Why Can’t We Wear White After Labor Day?

Unless there is a drastic change to the definition of the word mogul, I will never be referred to as a “fashion mogul.” My closet is full of free t-shirts, basketball shorts and clothes I acquired back when Lance Armstrong was still an American hero.

I know very little about clothing trends or traditions, so today’s Wonder Why Wednesday question should come as no surprise…

Why We Can’t Wear White After Labor Day?

According to Time, many fashion etiquette experts do not even know how it became frowned upon to where white after the first Monday in September. The general consensus is one of two explanations: practicality or symbolism.

Before Under Armor, Speed Stick and those tiny fans that spray water in your face, there was only one surefire way to take some of the bite out of the summer heat — wear white. “Not only was there no air-conditioning, but people did not go around in T shirts and halter tops. They wore what we would now consider fairly formal clothes,” says Judith Martin, better known as etiquette columnist Miss Manners. “And white is of a lighter weight.”

But when the calendar turns to September, the weather begins to cool down. And with cooler weather, there is no longer the need to feature an all-white wardrobe. So the common belief is that white was nixed and the darker colors reemerged when the temperature began to drop.

But not everyone believes that theory. As Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, puts it, “Very rarely is there actually a functional reason for a fashion rule.” So this is where the explanation of symbolism comes into play.

Around the turn of the 20th century, white was the color worn by wealthy Americans who could escape urban life in the summer. With Labor Day typically marking the end of summer, these vacationers ditched their white summer gear and slipped into their darker-colored clothing. “There used to be a much clearer sense of re-entry,” says Steele. “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.”

The exact reason may not truly be known, but does it really matter. Does anyone actually follow the no white after Labor Day rule these days? If you do, let me know in the comments section below.


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