Okay, so when I moved to the US a decade ago I had never heard of the rule that you can’t wear white after Labor Day. TBH I had never heard of Labor Day either… …or Chick-fil-a,…or the fact that Yosemite was in fact not pronounced (yo-seh-might)…or that chips were french fries, crisps were chips… and the list goes on.
So basically not a shocker that I was not cultured enough to know this unstated rule about American fashion, but the history of the rule did surprise me.
You see the beauty of being a newcomer, is that I asked a lot of questions (mostly to myself)… Like “but, why?” (which the latter also happens to be my 2-year-olds favorite word right now).
So I remember asking where this white rule came from… and honestly no one really knew. It just kind of was.
I remember my colleagues when I worked at a start-up in sunny Virginia Beach donned their bright whites strictly from Memorial Day to Labor Day. It was like June 1st was an unspoken fashion show of bleached white jeans and crisp linens. It was honestly a beautiful sight, but I didn’t understand it.
So I dug into it, and even had the pleasure of talking to fashion expert and trend forecaster, Maggie Gillette, about her take on the history of the trend. Turns out there is a mild take, and a slightly more spicey (read: elitist) take.
We love variety here at Blogilates.
The mild take
Is it really more practical then anything? White = cooler, and as Maggie shared: “Pale-colored clothing in lightweight fabric does help reflect the sun and keep you cool in the summer months.” Or maybe it’s to help contrast that summer glow?So if it’s in the name of keeping things cool, why is it so strict to summer? I don’t stop wearing shorts or dresses after August, so why the rigidity of this particular rule. Like, let’s say if you live in Texas like me, the summer heat only subsides in November (at least that’s the word on the street, this is my first Texas summer… and it has humbled me, let me tell you).
I didn’t buy it, I knew there had to be something deeper, and Maggie had the tea.
The spicy take 🌶 🌶 🌶
“The idea that white clothing was only worn during the summer started in the 1800s as a status marker. Having an entire summer wardrobe showed that you were part of the leisure class who spent summers vacationing in places like Newport, and interactions among the upper class followed strict social codes,” shared Maggie.
So basically following these social codes/norms signaled that you were part of this elite rich. If you broke them you’d be in the local Lady Whistledown’s gossip column. Not fun, but also that’s not the end of it…
“Also, this was a time when there were no washing machines, and white clothes are tough to keep clean, so it showed that you had servants who could maintain your wardrobe.”
Maybe we should all start questioning fashion taboos a little more?
Do people even still follow it though?
Okay, so it has a bit of an elitest past, but do people even follow it anymore? I mean we all WFH right now in our coziest closet staples (I literally live in the Cloud Hoodie), so are people fussed?
The short answer is… that it depends on who you are. Maggie shared that it is a dying trend, and even just over the past few years the number of “followers” has decreased. However, where you are in the states may impact how often you see this applied.
“The rule still tends to be loosely followed in more traditional areas in the US, particularly parts of the east coast and south.” Maggie shared, “However, at this point, I think a lot of it is generational more than geographical. If you grew up with the idea of white after Labor Day being a faux pas, you’re more likely to follow it even subconsciously.”
So basically if the first week of September was your mom packing her beloved white jeans into the hallway closet (next to all your 3rd-grade art projects)… You probably abide by this rule.
And it may be harder to break it than you think if it has been ingrained in your brain for 30 years.
How to style white clothes
We’re not going to leave you hanging, here are some tips to style white for cozier months:
Try Winter Whites.If you are nervous to go full on wild and keep your white jeans in rotation 365 days of the year… Maggie recommends you break into it slowly. Maybe play with what she called “winter whites” aka off-white or cream. “These colors are less crisp than optic white, giving off more of a cozy fall vibe.” Off-white with a side of rebellion for our southern belles.
Mix and Match “You can also mix some fall pieces into your wardrobe to extend the wearability of your favorite white summer pieces. For example, a white sun dress would look great paired with a denim jacket or a cardigan and boots as the weather cools down.”
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Build your Essentials: This article isn’t to say that all whites can be worn all year round. That cute little summer sundress just may not be practical if you live in… say Boston. But a lot of white staples can be used as great layering pieces.
The perfect white t-shirt (word on the street this one will also be restocked soon, shameless plug to join the waitlist… in the meantime here is an affordable alternative)
White jeans (or winter whites), pair with some booties to brighten up your look (I am obsessed with this pair by Grey Bandit).
White tank top to pair with a cardigan for easy layering.
Own your style: I’ll leave you on this advice from Maggie, “Today fashion is all about self-expression, and wearing white in the winter can look chic!”