Where the Rule "You Can't Wear White After Labor Day" Came From, and if It Still Applies

·4 min read

Millions of Americans spend their three-day Labor Day Weekend packing away their summer clothes—including their white denim, white shorts and white dresses. But though that sort of unspoken rule—"you can't wear white after Labor Day"—has been around for what seems like forever, you may be wondering how it even started.

If you've asked yourself, "Why can't I wear white after Labor Day?" keep reading to learn more about the origins of this "white after Labor Day" rule—plus, answers to frequently asked questions about the seasonal fashion faux pas.

Why can't you wear white after Labor Day?

At first glance, the don't-wear-white-after-Labor-Day school of thought makes a bit of practical sense. Before the invention of air conditioning and heating, dressing for the season was pertinent—and not just because of the fashion police.

During the summer months, people historically chose lighter fabrics in lighter colors simply because they kept them cooler in the heat. White was no exception.

Then, as the weather got significantly cooler, people, of course, reached for darker colors and heavier fabrics. The same is still pretty much true today, right? We tend to wear darker, heavier fabrics—like wool, leather, cashmere, velvet—in the winter and lighter, bright-colored fabrics—linen, cotton, silk—in the summer.

Since Labor Day is often thought of as "the unofficial end of summer," it goes without saying that people kind of naturally retire their summer clothes that weekend. To this day, it's a tradition that is mostly kept up out of necessity—not out of respect for an ancient fashion rule.

Where did the rule of not wearing white after Labor Day come from?

The rule of not wearing white after Labor Day does not have an exact known origin. However, some historians believe that while, on the one hand, it had to do with simply dressing appropriately for the weather, it may have also been a symbol of wealth.

According to Farmer's Almanac, wearing white became a visible way to separate the wealthy from the working class in the early 1800s. Affluent people could afford to take vacations and by wearing white, they visually asserted that they didn't need to work.

After all, most workers gravitated toward darker colors—yes, even in summer—to hide the sweat, dirt, and grime that would show up on their clothes from working all day. To be able to wear white (and wear it unstained, without the visual tokens of hard labor showing up) was luxurious and a clear indicator that someone was well-off and obviously, on vacation.

But wearing white wasn't just a way to identify the wealthy from the working class. Society people (particularly women) made it a point to also use the color white to draw lines between "old money" and "new money."

"It [was] insiders trying to keep other people out," Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, told Time. "And outsiders trying to climb in by proving they [knew] the rules."

The fashion world kind of picked up on this bit of etiquette as a result of what was naturally happening. Seasonal clothing was designed, made and sold accordingly.

Is not wearing white after Labor Day still a thing?

The whole "don't wear white after Labor Day" rule is not really a thing anymore. As you can see, the idea comes from an outdated, elitist line of thinking and in today's evolved day and age, it's just not relevant anymore.

While some staunch fashionistas consider the rule still worth abiding by, it really is up to you what you choose to do with your wardrobe. No matter what month it is and no matter how much money you have!

How long after Labor Day can you wear white?

The original concept is that white should be worn between the short, summery window between Memorial Day (which happens at the end of May) and Labor Day (beginning of September). By that school of thinking, you can start wearing white as early as Memorial Day and then, of course, throughout the summer.

However, nowadays, most people—style icons or not—pretty much agree that you can wear white at any point throughout the year. So, don't worry about some outdated, unspoken rule. Do what you want and wear what makes you feel good!

Next up, all your questions about Labor Day—answered.