Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Girl eyed brown

I looked through some old photos recently and was struck by just how much brown there is in them.  Brown carpets.  Brown sofas.  Brown curtains.  Brown cushions.  Brown wallpaper.  And it started me thinking about…. well, yes: brown.

I’ve a strange relationship with this colour.  So many things that I like in life come in different shades of it… lovely natural things including various birds, Autumn leaves and small mammals.  Some of my favourite foods too… really well-done toast, smooth dark chocolate and a nice oaty Hobnob with a cup of (brown) tea.   

I think the early seventies were probably brown’s heyday in interior design and, as these were my formative years, I have strong memories of those burnt sienna, raw umber and oatmeal designs that dominated most households. Rustic-looking coffee sets were all the rage, with strange extended knob things to hold onto instead of traditional curved handles, as if to replicate some kind of ethnic or peasant look – always in natural browns.  Plates and bowls frequently seemed to be decorated in brown squirly and geometric patterns or very stylised flower shapes.  And around this time I also joined the Brownies! So, for me, in spite of all the glitter and colour being worn by the glam brigade, the seventies were brown. 

Well, that was OK  until I started secondary school and was expected to wear this colour in its most drab form - day in, day out - for the next five years.  The insipidly beige blouse and conker-brown skirt were compulsory and (for some reason I’ll never understand) so were the dark brown knickers.  (I mean the colour, not just the wearing of them…)  Brown became the colour I associated with the science lessons I couldn’t comprehend and the games sessions I tried to skive off from.  Brown meant getting up early and having to go outside in sub-zero temperatures during winter breaktimes. It represented that feeling of being afraid to cough during morning assembly and the dread of those fuddy-duddy teachers with bad breath.  The day after I left school I threw away my uniform and vowed never to wear this colour again.

Home décor seemed to favour brown for some while after the seventies too.  So in every rented and furnished flat I lived in subsequently there was a predominance of it (all the photos below are from the 1980s, apart from the Brownie one..) and I don’t think I’ll want to see another piece of brown-patterned wallpaper as long as I live.  But I’ve gradually come back around to it for other things. Every so often they say “brown is the new black” and that it’s the more complimentary of the two to the, ahem, mature complexion, so I’ve reintroduced it to my wardrobe over time.  Apart from one thing, that is.  Never again will I be wearing brown knickers.

Every shade of brown imaginable in just one small room

Hmm... chocolate brownie to follow? At least it won't show if I drop crumbs

The unusual burst of colour in the poster was enough to make me need shades indoors

Trying to figure out the bass-line to 'Brown Sugar' I suppose

I should never have become a Brownie

And here's a song I loved at the time that mentions school uniform (still sounds good to me...)


  1. Thanks, Dr MVM! The best of a very brown bunch.

  2. How in the hell did I miss this post!?! After our discussion on the 70's being "brown" I missed this! Wonderful piece and the caption on the bottom pic has me nearly peeing myself with laughter!


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