The origin of the no white after Labor Day ‘rule’

It’s one of the most well-known fashion rules in history, but the no white after Labor Day “rule” is officially no longer a thing, if it ever really was in the first place. No longer do we need to dread the Labor Day weekend because, once it’s over, our favorite white T-shirts and light cotton dresses have to be relegated to the back of the closet. 

The no white rule used to be so stringent, in fact, that some consider it even more important than not wearing socks with sandals. However, fashion trends come and go, styles change over the years, and now, more than ever before, we’re free to choose to wear whatever we want. Considering how popular funky white boots are in winter time, or even classic, cozy shearling coats, we should have the option in the year 2020 to wear white whenever we please.

The no white after Labor Day 'rule' was class-based

There are several stories about where this dubious rule came from. Time suggests it’s a functional rule because white was cooler to wear in the summer months since it reflects the sun. There’s also a class element to it, according to Amanda Hallay, the fashion historian behind YouTube channel The Ultimate Fashion History (via Harpers Bazaar). Back in the 19th century, “it was a snobbish way for the upper echelons to distinguish themselves from the burgeoning nouveau riche,” she noted.

The “rule” continued to exist because the rich kept it going. “By the end of the 19th century, upper-class Americans escaped the summer heat of the city by retreating to the countryside or seaside, where white clothing remained free of the inevitable grime of the increasingly industrialized urban centers.” Hallay explained. And as Charlie Scheips, author of American Fashion, told Time, white clothes were considered “a look of leisure.”

The no white after Labor day 'rule' is totally outdated

This idea trickled down to the middle classes and was spread by women’s magazines. However, it’s definitely not a hard and fast rule, with even Coco Chanel famously wearing white all year round (via Reader’s Digest). Besides, as Harpers Bazaar notes, nowadays it’s incredibly chic to wear white. Even the no white shoes rule has been rendered moot with the proliferation of white boots, which have remained a key fashion element over the past few years — from cowboy boots to knee-high styles and everything else besides.

Hallay advises the reason this “rule” is still so prevalent is that “it speaks in part to tradition and a sartorial marking of the seasons, but moreover, Americans are far more class conscious than we like to believe. We’ve been programmed to believe that white after Labor Day is tacky, and I think it will take a couple more decades for the ‘rule’ to completely disappear.”

If you’re looking to be more autonomous with your wardrobe choices, adding a few key white pieces could be the bravest choice you make going forward this fall.

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