Ever since the early 1900s, the prospect of wearing white after Labor Day has remained a hard and fast rule among etiquette junkies. Despite over a hundred years of tradition, public support for the traditional early-September wardrobe shift has been steadily declining. Even modern-day etiquette experts agree that wearing white after Labor Day is no longer the faux pas it used to be.
One thing etiquette experts don’t seem to agree on, however, is how the tradition first came about. The trend largely dominated American fashion from the late 1800s to an eventual climax in the mid to late 1950s. The general consensus among fashionistas and historical experts alike is that the trend originated from a combination of practicality and the poor wanting to imitate the rich.
The idea of the middle-class imitating the actions, clothing and lifestyles of the rich and famous is not a new concept. The idea was first coined by the French in the early 500s AD and plays heavily into the tradition of not wearing white after Labor Day.
Up until the mid-1950s, rich and famous city dwellers would drape themselves in white linens and cottons in order to beat the summer heat. Much of this had to do with the fact that air conditioning had not yet been invented. When the rich would return from their summer homes in the country, they would switch their wardrobe to darker, warmer clothes in preparation for the winter. The switch to darker clothes also had the added benefit of announcing to the world that they were wealthy enough to purchase an entirely new wardrobe on a whim.
Much of the switch to white for the summer months had to do with practicality. “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,” said Miss Manners columnist Judith Martin. “And white is of a lighter weight.”
Judging by what designers have sent down the runway this fall, old Labor Day traditions aren’t likely to be followed by many.
Even with that being said, the transition to wearing white after Labor Day can be tough; especially for those who have abided by the rule for their whole lives. In order to make the switch as easy as possible, here are a few tips to help ease your transition.
1. Pair white with darker colors
Instead of wearing an outfit dominated by white, blocking out your colors can be a smart choice for the colder winter months. Dark hoodies with accents of white can be perfect for corporate holiday parties.
2. Consider wearing alternate colors
Alternate colors such as red, black and charcoal can be a great way to transition your wardrobe from the heat of summer to the cold of winter.
3. Accessorize in white
The easiest and most conservative way to wear white in winter is to accessorize. A white tote, belt or necklace can be the perfect complement to an otherwise dark outfit.
Despite over a century of tradition, it appears as though the fashion industry has embraced the idea of wearing white after Labor Day. Elle Magazine summed it up best, stating that. “Nobody cares who wears what as long as it looks good.”