Labor Day is just about here, and if you’re one to follow fashion traditions, then you know that you’re not supposed to wear white after the holiday weekend is over. But why not, you might be wondering? Turns out, the reasons are not so black and white.
White Clothing—A Sign of Wealth?
The “Don’t Wear White After Labor Day” rule may have stemmed from practicality. Prior to the advent of air conditioning, clothing choices were important when trying to keep cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Whites and lighter-weight fabrics were more popular during the warm months, and in the winter, people naturally switched to darker colors and heavier fabrics. Perhaps since people already chose light colors to stay cool in the summer, the fashion world went ahead and made the rule an official one. Once Labor Day (the unofficial end of summer) arrived, it was time to retire those whites.
However, others speculate that the rule came from the fashion practices of the wealthy. In the early 1900s, those who were well-to-do often favored lightweight, bright clothing—white linen suits and breezy dresses. Wearing white after Labor Day meant you were someone who had the means to have end-of-summer vacations. Wearing your whites beyond Labor Day was just, well… showing off.
Some historians believe that this rule was actually a way for the wealthy to separate themselves from the working class. Not only could they afford vacations—and the expensive clothes to match—but they didn’t do work that stained their white clothes. Middle-class laborers, on the other hand, often wore darker colors even in the summer to hide the dirt and grime that accumulated after a hard day’s work.
By the 1950s, not wearing white after Labor Day was a firm rule among the wealthy, who regarded it as a symbol of refinement. The “new money” types weren’t always as well-versed in the rules of etiquette and made these types of fashion faux pas. In fact, those who adopted the “no white after Labor Day” rule were often seen more favorably, as ambitious up-and-comers were willing to learn the rules surrounding their new social circle.
Rules Are Meant To Be Broken
As with most things in fashion, rules are meant to be broken. These days, there are plenty of people who happily wear white after Labor Day. Even fashionista Coco Chanel bucked this trend in the 1920s when she officially made white a permanent staple in her wardrobe, regardless of the season. Plenty of modern fashion elites wear white year-round, too.
While there are still those who consider post-Labor Day white clothing a no-no, plenty of fashion-forward people say if you have a flattering garment you love, wear it whenever you want, no matter the color and no matter the season. Good advice!
Amber Kanuckel is a freelance writer from rural Ohio who loves all things outdoors. She specializes in home, garden, environmental, and green living topics.