White After Labor Day: Non-Issue, or Unholy Crime?

Sep 02, 2008

…what happens if you wear white after Labor Day? Do you get a ticket from the fashion police?…Are you turned away from eating establishments? Do they quit accepting your money at PTA or place of worship? I think our mothers are laughing because they gave us one of those life rules that we’re afraid to break. Kind of like—clean your plate—there are starving children somewhere.

QVC Community Blog, September 3, 2007 

After lunch recently, a 60-something friend of mine told me that she had to get back home and finish putting away her white clothes for the coming season. I remembered that there was a “thing” about white clothing and Labor Day, but I couldn’t recall precisely what it was, so I asked her about it.

She was taken aback by my…well, I don’t know…sartorial irresponsibility? Hermit-like dearth of exposure? General lack of breeding? I’m not sure. But she couldn’t believe I wasn’t able to recite this longstanding article of U.S. cultural law, and even more appalled at the implications of this flaw in my character.

“If you don’t know the rule,” she began, eyes glazing over with growing dread, “then you probably pay no attention to whether you’re wearing white or not after Labor Day!”

What could I say? It was true. I couldn’t accurately play back the famous Labor Day “thing”, and I paid no attention whatsoever to a clothing color code in everyday life. Kids from the south side of Chicago were not schooled in these matters when I was growing up. I don’t remember my southern sharecropper grandparents having made it a priority for their children, either.

I helped her to a chair and offered to fetch her a glass of water in the wake of this cruel discovery, but, thankfully, she had gone into “stiff upper lip” mode and now was riding out the aftermath with a quiet, dignified resolve. She would survive this thing in due course. How fortunate for the both of us.

I read up a bit on this theme later on, and learned that at some point in the past—like maybe the 1950s—a certain trend-setting segment of the populace decided that white pumps should be retired by Labor Day. Inexplicably, scads of American women apparently responded, “We hear, and obey”.

In fact the idea caught on big-time in parts of the South, though apparently not among the sharecropping set. Eventually the edict morphed to cover white slacks, handbags, and other apparel; by then, support of the “no white after Labor Day” fashion code had become a sure-fire gauge of one’s own taste and refinement.

As you’ll see from the links below, this tenet of U.S. fashion has gone largely by the wayside over the years, as weather considerations and a freer interpretation of “what works” have trumped the efforts of the National Style Police.

Thank goodness, or by now the only thing I would’ve refined would be my pigeon-raising skills in a gritty little medium-security cell on The Rock.




And for fashion-conscious men who’ve wrestled with this question over time, a retailer-focused online forum:




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