What is ‘sad beige,’ and why do some parents love it so much?

Your eyes aren't deceiving you: Color-blandness is taking over the internet.

Neutral tones have dominated trends in the past few years, but California mom Molly Madfis embraced the neutral tone life way before it became popular -- and having kids didn't change her style.@almostmakesperfect via Instagram

Looking around the Madfis family home in Los Angeles may have you wondering where all the color has gone.

Neutral tone furniture is accented with natural fibers like rattan, jute and cane set against off-white walls, and it's not just a decor choice: Children Arlo, 5, and Izzy, 4 months, wear muted shades of tan, mustard and grey while playing with wooden toys.

The muted palette is hot now: "Beige moms" seem to be taking over the internet, and influencers' Instagram grids are full of photos of children wearing shades ranging from ivory to tan. There's even a backlash against the so-called "sad beige" trend from people who believe children need a little more color in their lives.

But for mom Molly Madfis, beige is all the rage — and it always has been. Her family leans in to a monochromatic aesthetic for everything from the art on their walls to the food they consume.

"I went to art school and when I was first living on my own, I would constantly redecorate. I still like to redecorate, but I was always really antsy about not liking anything," Madfis tells TODAY.com. "Then I put it together that the reason why was because I was using color, and I just got sick of everything so quickly."

Madfis, 37, says that when she started using neutrals she lost the urge to constantly redecorate.

"I realized that I'm happier around neutral colors," she says, adding that when she's happier and calmer she is better equipped to parent. "I have been doing this for a long time."

Over the past couple years, neutral tones have dominated trends, including home decor and fashion, thanks to reality TV star Kim Kardashian's line of monochromatic garments.

So it only makes sense that beige has gripped the world of online influencers, too.

“An executive at an influencer-management company told me that influencers are encouraged to decorate and dress in neutrals because it allows sponsored products to pop visually in contrast,” Kathryn Jezer-Morton wrote in a 2022 "Mothers Under The Influence," a newsletter that examines trends among mom influencers, theorizing the basis of the trend.

One mom in Virginia is simply not having it.

Hayley DeRoche, 36, is the creator behind "Official Sad Beige," an online parody account dedicated to the all-neutral aesthetic.

"Sad beige is anything neutral-toned that has had joy siphoned out of it," DeRoche tells TODAY.com. "Most of what I focus on are marketing images of children’s toys and clothing that are somber and doleful, as though by playing with these toys or donning these clothes, the children become small Proust scholars, devoid of joy, mouths downturned and laughter a distant memory."

She began the account after shopping for stacking cups for her own children.

"I found some online that were various shades of beige and grey, alongside marketing images of children who seemed more interested in pondering the nature of existence than so much as smiling with the product," DeRoche says. "I found the juxtaposition of what should be happy — happy baby stacking cups! Recommended by babies everywhere! — with marketing that seemed better suited for a philosophy department."

DeRoche tells TODAY.com that she took that juxtaposition one step further and asked herself who "the best worst spokesperson" would be for a company that sold mournfully woeful-looking toys.

"German filmmaker Werner Herzog sprang to mind," she says of the filmmaker known for his uncompromising philosophy.

DeRoche's online approach has garnered a following of more than half a million between Instagram and TikTok.

"I’d say 98% of people love the joke," she says. "Many of them self-described 'sad beige moms' who are in on the joke and don’t mind a little mockery. The other 2% wish me dead."

Madfis sees the humor.

"We make jokes about it in my inner circle," she says. "At my baby shower for Arlo, my mom's friend gave me this bright neon stuffed animal and ... she wasn't there, but everyone was like, 'Well, that's going in the trash.' Everyone laughs about it."

The mom of two tells TODAY.com that inside the pristine white cabinets of her home are primary-colored, plastic toys and when her son requested a Mario-themed birthday party, she obliged.

"As you probably know, Mario is bright red and exactly what I don't like," Madfis says. "For his party, I basically just made everything myself, because then I was able to mix the paint colors and make them a little bit more muted."

While the absence of colors may be trendy, not all parents are on board and color-loving toy makers have critiqued the phenomenon.

Jessica Irvin, a mom of boy-girl twins in Texas, leans into color for her kids, their toys and home decor.

"The reason I’m drawn towards a colorful lifestyle for my kids is pretty simple: I think it’s way more fun," Irvin tells TODAY.com.

“I hope to set the foundation for my kids that they can enjoy whatever colors they want," the mom of two says.

She adds, “Every color is for every kid.”

Dr. Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, a psychologist and professor at the University of Delaware, tells TODAY.com that she doesn't understand the trend, but thinks it seems harmless.

"This is not a trend that I can endorse, but it’s not a trend that would be harmful to children," she says.

The professor prompts, "If kids are playing with beige toys, can they engage in art projects? If they live in an all-beige house, is a parent going to be comfortable letting them use paints?"

Michnick Golinkoff does have concerns about laundry.

"I don't think children are going to be deprived," she says. "I just think the mothers should invest in Spray 'n Wash. If your kid is wearing all beige, every stain shows up."

Dr. Sally Augustin, an environmental design psychologist and founder of the consulting company "Design With Science," disagrees, telling TODAY.com that a muted palette "isn’t good for kids or parents."

"To do some activities (or) tasks well, to enjoy them, kids — as well as their parents — need the higher energy levels generated by primary colors," she says. "Exercising is an example of something that we do better when looking at primary colors."

As for whether Madfis will allow her kids to make their own aesthetic decisions as they get older — like graphic T-shirts or character toys — you better beige-lieve it.

"I'm a beige mom, but I'm a good mom," she says. "All I want is for them to have what they want."

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