Browned Off: Why you’ll never find me wearing brown

— by Judy Rumbold



Camel, fawn, buff, stone, mocha – there are countless ways to disguise the colour brown, but no one’s fooling me. Dress it up any way you like – and I admire you, Giorgio Armani, Max Mara, Marni and the rest for your world-class brownsmanship – but, to me, it will always be the colour that ruined my adolescence. I grew up in the Seventies, the dun-coloured decade, and the sartorial scars run deep.

Most of the damage was done in 1975, in the communal changing rooms at Richard Shops. On Saturday afternoons, the air would be thick with desperation and a noxious cocktail of Charlie and Tramp eau de parfum liberally applied in Woolworths, as my friends and I plotted how best to ensnare boys at the youth club disco. Things were feral and unenlightened in my Birmingham suburb, and success depended on one thing. Or rather two. Breasts – and I didn’t have any. With little else to offer – I had the wrong hair, I was too tall, my skin was cratered with spots – it was left to clothes to do the heavy-lifting on my behalf… and brown let me down badly.

Looking back on photographic evidence of the era – scowling, gawky me in an acrylic striped tank top and flappy-collared floral shirt, all in shades of tan, rust and mustard, with eyebrows plucked to near oblivion – it’s clear that the Seventies were ravaged by a perfect storm of ugly colours, bad styling and horrendous detail. Partly to blame was the rise in popularity of the synthetic fabrics that crammed the rails at our favourite shops, Van Allan, Chelsea Girl and C&A. Crimplene, Nylon, Terylene and a static-heavy swathe of Poly-mixes may have made for easy laundering, but as a result, nuances of colour and texture were summarily eradicated. Brown as a desirable colour was, literally, hung out to dry.

Still, is it any surprise the UK was a predominantly brown-clothed nation, when, in fact, the whole mood of the country was distinctly drab? The miners’ strike, power cuts, winters of discontent, three-day weeks, dirty protests: little wonder the angry, disappointed Seventies produced a palette rarely encountered outside the walls of a sewage recycling facility.

But shouldn’t I have got over it by now? It’s not as if countless gorgeous browns in dreamily natural fibres aren’t readily available. Part of me almost longs for that stage of sartorial maturity that comes with a proper camel coat and a grown-up tan handbag. Still, an insurmountable mental block remains: brown is not for me. I can’t have it in my life. It is, perhaps, karma for all the wildly insulting things I’ve said about it over the years that I now live in the countryside, pretty much surrounded by brown. To say my antipathy towards the colour is triggered on a daily basis is no exaggeration. Rural life is awash with waxed jackets, earthy corduroy, and don’t get me started on tweed. To me, Tweed will always be the Lenthéric scent worn by my tyrannical and sadistic domestic science teacher back in 1976. Like my protracted brown-aversion, the whiff of it rising above the smell of burnt sausage rolls was insistent, all-pervading and had a habit of lingering…



Judy Rumbold is a freelance writer and journalist and new TNMA contributor. 



Tempting browns for the Seventies-scarred:


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