Why Can’t You Wear White After Labor Day?

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No white after Labor Day? Fashion rules are made to be broken.

Workers’ rights and wearing white

If you’re planning to spend your Labor Day enjoying a well-earned day off work, congratulations! Loving the barbecues, parades, weekend getaways, and Labor Day memes, but wondering what is Labor Day? Well, that day off is exactly what the workers and unions of the past fought for, along with reasonable working hours, days off, safety regulations, and minimum wage. During the coronavirus pandemic, many previously underappreciated workers were deemed “essential,” especially in lower-wage industries. Labor Day isn’t just summer’s last hurrah, it’s also the day to appreciate and value all workers without whom our lives would be a much messier place. After all, it’s the contributions of workers and laborers in every industry who made the United States what it is today, and what it will be in the future. That sounds like a good excuse to put up some Labor Day decorations! Or, if you prefer to celebrate in style, perhaps check out some Labor Day sales. Speaking of style, the “no white after Labor Day” rule might have you thinking twice before putting any white clothing items in your cart. But why can’t you wear white after Labor Day? And does this rule still apply to 21st-century workers? Turns out, no one is entirely sure where this fashion decree came from, but there are a few different theories.

If you’re wealthy, no white after Labor Day!

The old-fashioned decree bans us from wearing white during the winter and spring, from Labor Day in September until May Day (strangely, another day designated to celebrate workers’ rights!). One popular theory dates back to the early 1900s. Many progressive changes were occurring for American women, like the election of the first woman to Congress and the passing of the 19th amendment that meant women could finally vote. Despite these advances, social acceptance for wealthy women was still very much based on what you wore—and when you wore it. So why can’t you wear white after Labor Day? Well, if you were on-trend you only wore white during the warmer months, when you left the grimy city to take your fabulous vacation. Light-colored clothing keeps you cooler and looks much better on a yacht, or in the clear sunshine on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. Being able to afford a whole new wardrobe for different seasons was a huge status marker for the wealthiest families. It was also a helpful way to separate the nouveau riche from the old money, by creating semi-arbitrary rules about what to wear, where, and when that only those in the know knew to follow. For the wealthy and stylish, this is what fashion looked like 100 years ago.

Why can’t you wear white after Labor Day? Dirt!

Another theory that answers the question why can’t you wear white after Labor Day notes that white is harder to keep clean in the fall and winter: mud, dirt, leaves, snow, that gross snow that somehow develops after a couple of days… yuck! Of course, for the coordination-challenged, white is hard to keep clean all year round, but back in the day when pollution was even more unchecked and rainfall might bring soot down with it, white would have been one of the higher-maintenance clothing colors. Additionally, most fashion designers were based in the northeast, and especially in New York City, which suffers through four seasons each year. Even if you lived in New Orleans, you still took your style cues and tips from Fashion Avenue, so for the trendiest dressers white was out, despite its cooling benefits.

By the 1950s, women’s magazines started making this “no white after Labor Day” ordinance a little more public, basically making the proclamation official. Wearing white only between Memorial Day and Labor Day now signified being part of the in-the-know fashion club. But doesn’t it also just makes sense to us on some basic, weather-based level? Labor Day marks the end of summer when you pack up your breezy white sundresses and get out your fall and winter wool. It’s a transition point, marking the changing temperature and the return to school, work, and regular life that autumn brings.

So can I wear white after Labor Day, or not?

It’s 2021, so the answer to “Can you wear white after Labor Day” is yes: You can absolutely wear white after Labor Day if you want! Better yet, there’s a historical precedent for your trend-thwarting ways: Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel herself, who insisted on swanning around in her bright, white outfits year-round. So stylish.

If you need some shopping inspiration, these white pieces can be worn before, during, and after your Labor Day barbecue. So long, summer!

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Brittany Gibson
Brittany Gibson is a regular contributor to RD.com’s culture, food, health, and travel sections. She was previously an editorial intern for RD.com and Westchester Magazine. Her articles have appeared on Buzzfeed, Business Insider, AOL, Yahoo, and MSN, among other sites. She earned a BA in English from the University of Connecticut