Fashion History – Why do we not Wear White after Labor Day?

The end of summer is here as the Labor Day weekend often means the start of fall in the minds of the public. The Labor Day weekend has also historically been a big turning point in the fashion world as the old rule of not wearing white after Labor Day has been followed and debated for years by followers of fashion. Where did this rule, popular in both the 19th and 20th century, come from in the first place? Is it a valid clothing command or does it even apply anymore? Let’s take a look at the history of this fashion rule and see why it was created in the first place.

Fashion History – Why do we not Wear White after Labor Day

Fashion 101 – History of not Wearing White after Labor Day

There are multiple theories about the origin of the fashion rule of not wearing white attire after Labor Day:

    • There is one idea that this clothing directive was created for a functional reason. In the days before air conditioning was available, white clothing was simply a cooler clothing choice to wear in order to be comfortable in the summer heat. The hot summer days required a person to wear clothes that were lighter in color and weight in order to absorb less heat. If a person had to wear heavier clothing that was darker in color, there was a good chance of that person being too hot in the summer.


    • There is also the idea that the decision to not wear white after Labor Day was based on being a snob rather than being a practical idea. The decision to not wear white after Labor Day might have been made to separate old money families from those with “new money”. In an interview with Time, Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, said “It [was] insiders trying to keep other people out and outsiders trying to climb in by proving they know the rules.” The people that had money and could travel during the summer months wore white as their vacation attire. White linen suits and Panama hats were seen as the “look of leisure” while people in the city in the early 20th century mostly wore dark clothes.


    • Another theory is the idea that white clothing is harder to keep clean in the fall and winter when there is snow and sleet and other winter weather conditions. Many fashion designers used to live in the northern part of the country, such as New York City, which is well-known for harsh winter weather. If the idea that white clothing is harder to keep clean in the winter came from famous fashion designers in the northern area of the country, it was likely adopted by fashion fans across the country.


  • The final theory about the creation of this rule might simply be attached to the actual Labor Day holiday. Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894 and, as mentioned above, it marked the end of summer for many people. Anyone that was vacationing in a summer home packed away their white dresses and light clothing in favor of heavier and darker clothes. Valerie Steele noted, “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.”


Wearing White after Labor Day – Does it Matter in 2020?

No matter why this rule was invented, the decision to not wear white after Labor Day seems to be going away as the years pass. Fashion insiders are saying that white can be worn all year long and this is being supported by both designers and retailers.

Here are some fun, fashionable ideas for fans of white clothing or those that want to add some color to their 3-day weekend wardrobe:

    • An all-white outfit can be worn for Labor Day fun but be sure and not spill anything on the outfit! It is still very hot in many parts of the country so the white color scheme is fashionable and practical at the same time. Add a little sassy, colorful style to your look with a bright pair of shoes or a stylish and shiny necklace or pair of earrings.


    • The idea of pairing sneakers with a mini dress is playful, fun, flirty and fashionable. Wearing a dress that has a bright color or pattern will give the outfit a look that is casual and forward thinking at the same time.


  • Sweater vests are being identified as one of the biggest fall fashion trends thanks to their ability to provide layers on cool fall days without having to wear a bulky sweatshirt. The pairing of a sweater vest with jeans gives a relaxed look that is also ideal for weather that is warm during the day and cooler at night.

It looks like the old fashion rule of “do not wear white after Labor Day” is over. Take a big clothing chance and be bold with your fall fashion choices during the Labor Day weekend as well as into the fall and beyond.

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