The Reason(s) Behind the No-White-After-Labor-Day Rule (Blame the One Percent!)

laborday.jpeg
Tomorrow is Labor Day - that first Monday of September where people eat, drink and travel, all in the name of summer's end and universal workers' rights. It is the mark of a season's passing and one holiday that comes with a set rule overused in jokes and conversational side comments: you cannot wear white after Labor Day. 

For whatever the reason, once that day came along on your calendar, it becomes socially unacceptable to wear the most basic color mankind has in his armoire. No more white tees, white underwear, white pants, white handkerchiefs and absolutely no white fedoras.

Well, I never understood this holiday law and, therefore, never abided by it. It just didn't make sense to me: why would anyone not wear white after Labor Day? And when does that rule expire? Is January 1st like a reset button for this totalitarian fashion statement? Who was enforcing this rule, anyway? Was there actually fashion police out there, like that really shitty prime-time television show on E!? I was a curious child, nonetheless.

Well, this year I wanted to get to the bottom of these questions that I've been sheltering inside of me at the beginning of every September for years now. So, this morning, I did a bunch of research, flipped through a few files, dusted off some archives and found a handful answers to the no-white-after-Labor-Day social agenda. 

1. Because Rich People Wore White. This was one of the more intriguing reasons I stumbled upon. During that whole Gilded Age period in American history (late 1800s, early 1900s), wearing white was a symbol of One Percent braggadocio. At summer's onset, the laborers who couldn't afford a 'vacation' because they were too busy slaving away on crumbs in the tenements on the Lower East Side would keep on the black, drab suits often seen in some of the earliest photographs. While on vacation, the hoity-toity would bask in their Standard Oil money by wearing white to distinguish themselves from the flock and show off the privileges of knowing Nelson D. Rockefeller to fellow caviar eaters. Nowadays, this top-down sentiment is similar to a decked-out Mercedes Benz or a multi-million-dollar condo in SoHo. In this sense, 'white' was seen as fashionable liberation... to those who could afford it. 

So, when Labor Day came around, the elite's fun in the sun came to an end; September signified a re-entry into the Dickensian society they had left behind in early June. Still unsure if this is a smack in the face to the whole notion of collective action and unionized power on Labor Day. But so is every Labor Day sale, right?

Over time, the emphasis on what the rich was wearing shifted a bit as the progressive politics in the Great Depression gave way to the rise of the suburban-hunting middle class. Now, everybody could wear white! You didn't have to sit on a trust fund or reap the profitable sweat and tears of child workers in Chicago to buy a white tee or go on vacation. Leisure and Levittown were the Great Equalizers. That doesn't mean we stopped caring about what the rich wore at all times [insert E! Fashion Police joke from before].

2. The Time of the Season. I don't like this reason because it doesn't have an overarching social message like its predecessor but, what the hell, we're looking for the Truth, not an Aesop fable. I also do not like this reason because it makes no sense at all. Should I tell you what it is? Well..

Since white best reflects heat from the sun, it can be said that white is a symbol of the summer (along with beaches, burning school textbooks, outdoor music festivals, drinking on weeknights, fifteen layers of sweat, A/C, etc.). It's a light color with light attributes: dark colors are more associated with heavier clothing; hence the white tee and anything and everything made by Hanes. With Labor Day as a mark of summer's end, that would mean that all of the season's symbols must go into hibernation as well. Voila... no white after Labor Day. Pea coats look much better in dark colors, anyway.

But what doesn't make sense is that 'white' is the first word that comes to mind when someone mentions the word 'winter' to me. Snow, sleet, hail, holiday lights, December, January, February, snowflakes, Santa Claus's beard, dreidels, white people shopping like maniacs on Black Friday - all of these things happen throughout the winter and have some sort of 'white' concentration. If anything, this logic tells us we should all-out embrace white after Labor Day, simply for preparation of what's to come.

3. Because Fashion Editors Said So. Before the great urban sprawl westward, the people who dictated fashion trends resided in New York - these were the forces behind Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, etc. As we all know, the Big Apple's climate is more or less the same every year, with a hot summer, rainy fall, freezing winter and a refreshing spring to start the cycle back over again. Well, since all the fashion editors lived in New York, they produced magazine layouts to reflect what they dressed in without the rest of the country's climates in mind. This meant light whites in the summer vanished from the glossy pages once the rain of autumn settled in. And that change in pace usually happens around Labor Day.

With that being said, it can be safe to say that fashion magazines are the true trendsetters, which may or may not be true: I'm no fashion scholar, I'm just someone whose trying to find answers to a question that has transfixed generations. That's a scary thought, though, especially since I don't subscribe to any of the magazines I mentioned before. Am I out of the loop, guys?

The answer: yes. The reason: I'm wearing an all-white tuxedo with pants only Seal could match right now.

[jsurico15@gmail.com/@JSuricz]


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clmastria
clmastria

As I sit here waiting to go out to dinner in my white pants on 9/11, I feel vindicated in my decision to go against the rules of fashion. I will wear my white shorts, pants and skirts every month of the year....or as long as I don't feel cold!

JuliaMasi
JuliaMasi

I was thought that it was because white clothes look best when you have a tan.  

Niecy Cee
Niecy Cee

"Rules" are for the less stylish

mchasewalker
mchasewalker

Coming from a fashion family in Manhattan this was the one rule my father was absolutely adamant about: drugs, sex, curfews, everything within context and moderation, except, No White Shows in Town after Labor day. lulz

Stephen Whitley
Stephen Whitley

yes, because it's common for people to wear white after Labor Day and before Easter...

WOFLPACKA42
WOFLPACKA42

By the way I will be wearing my Little White Dress and White Jeans, Skirts, etc till the weather gets cold.   Winter in New York City doesn't start till sometime in mid to late October.  Labor Day does not tell tell me that summer is over.   As long as its not raining and its warm enough I will be wearing my sexy white dress/jeans/skirts when ever I feel like it.   By the way Labor Day does not end summer.   I dress per the weather.   Summer really ends on Sept 23.   Winter air does start to make its way to New York in mid to late October.   Till then I will continue to wear my sexy summer dresses and sandals/flip-flops.   My winter clothes is Jeans, Sneakers, Long sleeve shirts and Jackets.   No boots/Uggs.   I need to run more to stay warm thus no high heels for winter till mid spring.   For me summer clothes from mid April to mid to Late October.   Winter clothes from Late October to mid April.   Fall/Spring in New York doesn't really exist.   If I wear a jacket its then winter clothes.   Summary.  Labor Day does not change my sexy outfits.   Weather controls my outfits.  

jonhendry
jonhendry

A possibility that occurs to me is that after labor day, it gets colder and darker, so there'd be more soot in the air from furnaces and fires, and white clothes would get dirty more quickly, and would be harder to keep clean.

 

Rich folks could afford to keep their whites white in summer, but probably couldn't keep up with autumn/winter air pollution.

maggie190
maggie190

I'm sure Door #1 above is correct. Born and raised in Queens, schooled and employed in Manhattan, I vouch for parents' rules for us kids to succeed, beginning with the no-white-after-Labor Day rule, and ending with mom sending me a pair of white gloves every year, even after I found myself working in Hollywood where nobody wears hats or gloves. Thanks for this article!

ivanmcohen
ivanmcohen

"Since white best absorbs heat from the sun" -- nope. That would be black. White actually is the most reflective of the visible spectrum.

anon
anon

@JuliaMasi um hello? Therefore your rule only applies to light skinned people?


thomisa
thomisa

@anon Calm down. It is a rule set in the US in a certain time, so I'm sure it was centered around light skinned people.

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