Chances are you’re familiar with millennial pink, Gen Z yellow, and their trendy cousin, lilac. But this summer’s other big color isn’t a bright pastel—or even a color at all, really. In varying shades of chocolate, beige, whiskey, cinnamon, rust, and everything in between, brown is everywhere: It’s on the Jacquemus runway, warming up tiny slip dresses and falling-off sarongs; it’s on the tawny prairie skirts and block-printed blouses at brands like Ulla Johnson, Nani Pani, and Apiece Apart; it’s on the beach, where neutral maillots are replacing ostentatious neon bikinis; it’s even in the wicker baskets filled with baguettes that women carry around the farmers’ market, and it’s in the natural, barely tinted beauty products they put on their skin. Scroll through Los Angeles brand Dôen’s Instagram page, and the whole feed is practically sepia-tone: Against backdrops of grassy fields and rocky beaches, its “collective” of women look completely at ease in their ochre floral dresses, billowing taupe blouses, tobacco cardigans, and wavy, air-dried hair. Some of the girls are in New York or Los Angeles, while others are in the countryside picking roses—the ideal activity for this genre of clothing. In a recent Fall 2018 photoshoot, a model even wore a plaid dress to feed a baby cow.
Those photos feel just as aspirational as the glossy, airbrushed stuff we’re used to seeing, if not more so, because the earthy trend is about more than just clothes. It’s a feeling and a mood: Even if you’re stuck at the office, you can channel the blissed-out vibes of a weekend upstate if you’re dressed accordingly. A free-flowing dress or rustic floral blouse suggests something about your lifestyle, too—that you eat organic greens, you make your own flower arrangements, you take care of your skin, and you enjoy a good porch swing. As trendy as those activities are, it’s hard to feel pretentious or vain in this kind of fashion because natural tones are purposefully unglamorous. That’s why Jacquemus’s mud-color dresses feel like a revelation: They’re insanely sexy, but you can’t really “overdo it” when your skimpy dress is literally brown. (You have to hand it to Jacquemus for going the all-out sexy route, considering ironic unsexiness is such a hot topic; remember when that Creatures of Comfort prairie dress became a Twitter Moment because people couldn’t believe anyone would spend $450 to look like “an extra in The Crucible”?)
Five or 10 years ago, you might have called this movement “bohemian,” “hippieish,” or even “tree hugger chic.” But in 2018, we’re all tree huggers. (Or at least we should be.) Even those of us who haven’t adopted an earth-toned wardrobe are ditching plastic and taking issue with the climate change denial coming out of the White House. In times like these, when we’re feeling generally unsettled and increasingly concerned for the health of our planet, perhaps natural-looking clothes simply make us feel more connected to the earth. That explains why New Yorkers are decamping to the Catskills on the weekends in search of fresh air and no cell signal. Then there’s fashion’s preoccupation with the Southwest, where the desert landscape and serene, purist vibes make you feel like you’re on another (far, far away) planet. Marysia Reeves’s new Resort collection took its palette directly from Arizona’s otherworldly Antelope Canyon: There’s mauve, blush, and a lot of beige.
For many women, being drawn to those colors is simply intuitive. A year ago, Apiece Apart’s Starr Hout and Laura Cramer said their nut-brown “pachu mama” color has become their most popular shade. It appears on poet-sleeved jumpsuits, high-rise trousers, and ruffled sweaters—simple, distinctive pieces that let you feel like an earth goddess wherever you are, with or without baby animals. Rachel Comey has been using the hue for a while now, too; her exposed-zipper Barrie pants routinely sell out in olive and beige, and this season, she introduced them in a retro brown jacquard. Still unconvinced? There’s research to back up the return of earth colors: Archroma Color Management’s annual “color atlas” predicted Fall 2019’s top hues based on cultural and social movements, and yes, brown was on the list. Shades of putty and vicuña were included with soft blues and greens, tapping into the belief that “familiar” (i.e. natural) colors bring us comfort in troubled times. In a world of fake news, fake Instagram accounts, and fake photos, we want stuff that feels human and real.
If that concept resonates with you but the pastoral look isn’t quite your thing, brown is trending in radically different ways. Pierpaolo Piccioli put chestnut coats and dresses in his Fall 2018 haute couture collection for Valentino, and Hermès’s Resort show had superluxurious leathers in every shade of brown. Also: Phoebe Philo’s last collection for Céline opened with a chocolate- and ivory-striped leather dress, which nodded to 1970s menswear. Speaking of menswear, the Spring 2019 men’s collections also had touches of brown: Kean Etro paired soft brown trousers with patchwork blazers, while Dries Van Noten teamed his olive brown trenchcoats and pants with shocking pops of neon. You wouldn’t necessarily call either of those looks “earthy,” but there was a warmth and gentleness to them—and right about now, warmth and gentleness sound pretty darn nice.