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How to wear tobacco, the modern neutral

Tobacco is cool. No, not that sort, the smelly, finger-stainy stuff that kills you. That sort of tobacco is now about as chic as net curtains and as rock’n’roll as bingo night. The tobacco that is cool now is the colour. Darker than camel, paler than chocolate. Coffee, but not the milky kind.

Tobacco is the new camel. Like camel, it is minimalist, tasteful, goes with almost anything, and somehow makes clothes look more expensive than they are. But it is warmer than camel, in spirit as well as in shade. I love camel, but there is something reserved and exclusive about it as a colour, a shard of ice in its heart. Because while camel looks gorgeous with a broad range of colourings, it is a shade that seems ultimately to belong to pale skin and fair hair. Camel seems to stand for a depiction of elegance where true north cannot help but swing back, every time, to the blue-eyed blonde. Tobacco is different.

One thing, though: this new colour isn’t called tobacco any more. A new generation who are embracing tobacco are renaming it, addressing the bias in a fashion vocabulary that refers to pinky-beige as “nude” and to a shade that matches darker skin tones to a toxic drug. As if one colour of naked skin were somehow more natural or more important or more fashionable than others. At Marks & Spencer, the eight shades of “neutral” lingerie are now named after crystals and gemstones instead: the colour previously known as tobacco is Rich Quartz and sits between Opaline and Topaz.

From the generation wearing it to what they call it and what it is worn with – this colour is modern in every way. The traditional way to wear camel is to pair it with other sleek, creamy, warm neutrals, from vanilla ice-cream to gold. But neutrals look more interesting – less neutral, if you like – if you mix them with strong colours. Citrussy neons are unexpected and delicious with warm neutrals. Orange with coffee, lime with fudgey beige, lemon with the biscuity gold of a just-baked sponge cake. Now is a good time to branch out into new colour combinations, because you can still wear white shoes and bare legs (goes with anything, always) rather than have to factor in tights and warm coats. Best keep up if you want to stay on neutral ground.