Black and white are no longer the only safe bets for shoe color—there’s a new neutral in town. The shade of neutral that’s in right now actually isn’t all that new. It’s a color that has long been associated with the sensible imitation-leather loafers one’s grandmother might have worn.
Some call it off-white, skin tone or nude; Crayola might call it almond or apricot. The color has been on the market for years, but as of late, designers and celebrities are breathing new life into the inherently bland neutral and assigning it to stylish, in-season shoes—promoting it to a high-fashion staple.
“It’s totally the red-carpet shoe right now,” says Jill Stapleton, owner of She She Shoes in Los Gatos. Stapleton has her shelves currently stocked with neutral-colored shoes, in every style from a simple flat to a summery wedge sandal, at pretty much every price point. Though the styles are different, the color remains almost the same across the board: desaturated shades of tan and brown.
There are so many colors, and even patterns, that can be considered “neutral” in fashion—Stacy and Clinton from What Not to Wear once asserted that animal prints can function as a neutral in an ensemble, and up until now, metallics have been the neutral of choice for shoes and accessories. While other light browns are rising in popularity this summer, the shade that’s showing up again and again is neutral distilled to its very essence—almost a non-color, a stark, pale nude.
“It goes with everything,” Stapleton says. “It elongates the leg, because it matches skin tones.” When worn with dresses, the transition between the leg and the neutral shoe can look seamless on a quick glance. A shoe in a darker color can appear to abruptly cut off a light-colored leg at the ankle.
A neutral shoe’s most appealing function is that it keeps bold, bright colors, like the ones in style this summer, in check by ensuring that the wearer doesn’t overload an ensemble with color. A neutral shoe also complements this summer’s popular floral prints well, whether they’re in an eye-popping tropical pattern or dainty and muted. It’s a color that can make a statement in virtually every style of shoe, from a simple flat or slip-on to a satin-draped stiletto, simply by letting the rest of the outfit speak for itself.
As Stapleton suggests, neutral-toned shoes in dressier styles have become a must for red-carpet walkers, especially for Kim Kardashian, who has made the most of their lengthening abilities by capping off her legs in a pair of open-toe patent heels at more than one awards show.
Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift have also matched a neutral sandal or heel with an above-the-knee skirt on the red carpet recently, and model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley has popped up at premieres all over the world in neutral heels and lace-up booties. Neutral shoes were also all over this April’s Royal Wedding; even the queen worked a pair of nude pumps with a low heel. (Princess Kate, however, tends to opt for black).
The style is winning with women of all ages. Stapleton says that younger women tend to buy it in a platform, where more mature women go for flats. “Usually with trends, it’s the style that becomes the trend,” says Stapleton. “This is the first time I’ve seen a color be a trend.”