Why Can't We Wear White after Labor Day? A Heated but Polite Discussion

White After Labor Day
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White After Labor Day

What temperature allows for both of these outfits?

No seersucker before Easter. No white after Labor Day. No pudding if you don't eat your meat. Who exactly did we allow to make these rules for us? What are we doing, America? IS THIS RUSSIA? THIS HYPOCRISY CANNOT STAND!

All right. With that brief rant behind us, I suppose it's actually time to engage with the topic of this post. Why can't we wear white after Labor Day, and who made that decision? I like to wear white. It's basic. It's simple. It goes with all of the outlandishly colorful things that I tend to pair with it. Taking it away for the majority of the year seems particularly draconian and pointless. And it disproportionately impacts (#legalterm) the preppy set, who love to wear white with their brights. So why do it?

White after labor day

On Wednesdays we don't wear white.


After a little digging, it comes as not surprise that we have the usual culprit to blame for this barbaric crime against preppy style. You know the one. No, not hipsters. And no, also not goths. I don't even think they had hipsters or goths in the late 1800s (although a lot of guys wore those hipster-looking hats). No, I'm talking about the scourge of fashion: old money elitists. [/record scratch noise]

Wait, what? Crank up the outrage machine to 11, because this madras-wearing-in-December-fella is about to blow a gasket. Why on Earth would rich people consign the most ubiquitous color in their closets to purgatory for the winter when they actually got to make the rules?

Turns out - at least according to one popular theory - that society ladies in the late 19th century were engaged in a covert battle with the new money set, and the terms of engagement allowed for fashion-warfare. As a subtle "I'm better than you," these well-heeled upper crust guerrilla fighters changed the rules on the rabble of nouveau riche trying to join the club. Wearing white after labor day became a symbol of society ignorance, as only the old money veterans knew the new rules of elite culture.

If this is the real reason I've been ridiculed for wearing pale apparel in the warm Southern Fall, I've got several bones to pick with some long-deceased rich ladies. Why not outlaw silver bracelets? Or leopard print? Or Crocs? Fuming over here...

White after labor day 2

Haha, my boy! These cigarettes will always be the height of class!


Now that I've somewhat recovered from my initial outrage, it's time to explore another popular explanation for our long national nightmare. As etiquette guru Judith Martin once opined, "There are always people who want to attribute everything in etiquette to snobbery. There were many little rules that people did dream up in order to annoy those from whom they wished to disassociate themselves. But I do not believe this is one of them." That seems reasonable. So what's the alternative explanation?

THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT IS TO BLAME. J'accuse! Now here me out. Apparently, this is more than just a half-baked conspiracy theory (call it 3/4 baked?). In 1894, the first Monday of September was declared Labor Day, and it became known as the de facto end of Summer, even if it typically precedes the Autumnal Equinox by about 3 weeks. So why does that matter? Somewhat logically, Summer vacationers took Labor Day as a sign to pack away their cool, light linen suits and sundresses in favor of the navies and greys that marked working life in the cities. According to Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, "There used to be a much clearer sense of re-entry. You're back in the city, back at school, back doing whatever you're doing in the fall—and so you have a new wardrobe."

Fine. I'll accept that a change in wardrobe might symbolically mark the changing of seasons, but I still don't see how this evolved into a rule. Interestingly, as research suggests that these fashion rules originated in the Northeast (and likely NYC), I believe one key element might be overlooked: space.

When's the last time you visited a friend in New York? Have you noticed the closet space? NO YOU HAVE NOT BECAUSE THERE ISN'T ANY. I'm offering an alternative theory to all of these shenanigans: I think white was outlawed after Labor Day so people could put their Summer clothes into dry dock and save some space in their minuscule New York apartments, particularly in Fall, when bulky sweaters and mammoth coats occupy way more space than is reasonable. Seriously, it's too cold there. You should move.

Wear White after labor Day if you want

It's good to be Duchess. 


After thorough (or at least semi-cursory) research, bringing all of my mental acumen to bear, I'll leave you with one of the few coherent lines I ever uttered in a court of law: Your Honor(s), this rule is dumb.

If you want to wear white after Labor Day, wear it. I know you already have white jeans and cream sweaters and winter white dresses anyway. Own it. And similarly, if it's 80 degrees in February, and you're feeling your seersucker shorts, break 'em out. They're the original performance fabric, and they're the perfect antidote to global warming.

Thanks for reading, and let us know in the comments: do you follow the fashion rules? Do you care? Are they outdated? Share with a friend who would enjoy a humorous sartorial exposé!


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  • Author image
    Julie Davey : November 25, 2019

    As usual, the common sense history of this issue is ignored in this article. White clothes ceased to be worn when coal fires became more common in winter. The dust and smog left white things very grimy and only the wealthy could afford the cost of cleaning or replacement. Of course it morphed into snobbery. Just like no patent leather before Easter or after Labor day. The old leather would crack in cold weather. Those holidays are just convenient markers. I’m very tired of this half hearted explanation of a non issue. Wear what you want!

  • Author image
    Brad: November 06, 2019

    Living in sunny, Southern California is perfect for year-round white. When it’s 100 on Halloween, white is the perfect combo of cool and kewl.

  • Author image
    Erin: September 06, 2019

    I wear white year-round because it is a classic neutral that goes with everything. And because I live in Florida. Where it is as hot as fried hell 10 months out of the year. So…there.

  • Author image
    Dr Newberry: September 03, 2019

    according to GQ magazine, you may wear white jeans year round… you just have to know how to put it together…and can one “pull it off”….I mean, they expect us to wear white in neuro-surgery….year round…..Matt, enjoyed the blogs…they’re great!!!

  • Author image
    Henry: September 03, 2019

    I guess I like the comment room with the past and tradition even if it is outdated. I think keeping white for summer makes it special and it looks great with the deep tans we get on summer if we are fortunate enough to spend a lot of time at the beach.

  • Author image
    Shannon : February 13, 2019

    I don’t wear white after Labor Day unless it’s winter white velvet. It’s nice to keep with classic tradition. Just like I don’t wear velvet after February or mid-March. And I’m from the Mid-West where we are not as preppy as other parts of the country.

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