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Photo: Leonardo DiCaprio, 'The Great Gatsby' - Warner Bros.

Almost everyone has heard that you’re not supposed to wear white after Labor Day. But where did this rather daunting fashion rule come from?

Obviously, there is a practical side to wearing white in summer, as it’s the most reflective, and thus coolest of colors. Desert Bedouins have known this for many centuries, as have inhabitants of tropical latitudes. But fashion, we know, is often socially dictated, and historians think the no-white rule is a class act - literally. In the late nineteenth century, white clothes had become a symbol of the leisure classes who left the city for their summer holidays. Come summer’s end, dark colored clothing signaled the return to business. Having become a federal holiday in 1894, Labor Day was adopted as the unofficial end of summer, thus endpoint for summer fashion and corresponding marker for the aforementioned class distinctions. With the expansion of the middle class in the 1950s, "no white after Labor Day" became a snobbish rule for distinguishing the old-money set and high society from the hoi polloi. Women’s magazines spread the dictum from on high to the middle-class that white clothing comes out on Memorial Day and gets stored away on Labor Day. Breaking the rule was considered plain gauche.

Of course, hot weather doesn’t necessarily abide by the Labor Day rule, and neither need you. If it’s at all reassuring, fashion dictator Coco Chanel, wore white clothes year round. In fact, winter whites, especially wools, can look very smart. Happily, contemporary fashion has become much more relaxed. If you feel like wearing white after Labor Day, the only rule is to make it “work.”


Photo: Peter O'Toole, 'Lawrence of Arabia' - Horizon Pictures

Photo: Sam Clemens (Mark Twain), 1907


Fashion History Labor Day Society

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