Beige is not an exciting colour, but it is one that many men—both well-dressed and poorly-dressed—wear frequently. The average man reaches for a shade of beige when they want trousers more formal than jeans but not as dressy as grey flannels, but beige is not usually a colour men wear with excitement. It’s dull and is not as fashionable as grey is, though it had its moments in the 1970s and 1980s.
Beige is a classic part of menswear, and because we can’t avoid it it would help us to better know a few of its countless variations.
What’s in a Name?
Dictionary.com defines beige as, “very light brown, as of undyed wool; light gray with a brownish tinge.” That provides a general idea of the colour, but it isn’t particularly specific. In French it originally meant the colour of natural wool.
We have names for describing different variations of beige, which sits somewhere between off-white and light brown. Every colour in this range is part of the same family of colours, making up lighter warm-toned neutrals.
There’s flexibility in naming a colour, and many of these colours are so close that there’s never one right name for any specific colour. These names may also be used to apply to slightly different colours. Different clothing brands and cloth merchants frequently have different names for the same colours or the same names for different colours.
Clothing brands may also make up their own names for colours in an effort to give a special identity to a colour for branding purposes or to make a colour sound more exciting. Anything sounds more exciting than “beige”.
Beige, Khaki, Tan?
These three names are often used interchangeably, and while they are not the same colour, they’re close enough that it’s not a sin to mix them up. Variations on beige differ in how light or dark they are, how muted or rich the tone is, and in how red, yellow or green they are. These slight variations can explain why one shade compliments an outfit while another clashes.
Red-beiges flatter cool skin tones better yellow-beiges or green-beiges, while all beiges flatter warm skin tones because all beiges are warm.
Shades of beige are neutrals and are best at complementing other colours, but if the shades are just right they can be successfully combined.
While beige, tan and khaki suits are usually thought of as warm-weather garments, that’s only when made of lightweight worsted wool, cotton or linen. In heavy tweed and corduroy they make for excellent autumn suits. All warm-toned neutrals can be worn at any time of year, though lighter shades in suits are better for warmer weather.
Shades of Beige
Many shades of beige are basically the same. Sometimes there are subtle differences that define these colours, while other times these differences don’t even matter. Here are descriptions of these different colours and photos of them in action:
Beige: A pale brown. The word comes from French and means the natural colour of wool. Beige is commonly found in wool suits, wool trousers, cotton trousers and cotton trench coats.
British Tan: A light orange-brown colour that is darker than tan. It is commonly found in chinos and is the colour of tan-coloured leather goods.
Buff: A light yellow-brown colour named after buff leather. It is a traditional colour for morning dress waistcoats.
Camel: The colour of the hair from a camel, which is a rich tan colour. This is the colour of natural camelhair sports coats and polo coats.
Cream: A pale yellow that is colour of dairy cream. It’s more of a shade of yellow or white than it is a shade of beige, but it fits in well with the other warm-toned neutrals featured here. It is more yellow than ivory is. Cream is commonly found in cotton shirts, linen suits and wool trousers and dinner jackets.
Dark Khaki: A darker and more olive shade of khaki.
Ecru: A light beige. Ecru means ‘raw’ or ‘unbleached’ in French and is the colour of unbleached linen or silk. The colour is commonly found in cotton and linen shirts, linen suits, jackets and trousers, and in silk.
Fawn: A light, reddish shade of brown, named after the colour of a young deer. As young deer vary in colour, so do cloths coloured fawn. It’s a popular colour for country clothes such as tweeds, cavalry twill trousers and covert coats.
Ivory: An off-white that is colour of an ivory tusk, with a hint of yellow or beige. It is whiter than cream is, and it is more of a shade of white than it is a shade of beige. Ivory is commonly the colour of silk shirts and wool or silk dinner jackets.
Khaki: A pale brown colour that is darker than beige and more muted than tan. It is so commonly used for chinos that they’re often called “khakis”. The colour is most common in cotton trousers, and it is also known for its use in military uniforms.
