03 September 2008

"Didn't Your Mother Ever Tell You?"

Now that Labor Day has come and gone there is one traditional fashion rule that is commonly known and many believe should be followed: White shoes and clothing should not be worn after the holiday.

Unless you are a winter bride or strolling through Gustavia in St. Barth, or another warmer climate, the wearing of white after Labor Day is typically considered a no-no. In John Waters' Black Comedy, "Serial Mom", the main character, Kathleen Turner stabs to death a woman in one scene when she discovers that she is wearing white pumps, (like the pair pictured above), after Labor Day. While that is just a bit extreme, it is important to note some details and history on this subject. Then make your own decision. I, for one, place my white linen shirts and other summer garments deep in my closet for use the next summer.

In many parts of the United States, a rule about not wearing white after Labor Day, which takes place on the first Monday in September, is heavily ingrained. The roots of the idea that people should not wear white after Labor Day appear to be shrouded in mystery, and the rule has been greatly relaxed since the 1950s and 1960s, when it was more heavily enforced. People who choose to wear white after Labor Day are no longer heavily criticized for the choice, and are sometimes embraced as fashion forward trendsetters.

The most common confusion about the rule which forbids people to wear white after Labor Day is what garments, exactly, are involved. Originally, the restriction applied only to white dress shoes and pumps, which are unsuitable for winter weather anyway. At some point, the rule was extended to white clothing, but it was in fact always acceptable to wear “winter white” clothing in cream and other off-white colors.

There are several theories about the the rule which governs people who wear white after Labor Day. The first and most sensible is that it reminded people not to wear summer weight clothing during the Winter. It may be tempting to don a pair of light pumps in the crisp weather of early fall, but changing weather can make it an unwise decision. By not wearing white shoes after Labor Day, people can ensure that they don't end up with soiled, cold shoes. It is also conceivable that the the rule not to wear white after Labor Day was adopted as part of a larger movement to “educate” the nouveau riche. Older society families were concerned about the fashion etiquette of more recent additions, and established a complex code of fashion rules to guide them.

Whatever the origins of the idea, restrictions on people who wear white after Labor Day appear to be outmoded except in very traditional society. Many fashion designers offer white as part of their fall and winter lines, often in stunning pieces. In warmer areas of the United States such as Hawaii and Florida, white is also a more acceptable color to wear year round, since unfavorable winter weather is not as much of an issue.

Like many other seemingly idiosyncratic fashion rules, the reasoning behind the ban on wearing white after Labor Day has probably faded somewhat from the public mind. For most people, it is safe to wear white after Labor Day, although they may want to consider wearing the color in moderation. But please, think twice before wearing any pumps that look like the pair above. I think they are simply unattractive and should not be worn at any time of year.