Thursday, March 30, 2023

Oh, what a difference a day makes. The song title may never be more true than when it comes to wearing white. Before Labor Day is fine, but after? Huge fashion faux pas.

I was at a bat mitzvah on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, when the weather was still warm, but there was a hint that fall was on its way. The mother and sisters of the bat mitzvah girl all wore white, and looked gorgeous. It was, after all, still “before Labor Day,” so white was acceptable.

Last Wednesday, by contrast, was as hot as a mid-summer’s day. I fleetingly thought about wearing a white skirt, or at least white sandals, to work, but nixed the thought because it was “after Labor Day,” and white had become unacceptable as a fashion choice.

Where did this seemingly arbitrary rule come from? I understand wearing white in the hot summer sun, since it reflects the sun and repels the heat, but what I don’t understand is the not wearing white between Labor Day and Memorial Day.

One theory regarding the origin of this “rule” is that at the turn of the century, old money society women created random fashion “rules” to help distinguish them from the nouveau riche, and this was one of them. Another theory is that the rule was made for practical reasons; white is harder to keep clean in the colder months. That one makes no sense, honestly, because while we cannot wear white, “winter white” is permissible (and gets dirty just as easily). Then there is the explanation that “white keeps you cooler,” and therefore is more practical in the summer. As I already mentioned, that is true if you are outside in the hot sun, but the argument does not hold up for people who work and live with air conditioning.

Whether this rule has legitimate origins or not, it has become a well-known catchphrase that “you can’t wear white after Labor Day.” Well, I object. And, apparently, so does Emily Post. Her 2004 manners bible, “Emily Post’s Etiquette,” 17th edition, gives the go-ahead for wearing white after Labor Day, according to Time.com. And Hollywood stylist Karla Welch is quoted on cnn.com as saying, “The rule is there are no rules,” when it comes to wearing white after Labor Day.

What about a new rule that says, “If it feels like summer, dress like summer.” Or how about, “Wear what you want, whenever you want.” You get the point. At the very least, don’t put away your white skirts, shoes and purses just yet. Summer may be ending, but here’s hoping white is here to stay.

By Jill Kirsch


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