Light Fawn: A lighter, more muted shade of fawn that is very similar to khaki. It’s a popular colour for country clothes such as tweeds, cavalry twill trousers and covert coats.
Light Taupe: A light grey-brown colour, and this is often what is meant by “taupe”. Some people call this “greige”.
Sand: A yellow-beige that is named after the colour of sand. Just as the colour of sand varies in nature, so do colours named “sand”. It is commonly used as a name for shades of beige or tan, and it is used in warm-weather clothing due to beach and desert sand’s association with warm climates. It is common in wool gabardine, linen and cotton suits.
Stone: A pale grey-beige. It’s a common colour for chinos and summer wool suits.
Tan: A pale brown tone that is darker than beige. The name comes from “tannum”, used in the process of tanning leather. The “Burma” dinner jacket is really just tan with a fancy name. It is a popular colour for wool gabardine, cotton gabardine, and safari suits.
Taupe: A grey-brown colour that varies considerably in how light or dark it can be. The name comes from French where it means “mole”, as in the animal. The original taupe is a fairly dark colour, after the colour of the animal.
Great article, and I like the new design of the website! Looks sharper, somehow!
Really helpful! I’ve always found these terms confusing.
‘Red-beiges flatter cool skin tones better than yellow-beiges or green-beiges’: are there any particular shades of beige you would especially recommend (or warn against) for people with cool skin tones?
I’m reminded of a Saturday Night Live sketch from my childhood!
Thanks Matt for this article as it makes the color beige much clearer to distinguish.
I must say that beige and its many variations are some of my favorite colors in menswear because of its neutral color and because I live in a warm environment. I must say that even if I have a cool complexion I am a fan of any color variation of beige. I’m guessing Matt that if I were to wear the warmer variations of beige, I should pair them with cooler colors like white and blue (and the right pink)?
Yes, pairing them with cool colours can help.
What color is your suit?
I’m in the wrong club aren’t I?
Feel free to consider this information (or not) because this detailed description into beige is very good. Since the subject is directly related to colour theory, using the word “shade” of beige at every instance in the description might not be the best choice.
Shade means that only black is mixed to a certain colour. In some instances in the article we are talking about the hues of beige, which is the mixing of another colour with the original one. As an example, taupe could be a shade of light taupe (only adding more black) while cream is a hue of ivory since more yellow was added to ivory.
Additional information: tint is mixing white to a colour; tone is mixing both a colour and shade or tint at the same time
You are correct in the sense of colour theory, and this was something I was aware of when writing this, but “shade” can be also used legitimately with the definition, “a color, especially with regard to how light or dark it is or as distinguished from one nearly like it.” There doesn’t seem to be a better word to use in these cases.
Great to hear that it was a knowledgeable choice of words. It’s hard to tell when simply reading an article.
That is a really wonderful and informative article Matt. As a Roger Moore fan I cannot help but be a “beige” fan in the broad spread of the word. My particular favourite is his tan safari jacket from Octopussy. And I’m not sure I should admit it but I have a real soft spot for his Burma (buff) dinner jacket from The Persuders episode “Overture”. Not sure I have cachet to carry that one off though!
I came to this site after reading in Eric Ambler’s __Uncommon Danger (1941) that someone was wearing trousers of a “terrible shade of fawn.” I tried to copy and paste the chart–to no avail. I still wear a cotton poplin suit from 1970. It seems closer to your beige rectangle than to tan or khaki, because it has less red-orange. Thanks for the data.
I am also somewhat interested in the the concept of Basic Color Term as a language universal. A basic color term in a language must be a single morpheme (not light brown or grey tan), it must not be thought of a the name of something (not fawn, not ivory), and not be perceived as a borrowing (not khaki or beige). Different languages have different numbers basic color terms, and the number they have determines which ones they have. This concept has been discounted by some theorists, but I find it interesting.
Between Light Taupe and Taupe, which do you think is better for cotton gabardine trousers?
Light taupe is much more versatile for trousers.
And what do you think are the best colors for linen pants?
Any shade here is good for linen!