Sunday, September 2, 2012

Why CAN’T I Wear White After Labor Day?

All my life I’ve heard you should not wear white after Labor Day. And I’ve often wondered who made up that rule anyway.

One common explanation is practical. For centuries, wearing white in the summer was a way to stay cool, especially if you lived in hot and humid climates. There was no air-conditioning and people dressed more formally; no T-shirts and halter tops were worn in public.

Some historians speculate the origin of the no-white-after–Labor Day rule may be symbolic. In the early 20th century, white was the uniform of choice for Americans well-to-do enough leave their city homes for summer vacations at the beach or in the mountains and light clothing was a nice contrast to a drab urban life.

Labor Day, celebrated in the U.S. on the first Monday of September, marked the traditional end of summer. It’s when well-heeled vacationers would pack away their summer clothing and return to the city and their darker-colored fall clothing.

This from Time Magazine:  “By the 1950s, as the middle class expanded, the custom had calcified into a hard-and-fast rule. Along with a slew of commands about salad plates and fish forks, the no-whites dictum provided old-money élites with a bulwark against the upwardly mobile. But such mores were propagated by aspirants too: those savvy enough to learn all the rules increased their odds of earning a ticket into polite society. "It [was] insiders trying to keep other people out," says Steele, "and outsiders trying to climb in by proving they know the rules."

Whatever its origin, the Labor Day rule has perennially met with resistance from high-fashion quarters. As far back as the 1920s, Coco Chanel made white a year-round staple. "It was a permanent part of her wardrobe," says Bronwyn Cosgrave, author of The Complete History of Costume & Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. The trend is embraced with equal vigor by today's fashion élites, Cosgrave notes — from Marion Cotillard accepting her 2008 Academy Award in a mermaid-inspired cream dress to Michelle Obama dancing the inaugural balls away in a snowy floor-length gown. Fashion rules are meant to be broken by those who can pull it off, notes Cosgrave, and white "looks really fresh when people aren't expecting it."

No white shoes for me, but I say if you have them and like them, then wear them!

A nice white shirt is definitely a wardrobe staple. Surely the fashion police don't include a cotton number such as this in their edict against wearing white after Labor Day?

I don’t own a pair of white shoes and never will. Just a personal thing with me; hate white shoes. And definitely no white handbag in fall. But I do own and love white denim jeans. I wore them last fall and winter and will do so again. My white skirts? Not the linen one, but the thicker one perhaps. Yes to the white cotton tees, and we all know a white cotton shirt, freshly starched and ironed is perfect for any occasion any time of the year.

If white was good enough year round for Coco Chanel, who am I to disagree?

What about you? Do you stick to the hard-and-fast rule of no white after Labor Day?


  1. The no white after Labor Day rule must be an American one.
    White is a demanding color. It can be beautiful or it can be terrible; depending how you use it. There are luckily a lot of hues to it.
    I prefer the off-white version, and have 2 pairs of identical pants/ jeans in the color, which I have worn 3 summers in a row - from the early spring to the late autumn.
    No white shoes for me either, as I have narrow, but a long feet. Somehow I feel shy toting a white bag as well. Never liked shirts ( this is clear for everyone by now ), but T´s and off white knits might make their way to my cupboard.
    In general, I like the " old rules ". Only lately, as the weather might be whatever, we are forced to break them.
    Were it only up to me, I´d like to place my lighter clothes aside for the cooler months, but things being the way they are, and bless the warm down coats, I practically wear everything year around - except the off-white pants ; ).

  2. I think you may be right: the no white after Labor Day is an American thing. I agree that white can be difficult unless you know how to do it.

    We will be having warmish weather here for another full month or more, so I'll continue to wear my white with no hesitation.

    I like the affect of mixing off-white and pure white; I think it a stunning combination.

    Interesting that we agree on no white shoes. In my opinion, they draw attention to the feet, plus make feet look larger so I've always avoided them.

  3. When I think of white shoes I think of Minnie Mouse cartoon!
    Have never worn white shoes think they make feet look very large.
    No Labour day here,and have never heard of the saying about white.

    I prefer cream,cream silk shirt & white chinos maybe a gold belt....white near my face is too stark.

    Another interesting post on USA history, thank you Sanda. Ida

    1. Ha-ha, yes Ida, a very good comparison: Minnie Mouse with her big feet! In my origin of American Labor Day research, I learned that the American powers-in-charg at the time decided a day to honor workers would not be in May, as it is in the rest of the industrialized West, because they didn't want it to be in any way associated with the Socialist, Communist and Anarchist movements. Thus, we have first Monday in September.

      Oh, sounds dreamy, your cream silk shirt and white chinos. You are a lady after my own heart, I am fair in color as well, and with a shirt shirt I often offset it near my face with a colorful tucked-into-the-neck scarf, especially in cool/cold weather.

      We have a lot of little quirky things going on here, don't we?

  4. I wear white athletic shoes year round - Keds and Converse, too. But I have never been very stylish. My Aunt Inez, the Italian beauty who married my Uncle Emile, knew all those rules. There was also "no blue worn with green or pink worn with orange", which would provoke a delightful sneer from her.

    1. Hi Beryl, I believe the fashion police would exclude athletic shoes on their edict against white after Labor Day. Your Aunt Inez would have been an interesting lady to know. I remember when her rules were in effect; also, that redheads should NEVER wear pink or red. Does that rule still apply? I say we wear whatever pleases, the fashion police be danged!!

      Oh, don't underestimate yourself! You are a very stylish lady!!

    2. You are so sweet! And of course I am more stylish now that I have your beautiful purse!

  5. I am conscious of the "white season" rule, was brought up to follow it. Nowdays, while I am not a stickler about it I do put away my long white summer skirt and a few really summery things this time of year. I don't own white shoes/bags or really much of anything white so it isn't a big issue.


    1. Living in California, you have so many sunny days I would think white would always be appropriate (or is it in northern California where you live? where you can get cool days, right?)

      I love the fall colors, and I think it's a refreshing change and good for the psyche to change out our wardrobes when the seasons change.

  6. I love white and I wear it all year long. As Mette said the rule must be an American one since we don't have Labor day in Europe.
    Unlike the ladies who commented I do own and wear white shoes, but only in the summer.

    1. I know from reading your blog that you have some very interesting and attractive shoes! White shoes work for some people, but sadly, not for me.

  7. Oh yes, we were brought up with the "no white after Labor Day" rule. We wore those dark colors in Sep regardless how hot it was.
    I also hate white shoes and have one pair of white sneakers that I don't feel good wearing because they look SO big. Love white shirts - also love the white/cream combination and especially like that combination in bed linens.

    1. Another one of those "rules" we lived by! The white/cream is VERY pretty in bed lines; also paint in a room with cream walls and white woodwork or the opposite. White in a room makes it feel so clean, light and airy!


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