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Why Is It Bad to Wear White After Labor Day

Crystal Schwanke
Woman wearing white sweater

The "no white after Labor Day" fashion rule may be well-known, but is it really all that bad? Aren't fashion rules made to be broken? These days they are, but the origins of this fashion faux pas are rooted in a very different time, when clothing was more formal in most situations and everyone knew that there were strict guidelines regarding what to wear. Wearing white after Labor Day at that time could make you the talk of the town -- and not in a good way.

How the Rule Got Started

In the early 1900s, the rule about only wearing white between Memorial Day and Labor Day was started according to the vacationing schedule of the elite, when there "was a dress code for practically every occasion." Those who could afford it would leave their homes behind and spend months at the sea or in the mountains, where they had a completely different type of wardrobe, including the light, bright white pieces most associated with the summer months. When those fun-loving summer days were over, the white clothes were packed away and the people went back to their regular lives, having escaped the oppressive heat between the end of May and early September. Those white clothes that they loved during the summer months had no place in their "real life" wardrobes, so the cutoff for white clothing became Labor Day.

Does It Still Apply?

More fabric

Although you may still run across a few friends, family members, and acquaintances who would never dream of wearing white after Labor Day (and may give you the side eye or a lecture if you do it), the fashion rules have shifted over time and become much more relaxed. Even Emily Post, the epitome of etiquette advice (and a family business spanning five generations), says wearing white is no longer a faux pas, and you should concentrate more on the fabrics you're wearing than the color. Instead of white linen, try white cashmere. White works all year as pants, accessories, coats, shirts, and skirts (and maybe even shoes, if you dare).

Breaking the Fashion Rules

Celebrity stylists say yes, absolutely break that rule! Modern times have thrown old fashion rules right out the window, and there's no reason to put all your white clothes away just because of a simple square on the calendar. You may want to alter the way you wear white though, so while white isn't out, you'll want to look to more "serious" fabrics and cuts to keep the color going through rest of the year. Shoot for edgy, fashion-forward styles (perhaps with interesting plays on texture, layering, and cuts or cut-outs) instead of the easy, breezy summer ones you've been living in since May or June (like those white cut-offs and slip dresses).

Winter white sweater

Some stylists say to retire the bright, true white shades of summer for a more toned down winter white. If that's your preference (and if winter white complements your complexion) then by all means, make the switch to the slightly darker, warmer tone which is close to beige or cream. Just don't feel like you're obligated to just because Labor Day has arrived. You may still want to retire your white shoes even if you're not ready to give up the white pants, shorts, skirts, or dresses. The decision is yours to make now, especially if you live somewhere that stays hot well after Labor Day.

Bring on the Texture and Layers

Dress, Fur, Texture, Scarf

Wear white all you want after Labor Day. Wear it as jeans, as a sweater, or even as a dress of heavier material. Wear it with faux fur, leather (pants, boots, or jackets), suede, silk, or wool to add weight (not to your body, but to the feel of your outfit, which will be more winter-appropriate and keep you warm), and/or texture to your overall look. Put a white scarf on with your fall or winter outfit and watch your makeup colors pop. Vogue has some recommendations for working white clothing into your wardrobe after Labor Day, too. Now that you know you're not obligated to stop wearing white, have fun with it in your fall and winter wardrobe.

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Why Is It Bad to Wear White After Labor Day