CHARLOTTE, NC. Now that Labor Day has come and gone, Myth Trivia simply must know. Did you see anyone wearing white after Labor Day? Or did you even care to look? Or bother to notice? For as long as most of us of a certain age can remember, the “no white after Labor Day” custom remained a seemingly curious rule.
But the real question is “Why did this come to pass”?
As with most trivia tidbits, people hold several theories about the old “rule” prohibiting America’s elites from wearing white after Labor Day. But the most popular theory appears to date to the turn of the 19th century.
Then, like now, wealthy fashionistas of that period needed a way to separate themselves from upstart societal pretenders.
Not wearing white after Labor Day: Degrees of separation
To accomplish the proper degree of social separation, these 19th-century arbiters of fashion trends adopted any number of rules. Rules they kept hidden from all but the inner circles of America’s upper crust. Thus, when any “outsider” who aspired to belong to society’s elite committed a scandalous error in fashion, she inevitably became a pariah by committing a major fashion gaffe.
She simply didn’t have the inside scoop. Oh the horror!
Wearing white after Labor Day became one of those subtle distinctions that proved a dead giveaway when inevitably neglected by the “unconnected.”
Traditionally, Labor Day marked the unofficial end of summer. September is a transitional month that leads to fall.
During this month, daylight noticeably shortens and temperatures often prove erratic. But ultimately, if elite society says summer is over, then it’s over.
Therefore, wearing white, even if the thermometer climbs into the 90s, is nothing short of gauche. It had been so declared by our betters well over a century ago.
Enforcement problems followed the Civil War
Shortly after the Civil War, the wives of the super-rich ruled American high society with an iron fist. But the country gradually healed. More and more people managed to earn great wealth. And it eventually became increasingly difficult to tell the difference between respectable old money families and the nouveau rich.
It was during this period that the “in-crowd” established their internal guidelines. They meant to keep their snobbish bloodlines as pure as possible.
Naturally, there were, as is normally the case, a few detractors who refused to follow the rules, even though they were among the entitled. One well-known critic with a reputation as a maverick in her own right was the flamboyant French fashion designer and businesswoman, Coco Chanel. Chanel wore white year-round. And any other time she felt like it.
Time marches on
Initially, only a few hundred snobby women followed the “white law of fashion” post-Labor Day. But by the 1950s, American women’s magazines provided fresh support the no-white trend. This gave traditionalists the added clout and authority they needed to remind females everywhere to put their white clothing back in the closet until next Memorial Day.
Nowadays, though, this rule has more to do with common sense than anything else. As cold weather approaches, designers will tell you “it’s very rare for a cold season color palette to consist of white unless it is a “winter white” accent color.
As winter progresses, with increasingly inclement weather characterized by rain, snow, mud and slush, fashion must adapt. After all, when you’re wearing darker colored tweeds, leathers and boots, you quickly realize it’s more difficult to pair them fashionably with white clothing. So it’s become a practical matter.
Another tradition fading away?
Today, as old traditions continue to fade into history, save among a shrinking cadre of die-hard traditionalists, old rules drift into anachronisms. You know. White wine with fish, red wine with meat. Only wearing white to play tennis. Dressing up to fly or to go to church on Sunday. Never wear white after Labor Day. And the like.
These days, fashion choices ultimately belong to you. Except, perhaps, if you are 200 pounds overweight and find yourself longingly contemplating spandex pants.
What to do? “Just say ‘no,” and the world will thank you.
— Headline image: Victorian Garden Party – https://es-th-et-iq-ue.tumblr.com/post/175166286266/esthetique-spring-garden-party-the-duchess-gif
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor is an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is the founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
Editors Note: Support Bob’s GoFundMe to give him a hand up