on-the-fence, to deep chocolate for the true believers. It just doesn't get more cozy, rich, or inviting than this.



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