Regardless of your level of sartorial prowess, there are certain fashion rules that are hard to ignore: don’t wear white socks with black shoes. Don’t wear brown with black. And don’t wear white after Labor Day.
While most conventional fashion rules have already been broken (mixing prints, socks with sandals, gold and silver metals), this is one rule that still makes headlines every year. So where did the ban on winter whites actually come from? Why shouldn’t we wear white?
Ironically, this fashion faux pas might stem from the fashion industry itself. Since fashion editors worked mostly out of New York City in the early 1900’s, the editorial spreads in Vogue reflected the seasonality of – you guessed it – New York City. With a typically rainy fall, very cold winter, and hot, muggy summer, it makes sense that the editors of yore shunned this light hue post-Labor Day for fear of stepping in an unsightly puddle in their new white jeans on the wet city streets of fall.
Perhaps a more accurate explanation, though, comes from a time when “summer” was still a verb and the elite class would leave the city at the start of the season, vacation wardrobe in tow, and return only post-Labor day to the drab suits of the urban working class. By the mid-20th century, the “no white after Labor Day” rule had become a hard and fast way to draw class lines and educate the “nouveau riche” on the prevailing etiquette of the time.
The third and most practical explanation is that white is worn after Memorial Day and before Labor Day purely because it’s cooler. Summer is hot, and during a time before the tank top existed in its current form, the only things people used to distinguish summer wear from winter wear were color and fabric. But as Valerie Steele notes (as quoted in Time), “very rarely is there actually a functional reason for a fashion rule…” So I suppose that rules this one out.
But despite the popularity of winter white on the runways and celebrity rule-breakers like Coco Chanel and Blake Lively, it looks like the masses still cool off on this color right after the Labor Day holiday. In Spring, though, it seems to be the Spring solstice and not Memorial Day weekend that precipitates this color’s comeback for the summer. There was, however, a notable spike in winter white last year that corresponded with the first week of February Fashion Week – perhaps a testament to the likes of McQueen and Derek Lam.
The contrast was especially pronounced with white pants, which virtually disappeared post-Labor Day, and returned only in mid-March of this year.
But whether or not you’ll be retiring your white pants come fall, the season of whites is upon us. So stock up on light colors and sunscreen, because summer’s right around the corner! How will you wear white this summer?
Written by Jessica Novak, Senior Marketing Manager for real-time trend insights company Stylitics. Jessica is a runner, coffee addict, avid alliterator, and chambray enthusiast.
Images via Italian Vogue, Style.com