A few weeks ago I was getting ready to attend a function and trying to decide what to wear. Because, it was an art function I selected and Art to Wear piece I had created with an artist friend of mine. My husband immediately responded with it’s after Labor Day you can’t wear white. He really didn’t care he just thought he was catching me in a big fashion mistake.
Of course I knew about the “law” but because it was an art venue I knew my artistic friends would get it. Also my Aquarian natural rebelliousness had her hackles up. I wore the outfit anyway.
The incident did get me thinking who was it that made that rule and why? Did they really have a good reason such as white reflects the heat. If so then did the rule only apply to cooler climates? I decided it was time to get some answers and I did.
To find out the truth about wearing white after Labor day check out this article by Kathy Benjamin I found on MentalFloss.com:
Wearing white in the summer makes sense. Desert peoples have known for thousands of years that white clothing seems to keep you a little bit cooler than other colors. But wearing white only during the summer? While no one is completely sure exactly when or why this fashion rule came into effect, our best guess is that it had to do with snobbery in the late 1800s.
The wives of the super-rich ruled high society with an iron fist after the Civil War. As more and more people became millionaires, though, it was difficult to tell the difference between old money, respectable families, and those who only had vulgar new money.
By the 1880s, in order to tell who was acceptable and who wasn’t, the women who were already “in” felt it necessary to create dozens of fashion rules that everyone in the know had to follow. That way, if a woman showed up at the opera in a dress that cost more than most Americans made in a year, but it had the wrong sleeve length, other women would know not to give her the time of day.
Not wearing white outside the summer months was another one of these silly rules. White was for weddings and resort wear, not dinner parties in the fall. Of course it could get extremely hot in September, and wearing white might make the most sense, but if you wanted to be appropriately attired you just did not do it. Once Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894, society adopted it as the natural endpoint for summer fashion.
Not everyone followed this rule. Even some socialites continued to buck the trend, most famously Coco Chanel, who wore white year-round. But even though the rule was originally enforced by only a few hundred women, over the decades it trickled down to everyone else. By the 1950s, women’s magazines made it clear to middle class America: white clothing came out on Memorial Day and went away on Labor Day.
These days the fashion world is much more relaxed about what colors to wear and when, but every year you will still hear people say that white after Labor Day is unacceptable, all thanks to some snobby millionaires over 100 years ago.