Should you wear white after Labor Day?

Should you wear white after Labor Day?

The rule that you should not wear white after Labor Day (Labour Day) has been a long-standing tradition in the United States. For many years, this rule was strictly followed by both men and women.

Wearing white after Labor Day (including clothes, hats, shoes and accessories) was considered inappropriate and a significant social and fashion faux pas, the height of disrespect. The theory behind this rule is that white clothing is summer apparel and should be stored away when Fall (Autumn) begins. However, many believe this rule is outdated and no longer relevant. 

What is Labor Day?

In the United States, Labor Day is an official federal holiday celebrated yearly on the first Monday in September (this year, 2022, on 05 September). Saturday and Sunday are joined with Monday to form a three-day weekend, hence the Labor Day Weekend.

The holiday was created to honour the American labour movement and celebrate the achievements of workers and labour unions. It was established in 1882 and became an official federal holiday in 1894. Labor Day has become an essential part of American culture and is considered the summer season’s end. 

In addition to celebrating the achievements of workers, people also use this day to enjoy the last days of summer before the school year begins. The festivities can include parades, firework displays and barbeques. Some people travel or spend time with their families during this time. For many, this also means putting away their white clothing until Memorial Day in May. But is this rule still relevant?

The history of the rule

Social Snobbery

The origins of this rule are unclear, but it is believed that it started in the late 19th century with upper-class Americans in New York City who wanted to differentiate themselves from the working classes and nouveau rich.

The well-heeled typically wore white as part of their everyday attire, especially during the summer months when they retreated to their summer homes and vacation spots. 

The working class would wear dark or earthy coloured clothes, which would camouflage the dust and dirt of the city. Though they might choose lighter-weight garments in the summer, they would almost always be of a muted or darker hue. 

At the same time, the newly wealthy or nouveau riche would look toward established elite families as a blueprint for how to dress and behave.

Anyone wearing white after Labor day was a signal to the old monied that certain people hadn’t got the memo and were not ‘in the know’ about the etiquette rules, and therefore were separate from them.

Season Change, Wardrobe Change

Another theory is that the change of season and return to work and school required a change of wardrobe, and darker coloured more practical clothes were easier to keep clean.

White cotton and linens, breezy summer dresses, wide-brimmed hats and white shoes were perfect for keeping cool in the summer months but not so practical when the elite returned to the city in the Autumn to become reacquainted with its grime and air pollution.

The rule is also known as “no white after Labor Day”. This tradition eventually spread to other parts of the country and became a social norm.

Although ‘Labor days’ are celebrated in many different countries worldwide, no other nation stipulates that white not be worn after this day.

So can you wear white after Labour Day?

Yes, you can wear white after Labor Day!

Today, the rule is no longer as strictly followed as it once was. The tradition continues today in many areas of the United States, especially in New York. While some people believe it is an outdated rule, others think it is a fun way to start the fall season and an opportunity to include rich autumnal colours into their wardrobe.

Though white clothing has long been associated with summertime, there are many ways to style white so you can still look fashionable even after Labor Day. If you live in a hot climate, white is a perfect choice when choosing warm weather attire. White can also be worn well into the fall and winter or even all year round. 

Not to mention, many people are required to wear white for work, regardless of the season. Think of medical professionals’ white uniforms and crisp white dress shirts for corporate or legal roles. For leisure, tennis and cricket, whites are the necessary attire, together with white sports shoes. For some formal social occasions, men wear white ties, and many brides choose white or ivory wedding dresses for their special day.

Famous names who have broken the rule

Coco Chanel

The French Fashion Designer Coco Chanel is known for her bold designs in statement black and white and her unique fashion sense. Although black was her favourite colour, she wore wear white all year round. According to Vogue, Chanel is quoted as saying:

“In black, one is sure of one’s self. In white, one dreams.”

Coco Chanel

Michelle Obama

Many US First Ladies wore white or light-coloured evening dresses to formal occasions after Labor Day. On 20 January 2009, on the occasion of the inaugural ball, former US First Lady Michelle Obama wore a one-shoulder white silk chiffon evening gown by Jason Wu to symbolize hope. Michelle Obama’s inaugural ball gown is now on display at the Smithsonian in Washington DC as part of the First Ladies Exhibition.

Photo Credit: Tech. Sgt. Suzanne Day, USAF, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Former First Lady Michelle Obama wearing a white silk organza ballgown by Fashion Designer Jason Wu

LisaRaye McCoy

American actress, fashion designer and former First Lady of Turks and Caicos, LisaRaye McCoy, is known for sporting a stylish and fresh, completely white uniform, consisting mainly of shirts, blazers, slacks and jeans. It’s a look she has worn constantly for almost two decades.

American actress Lisa Rae McCoy wearing a white pantsuit, showing that you can look stylish wearing white after Labor Day.
Photo Credit: Photobra [Adam Bielawski]CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
LisaRae McCoy, stylish in white

In conclusion, whether or not you wear white after Labor Day is entirely up to you. If you enjoy wearing white and feel confident in doing so, then go for it! 

There are no hard and fast rules regarding fashion, so ultimately, you should wear whatever makes you happy. However, if you wear white after Labor Day, be sure to do so confidently!