The story behind the rule of not wearing white after Labor Day

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Do you have grandparents or parents who vow not to wear white after Labor Day weekend until Memorial Day weekend?

Well, the seemingly fading fashion rule has some history.

Local 4’s style editor John Jordan and Wayne State University fashion design and merchandising professor Monica Sinclair weigh in on the fashion history of not wearing white after Labor Day—here’s what we learned.

The rule is related to the social class in New York City, and it started in the 19th century, according to both fashion experts. New York City did not have paved roads like it does now, and was extremely dusty like other major cities. Because of the dust and if you are a laborer and belong to a blue colored family, the white clothes you wear will be very dirty.

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It’s also worth noting that wearing dark clothing can keep people warm during the colder months.

“It was a societal rule that if you were rich and important, you had to define your wardrobe that way,” Jordan says.

In the summer, people who wore white and linen wore them for many reasons, but in the upper class, especially in New York City, they could wear white because they did not have the energy to stain their clothes.

“There was such an elitist aspect of wearing white. If you could wear white, it often indicated that you had money and didn’t do crafts and shop for vacations.”

But who actually started and established this rule? Sinclair said it was wealthy women from old money who wanted to separate themselves from society.

“They were able to go out of the city on vacation and shed their dusty clothes in light weight white clothes from the city. White was seen as a leisure outfit at the time. It was considered formal, because they were used to wearing these cornices and big gowns, but they were basically white,” Sinclair said. “So if you had white clothes, you had money. You can go on summer vacation and be cool in white.”

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While old-money families seem to follow this rule, Sinclair says new-money ones are bending the rules and wearing white after Labor Day. Although the “rule” has been around for over two hundred years, it was in the 1920s that designers began to break the rule.

Both Jordan and Sinclair cite fashion designer pioneer Coco Chanel as one of those who opposed wearing white after Labor Day.

“She was kind of a badass — I guess you could say,” Sinclair said. “Turn this rule around. I’ll wear white after Labor Day.’ Even though it’s an American holiday, she knows the rules well.”

And that outfit is one of the Chanel staples that many fashion designers know and respect.

PARIS, FRANCE – JANUARY 22: Atmosphere: The famous Coco Chanel jacket at Chanel – Paris Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2008 – Front Row at Grand Palais on January 22,2008 in Paris, France. (Photo by Foc Kan/WireImage) (2007 WireImage)

The French designer continued to design iconic white button-down tops, shirts, suits and many other pieces. Jordan Chanel really redefined what women wore in the 20s.

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Before the French designer, clothes for women were complicated and also very limited to bustiers, corsets and underwear. Chanel’s designs include comfort and simple lines that make clothes less complicated than usual.

“Coco Chanel never did things like no one did before her,” Jordan said. She was an early advocate for wearing white year-round and bucking that trend.

Fashion designer Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, center, chats with dancer Serge Lifar, left, and Jacques Chazot in Paris, France, July 20, 1970. After showing her autumn/winter designs, they will appear at a buffet hosted by Chanel. open up. It is the first time the party has given a channel on such an occasion. (AP Photo) (Associated Press)

While Chanel was breaking society’s fashion rules in the twenties and the Great Depression, some still followed the “no white after Labor Day” rule. Fast forward to the 1950s, and fashion magazines tried to revive the rule.

“In the 1950s, fashion editors in New York City were often featured in articles about their style for Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, you know, the most respected fashion magazines,” Sinclair said. In the year In the 1950s these women decided to reinstate this rule and after Labor Day began to avoid whites and wear colors and heavier fabrics. Their opinions are expressed in these magazines, and these magazines are read by other women across America. Then it became more mainstream again.

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Fashion designers tried to restore fashion rules in the 50s, but many people did not buy it. Jordan explained that it was easier for the middle and lower class to clean clothes with lighter colors because household appliances were more accessible during this period.

“The ’50s were, in a sense, the advent of washing machines. That’s when furniture started to become standard and affordable,” says Jordan. “People started getting washing machines…so people could take care of white clothes.”

Jordan also notes that there was a lot of unrest in society during the McCarthy era, so as the 60s rolled around, people began to reject rules and regulations more. Since the 60’s, many people have passed the “no white after Labor Day” rule.

Wearing white after Labor Day in the 21st century

Apparently, the rule is no longer a big deal, but some people still refuse to wear white between Labor Day and Memorial Day.

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Sinclair mentions that New York City Fashion Week is coming up this month, and a lot of white will be on display as the summer 2023 collections will be on display and fall in January.

As for Sinclair, she lives in her white sneakers all year round.

I lived in New York City and worked in the fashion industry for a long time – 15 years – I produced many shows, and White always participated in any fashion show I worked on and it didn’t depend on the fashion. Sinclair said. “Among the designers I’ve worked with are Yohaji Yamamoto and Jeremy Scott and Rick Owens … I mean, Rick Owens and Yoshi Yamamoto are known for their black and white pieces. So those are the epitome of their ethos. White always sneaks its way into every season.”

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For Jordan, he says he incorporates white jeans into the colder months whenever he can.

“I have two pairs of white denim jeans, and so they’re not light weight. These are heavy traditional denims and have no stretch in them, no synthetic material. I like to wear those white jeans with big, baggy, oversized, black turtlenecks,” Jordan said.

Fashion trends always come back – will wearing white be fashionable again after Labor Day?

Despite the notion of historical continuity in the question, Sinclair said the no-white rule may die after Labor Day.

The concept of historical continuity means that fashion trends repeat themselves every 20 years or so. How the Y2K fashion trend is back, low-rise jeans, baggy cargo pants and crop tops are back in style.

“As we move through time, that old generation is fading away, people who have this rule built into them… “Once upon a time there was a rule that said women couldn’t wear pants. It was kind of like an unspoken rule, wasn’t it? In the early 1900’s… I laughed at that. It’s amazing, isn’t it? And maybe this ‘no white after Labor Day’ regime won’t follow the same path.”

Copyright 2022 by WDIV ClickOnDetroit – All rights reserved.



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