If you consider yourself fashion literate, or are even less stylistically inclined, you’ve probably heard the sartorial decree “Don’t wear white after Labor Day” at some point in your life. But where does the rule really come from, and is it still worth following today? We did some research into its history and consulted a celebrity stylist to bring you answers.
There are a few theories as to why it came about, one being practical. According to a 2009 Time article, wearing white was simply used as a way to stay cool in the summer. In the 1900s, long before air conditioning existed, women’s clothing trends were dictated by layers of frills and heavy fabrics — a sharp contrast to the tank tops and cutoff shorts we often turn to in sweltering temperatures. As a result, wearing a less heat-absorbent color like white proved a cooler alternative to blacks and browns.
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As with most fashion etiquette, however, some historians believe the rule’s focus shifted from functionality to aesthetics. For fashion editors, who were largely concentrated in northern cities like New York that experience seasonal changes, the idea of subjecting a white outfit to rain and mud in the fall seemed particularly unsavory. By the 1950s, popular women’s magazines like Vogue began promoting the idea, escalating it into a full-on fashion faux pas.
Another theory suggests the roots of the rule were socio-political. The blanc hue was often worn as vacation attire, serving as a status symbol for those wealthy enough to escape the city. “It was a snobbish way for the upper echelons to distinguish themselves from the burgeoning Nouveau Riche,” Amanda Hallay, author of The Ultimate Fashion History, told Harper’s Bazaar.
No matter its origins, the rule hasn’t always been followed by fashion’s crème de la crème. Coco Channel was known to wear white year-round. And today, everyone from the former First Lady to countless celebrities have been seen in white well after the first Monday in September.
Moral of the story? You can really wear white any time you want. Just take it from celebrity stylist Adam Ballheim, who counts Padma Lakshmi and Zachary Quinto among his clients. “If you feel good, look good and have the confidence to pull it off, by all means please do,” he told FN. “Summer weather lasts after Labor Day, and summer style can too.”
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