The Miu Miu girl for SS24 was dishevelled, caught in the rain and a bit crumpled. There were plasters on her toes, shoes overspilling from bags, skew-whiff specs and brown in spades.
If, half a decade ago, the frumpy classic that is the cardigan became a fashion essential, the colour brown is its latest iteration. We saw it on big baggy blazers at Balenciaga, leather at Eckhaus Latta and plaids at Rave Review. Were any of these items were black, they’d feel bold and polished. But in brown, they have an endearing, unexpected mousiness.
Taking brown a little more leftfield, Glenn Martens caked several models in mud for his Diesel SS24 show. Elena Velez featured a mud pit for her show at New York Fashion Week and, in October 2022, dirt had previously been part of Balenciaga’s show featuring Kanye West on the catwalk.
But this isn’t the first time brown has dominated runways. The ’90s loved the colour – Miu Miu designer Miuccia Prada used it for her Prada AW92 collection and the OG frump collection in SS96, while the decade’s minimalists Helmut Lang and Calvin Klein incorporated it into their real-world-ready looks. Posh Spice, as seen in Netflix’s Beckham documentary, wore brown for her all-important airport attire during that most pivotal pop culture year, 1997.
More recently, in 2021, Biz Sherbert, the Culture Editor of trend forecasting agency The Digital Fairy, released a TikTok about how it could be the colour of Gen Z – which can be traced back to none other than Kendall Jenner wearing a brown Nuptse North Face jacket in 2019. But in 2023, Sherbet says the emphasis on brown has shifted; it’s less of a throwback to ‘90s minimalism and more “an interrogation of frumpiness”, as she described Miu Miu’s SS24 collection. “It’s gravitated from a wholesome natural sense towards something that’s a bit more post-apocalyptic or a bit more tattered.”
Maybe, with a dodgy economy, a cost of living crisis, the ripples of the pandemic and the impending doom of a climate emergency, colours that are less bells and whistles feel more in line with where we’re at. “Early pandemic driven trends were super, super bright,” says Sherbert. “This definitely feels like a visual departure from that. People are looking for grungier and sleazier styles.”
There’s something ironically appealing about taking a colour previously used to being in the background and making it the main character. Rave Review, a Swedish upcycling brand founded in 2017 by Josephine Bergqvist and Livia Schück, have previously used brights in their collections. But SS24 was notably muted. While Schück says “there are no inappropriate colours”, the switch to brown tones was about reading the room. “We’re more than ever reflecting how we want to dress ourselves when designing collections now, and it’s not in bright poppy colours,” she says. “That’s probably a general mood for a lot of consumers right now.”
This certainly applies to Depop, too. According to a representative, searches for brown trench coats and brown biker boots are up 78 per cent and 193 per cent this month. Marie Young, a seller with the account @shopmazzz, thinks it started with Jenner’s jacket. “It definitely changed my opinion on brown and for me as a reseller, this is when the demand for brown pieces really began getting popular,” she says. “Since then the brown North Face puffer trend has died out but the demand for brown pieces still continues.” Lyst backs up these stats – the search engine site says searches for the colour brown are up 60 per cent this quarter.
As well as frumpcore and end-of-days style, brown is popular because it’s versatile and fits into other trends. Lyst put it in this Venn diagram: “Brown falls under the ‘quiet luxury’ umbrella and the popular ‘Old Money’ aesthetic, thanks to its popularity with luxury brands such as Prada, The Row and Bottega Veneta,” says their Data Analyst Sophie Steele. “No longer considered drab and boring, it’s an aesthetic that shouts ‘an intellectual with dress sense’”.
Schück also resists brown’s blah rep, but she says Rave Review “believe it’s appealing to turn something seen as ugly into something desirable. It’s a fun challenge and when it succeeds it can [have] a lot of impact.” Long live the frump.