Why you can and should wear white after Labor Day

Reading Time: 2 minutes Don’t pack up your white clothing just yet. “Don’t wear white after Labor Day” is more of a testament to the Gilded Age than it is to modern day fashion.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The adage “Don’t wear white after Labor Day” is so universally known that it could be classified as a fashion law. It has been said for years, but where did this fashion statement come from?  

The origin of this statement can be traced back to the 19th century during the Gilded Age. 

For weather reasons, retiring white after Labor Day seemed practical. White reflects light, keeping you cooler. It was the practical choice seeing that people during the Gilded Age were expected to dress from head to toe. White kept one cool and was commonly paired with light fabrics like linen.  

Another element contributing to this practice was that of class. In comparison to color, white did not show sweat, but white did show dirt. White briskly became a signifier of wealth. It was a subtle way for the wealthy to show they did not participate in any manual labor.  

These factors resulted in the wealthy packing their whites away when fall came around. They did not need to wear them in the cooler temperatures. Vogue wrote in 1925, “White, while perfect for the country, it is, because it soils so easily, impossible for town wear.”  

The wealthy during this time did not completely forgo the color white during winter months. White fur was always popular. Women wore lighter colors to more extravagant events like the ball and opera. These lighter colors were a status symbol. They signified you “had a carriage staffed with footmen that could ensure your dress wouldn’t get dirty in the process,” as said in Vogue. 

The practice of wearing or not wearing white does not only speak to the classism of the Gilded Age, but also signals important moments in the history and evolution of the United States, particularly in New York City where, by the 1920s, sanitation workers began wearing completely white uniforms. This led to the reasons for not wearing white in the city fading away.  

Old habits die hard, and the “no white after Labor Day” rule has stuck around even if a century has come and gone. Now is the time to put this old wives tale to rest. We are not living in the Gilded Age anymore. You can wear white after Labor Day.